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Best Cities for Homeownership in Wisconsin

For Wisconsin homeowners, a tight housing market with high demand for homes is likely good news. It pushed home price up in the past year, according to the Wisconsin REALTORS Association, a sign that Wisconsin homeowners are set to see their home values appreciating.

But your home’s exact worth and whether owning it pays off can depend on which Wisconsin community it’s located. To find the best places in the state to own a home, LendingTree surveyed and ranked Wisconsin cities.

We surveyed metropolitan and micropolitan areas in Wisconsin on key data points from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey from 2013 to 2017. We looked at indicators of higher and growing home values, employment factors such as joblessness rates and commute times, and the change in housing costs.

Together, these metrics highlight the Wisconsin communities where homeownership offers both a higher quality of life and a sound financial investment. Here’s what we found.

Key findings

  • The Appleton Metro Area is the best place for homeownership in Wisconsin. It has the lowest unemployment rate (2.9%), a short average commute time (19.9 minutes) and a slight home value appreciation from 2013 to 2017 (1.17%).
  • The Madison Metro Area is the second-best place for homeownership in Wisconsin. It has a high median home value ($233,300), low unemployment (3.7%) and a good home value appreciation from 2013 to 2017 (5.57%).
  • The Racine Metro Area is the worst place for homeownership in Wisconsin. It has a high unemployment rate (5.8%), a long average commute time (24.2 minutes) and home values depreciated from 2013 to 2017 (-3.45%).

The best cities for homeownership in Wisconsin

1. Appleton

In our rankings, Appleton takes first place due, in large part, to having the lowest unemployment rate of all the Wisconsin cities surveyed, at just 2.9%. Its local economy is dominant in manufacturing and dairy production jobs, but the sectors for professional and business services and education and health services are also growing, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 2019 analysis.

Appleton was also helped along in our rankings by a 3.32% fall in monthly housing costs from 2013 to 2017, showing that living expenses remain affordable. This metro area has a shorter commute than most Wisconsin cities, too, averaging 19.9 minutes. The median value of Appleton homes was $164,400 as of 2017.

2. Madison

Next is Wisconsin’s capital, Madison, which has some of the highest home values in the state, with a median of $233,300 in 2017. The data we used for our rankings showed that Madison homes appreciated 5.57% in value from 2013 to 2017.

On top of this, a 2018 HUD housing market analysis of the area found it to be a tight market, with local home prices increasing 4% from June 2017 to June 2018. The high demand for Madison homes is not surprising, considering it’s a state capital and major college town with steady job growth that has attracted people moving here. Just check the city’s low unemployment rate of 3.7%.

3. Manitowoc

Taking third is Manitowoc, thanks mostly to a drop in housing costs in recent years; from 2013 to 2017, housing costs fell by 5.25%. Even though costs fell, home values appreciated during that same period by 2.02%, reaching a median of $131,500 in 2017.

Homeowners also benefit from shorter commutes that average 18.7 minutes. And along with shorter commutes, local workers also enjoy greater job security, thanks to Manitowoc’s low unemployment rate of 3.7%.

4. Baraboo

The Baraboo micropolitan area is next, thanks again to a low unemployment rate of just 3.6%. Higher home values also helped Baraboo rank well, with a local median home value of $180,100 as of 2017. Home values appreciated overall in Baraboo, rising 4.35% from 2013 to 2017.

5. Oshkosh–Neenah

The Oshkosh metropolitan area, which includes Neenah, borders Lake Winnebago — just southwest of Appleton. Oshkosh is among the Wisconsin cities with the shortest commuting times, averaging 18.2 minutes, a key factor in its high rankings here. It also has a low unemployment rate of 3.6%.

Home values appreciated at a decent rate in Oshkosh, rising 3.23% from 2013 to 2017. As of 2017, the median local home value here was $146,800.

6. Wausau

Wausau is the next metro area to rank as one of the best places for Wisconsin homeowners. While most cities in this state saw a drop in housing expenses from 2013 to 2017, Wausau’s 4.4% decrease in costs was among the greatest. Median home values here were $151,400 in 2017.

Wausau also scored well on key employment factors, with a lower unemployment rate of 3.8% and shorter commutes that average 19.5 minutes.

7. Stevens Point

As a college town that’s home to the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, this place has a higher rate of rentals, according to a study from the city.

