By CIC Staff
Though the economy has improved since the first edition of this article, first-time homebuyers often still have a hard time finding the perfect place that’s both affordable and livable. Big cities continue to become more and more expensive, encouraging people determined to own their home to look elsewhere. Fortunately, great affordable small towns for first-time homeowners still exist. Some of them are in the suburbs of “up-and-coming” cities like Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Others are great, livable cities with their own economy driving their success.
The following 30 small towns are some of the best for first-time homeowners in 2020. To come up with our list, we considered a number of factors, including: a population smaller than 80,000 people, plentiful job opportunities either in the town or nearby, low crime rates, median home values under $350,000, and a housing market currently showing signs of appreciation in the near future.
You’d be hard pressed to find a small town quite as charming as Abingdon, Virginia. Located about two hours from Roanoke and five from D.C., Abingdon has a population of just over 8,000 residents. Here, it’s all about high quality of life. Abingdon’s median home value is an accessible $163,300, and most of the neighborhoods are charming and historic, with red brick sidewalks lined with shade trees. Tourists often meander into town in search of the historic Barter Theater or the Abingdon Muster Grounds. Each year, the town hosts a popular Civil War weekend.
Albert Lea, Minnesota
Nestled between six different lakes, the small town of Albert Lea, Minnesota is a growing community that’s perfect for the first-time homeowner. The median home price here is $88,200, while the quality of life is high. Local medical centers, a number of area schools, and a large pork processing plant provide plenty of local jobs. Popular pastimes include boating, fishing, and canoeing.
Thanks to its strong economy, Texas is a great place for first-time homeowners. One such great small town is Allen, a northern suburb of Dallas. Median home prices hover just above $320,000, and as in other small towns of the DFW metroplex, homebuyers in Allen are eligible for up to $39,000 in down payment assistance. Allen is perfect for commuters who enjoy time spent away from the hustle and bustle of a city like Dallas. The town is surrounded by countryside, while more than 50 miles of hiking and nature trails are perfect for a leisurely weekend walk.
Despite its population of fewer than 25,000 people, tiny Austin, Minnesota has a mighty big reputation. This is due in large part to the fact that it’s home to Fortune 500 company Hormel Foods, the parent company of Skippy, Spam, and 30 other well-known food brands. A branch of the Mayo Clinic also calls Austin home, providing nearly 1,000 jobs for local medical professionals and largely contributing to Austin’s near non-existent unemployment rate. Despite its strong local economy, Austin remains affordable and inviting to new homeowners. The median home price is currently $100,500, but rising.
Boone, Iowa has a little something for everyone. Located about an hour from Des Moines and a mere 15 minutes from Iowa State University in Ames, Boone offers easy access to big city amenities. Meanwhile, residents are immersed in small town charm thanks to features like the adorable Story Street, the main street in town, and events such as Pufferbilly Days, a festival which pays tribute to Boone’s railroad-town past. While Boone’s median income is approximately $45,000, one of the highest in the area, its median home price is a very comfortable $121,200.
Broadview Heights, Ohio
The always welcoming and still affordable Midwest has some of the best places for first-time homeowners, and Broadview Heights, Ohio is no exception. For an average sale price of $241,100, homebuyers can get far more than just a home here. Broadview Heights is an active and neighborly community, with a full calendar of outdoor concerts, a well-regarded community theater, and local festivals. Those with families will also be glad to hear that Broadview Heights’ school system is one of the country’s best and most challenging.
Despite being home to more than 40 corporate headquarters, Carmel, Indiana has managed to stay a great affordable small town that’s perfect for first-time homeowners. The Indianapolis suburb enjoys a mere 2.6% unemployment rate, with the median income a whopping $107,916 — way above the Indiana average. Despite larger incomes and the presence of big companies, Carmel’s housing market is one of the least volatile in the country. The median home price has hovered right around $350,000 for a few years now.
Cecil Township, Pennsylvania
The housing market of the greater Pittsburgh area is one of the most welcoming to first-time homeowners of any major city in the U.S. One such suburb is Cecil Township, which boasts a small town feel, though it’s in the shadows of the big city. The median home price here is $238,800. With some of the lowest crime rates in the country, its housing market is expected to continue to appreciate. Cecil Township is especially desirable for first-time homeowners with families. The local Parks and Recreation plans a busy calendar of fun activities, including an annual Easter egg hunt, family movie nights in the park, and the Annual Fall Festival.
Though Clarksville is located in Indiana, it’s actually a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, which is located less than five miles across the Ohio River. Louisville is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and home to a number of major employers. The median home price in Clarksville is $107,100, much lower than that of Louisville, but about $20,000 more than the last time Clarksville made our list of the best towns for first-time homeowners. Plus, Clarksville residents have access to all of Louisville’s big city amenities, including major events such as Thunder Over Louisville (said to be the biggest fireworks show in the world), the Kentucky Derby Festival, and its many sports teams.
One of a few Indiana towns to make our list, Decatur is another affordable small town perfect for the first-time homebuyer. Despite its population of fewer than 10,000 people, Decatur is quite a prosperous place. This is due in large part to all the local manufacturing and agriculture. RVs are made here, and hundreds of people come to Decatur each year for its top-notch hospital. But most inviting of all is Decatur’s median home sale price of $129,700.