That hasn’t slowed down the local homes from appreciating at rate of 6.89% from 2013 to 2017, a rate higher than most Wisconsin cities. The median home value in Stevens Point was $161,300 as of 2017.

This city also ranked well for commute times, which average about 19 minutes.

8. La Crosse–Onalaska

The La Crosse Metro Area, which includes nearby Onalaska, ranks eighth-best for homeowners among Wisconsin cities. Its commutes are among the shortest in Wisconsin, averaging 18.5 minutes.

Steady local home values also give La Crosse homeowners a financial boost. The median home value here appreciated by 4.35% to a decent $167,900 in 2017.

Finally, La Crosse offers a form of homebuying assistance that can benefit new homeowners who are planning home improvements. The La Crosse Promise provides up to $50,000 in college scholarships to local families who build a home, buy a new home or renovate an existing home in certain neighborhoods in this area.

9. Green Bay

After a couple of recording-breaking years, the Green Bay housing market is still seeing growth, reported the Green Bay Press Gazette.

A low local unemployment rate of 4.4% is giving Green Bay the biggest boost in these rankings. Along with job security, locals can also expect shorter commute times averaging just 20.2 minutes.  

Home to the beloved Packers NFL team, Green Bay benefits from higher home values, with a median value of $165,600 in 2017. This city is also home to NeighborWorks Green Bay, a local program that offers help including homebuying education and assistance with down payments and closing costs.

10. Eau Claire

Rounding out the list of the 10 best cities for Wisconsin homeownership is the Eau Claire Metro Area, where a high demand for homes has outpaced availability and pushed prices up 9% in 2017 alone, reports local news outlet WEAU. Home values are likely to rise with prices; as of 2017, the median value of Eau Claire homes was $158,500.

Like many of the other top spots for Wisconsin homeowners, Eau Claire also has a low unemployment rate of just 3.9%. Shorter commute times are also a bonus for local workers, averaging just under 20 minutes.

Homebuying tips for Wisconsin

With a view of the best places to own a home in Wisconsin, you might be interested in taking the step to buy one. Buying a home can be stressful and involves many steps, especially if you’re looking to purchase property in one of Wisconsin’s growing markets. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for this major move is to review the homebuying process to familiarize yourself with what to expect.

You can also start preparing your finances now by checking your credit score, your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, and other factors that could affect whether you can qualify for a mortgage. It can also be the perfect time to start saving more to put toward a larger down payment or cover closing costs.

If you’re buying a home for the first time or you’re a veteran or military member, look into housing assistance that could make the process easier and more affordable. At the federal level, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans can be an option to get a mortgage, even without a large down payment or perfect credit; you can see our full roundup of FHA loan limits in Wisconsin by county.

At the state level, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) offers several lending and down payment programs. These can help first-time homebuyers in Wisconsin by extending loans with lower interest rates or down payment assistance in the form of no-interest second-mortgage loans.

Last, you might want to start researching the housing market of the Wisconsin location in which you’re hoping to purchase a home. Our list of the 10 best cities for Wisconsin homeowners can be a great starting point to find the ideal place to live.

Methodology:

The methodology for this study was simple and straightforward.

1: Collect metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) and micropolitan statistical area from the U.S. Census Bureau using 2017 population data.

2: Each MSA and micropolitan statistical area was ranked on a scale from 31 (Best) to 1 (Worst) for five different metrics. Those metrics are:

Median Home Value (31-Highest Value, 1-Lowest Value)

Unemployment Rate (31-Lowest Rate, 1-Highest Rate)

Average Commute Time (31-Shortest Time, 1-Longest Time)

Median Home Value Appreciation (2013-2017)(31-Greatest Appreciation, 1-Smallest Appreciation)

Median Change in Yearly Housing Costs (2013-2017)(31-Smallest Cost Change, 1-Greatest Positive Cost Change) – The formula for this metric is

(((Monthly Housing Costs for 2017 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2017))/ ((Monthly Housing Costs for 2013 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2013))-1)

3: An average score was then calculated for each MSA based upon the scores they received for each metric.

4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical area were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 31 (Worst) based on their average score.

5: All metrics were ranked equally.

Data:

All data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. More information on where the data came from is provided below:

2017 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2017 Unemployment Rate and Median Commute Time

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Selected Economic Characteristics — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2013 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage — 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
 

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