With its small town charm, big city amenities, and home prices under $300,000, Ellensburg, Washington is a great affordable small town for first-time homeowners. Ellensburg was recently named to Livability’s list of the 10 Best Small Towns in America, and for good reason. The presence of Central Washington University is a big source of jobs and education for local residents. The tight-knit community also hosts a number of events throughout the year, including concerts, food and wine festivals, and a monthly First Friday Art Walk to benefit the town’s large number of galleries and local artists.
Yet another Indianapolis suburb that’s a great affordable small town for first-time homeowners is Fishers, Indiana. Here, the average income hovers around $92,000. Quality of life includes plenty of outdoor activities such as playing on one of the town’s several golf courses, or boating on Fishers’ large man-made lake. For these reasons, potential homeowners may be surprised to find out that the median home price in Fishers is only $262,100.
There are many parts of New England that are as good as untouchable for most first-time homebuyers, but fortunately, there still exist places like Granby, Connecticut. With median home prices in the high $200,000s, Granby is a Hartford suburb that is still welcoming to those first-time buyers. It’s also just a great place to live. Called the “quintessential New England town,” Granby is home to a number of historic sites, including the popular Allen’s Cider Mill. Good schools, a practically nonexistent crime rate, and community events like the annual Celebrate Granby festival, all contribute to the appeal of this charming small town.
This suburb of St. Louis is currently one of the best small towns for first-time homebuyers — but if you’re interested in becoming a Kirkwood resident, you’d better move quickly! The current median home price in Kirkwood is just around $308,000, a bargain when compared to other suburbs nearby. But that median price is up a whopping $50,000 from just two years previous and it’s expected to keep rising. Kirkwood is known as one of the best places around St. Louis to raise a family. Top-ranked public schools, an active sports and recreation scene, and low unemployment rate all contribute to this appealing reputation. Kirkwood was even called the fourth Best Block Party Place in the entire country!
Lebanon, New Hampshire
With its population of just over 13,000 people, Lebanon, New Hampshire is a great place for homebuyers to consider finding their first home. The median home price here hovers just above $200,000, though market trends indicate that values in Lebanon are on the rise. Meanwhile, the town — located in the Connecticut River Valley — is great for outdoor lovers. Popular local pastimes include hiking, skiing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking.
Located a bit more than two hours from the Twin Cities, Marshall, Minnesota is a great affordable option for those looking to buy their first home. The town, population 13,700, is home to a number of major employers, including the Schwan Food Company and Southwest Minnesota State University. Just outside of town are ample opportunities for hunting, golfing, birding, snowmobiling, and even antiquing. Marshall’s high quality of life, plus a median home value of $153,600, add up to one of the best affordable small towns for first-time homeowners.
For just under $130,000, first-time homeowners can have their own little piece of Maysville, Kentucky, a charming and affordable small town that’s most famous as the birthplace of Rosemary Clooney. Residents of picturesque Maysville enjoy spending time outdoors. Thanks in part to its location on the banks of the Ohio River, Maysville is a perfect place for golfing, biking, and boating. The town even boasts an historic and respectable opera house!
McCandless Township, Pennsylvania
Yet another small Pittsburgh suburb that’s perfect for a new homebuyer is McCandless Township, located only about 20 minutes from the hustle and bustle of the big city. While the median home price in McCandless Township is about $254,600 — higher than other suburbs and much higher than Pittsburgh itself — both average household income and quality of life are higher, too. Top ranked schools, a variety of churches, and tons of shopping destinations make life in McCandless Township pretty easy. Lots of public lakes, hiking and cycling trails, and even a public Olympic-sized swimming pool make it an enjoyable place to live as well.
Midwest City, Oklahoma
The median home value in Midwest City, Oklahoma is $93,000. This sounds even more amazing once you consider that this affordable small town is located a mere eight miles from downtown Oklahoma City. If that doesn’t sound inviting enough, add the fact that Midwest City’s property tax rate is lower than the national average. So are the costs of food, utilities, and entertainment. With such affordable living costs and such close proximity to all that Oklahoma City has to offer, it’s easy to see why Midwest City is one of the best affordable small towns for first-time homeowners.
Mount Arlington, New Jersey
If you are a first-time homebuyer and a user of the NJ Transit system, then look no further than Mount Arlington, New Jersey. Mount Arlington is an easy hour-and-a-half train ride from New York City (and much closer to Newark), but seems like an entire world away from the big city. Located near Lake Hopatcong, Mount Arlington residents love outdoor activities like skiing, swimming, and boating. Plus, the median home price here is $309,600 — unthinkably reasonable for much of the area surrounding Newark and New York.
Affordable and with a population of just over 8,000 people, Mukwonago, Wisconsin is a great option for the first-time homeowner. This Milwaukee suburb takes small-town life seriously. The local hotspot is a restaurant, the Elegant Farmer. Guests can enjoy delicious homemade food and the Farmer’s iconic caramel apple pie. Come summer, Mukwonago hosts the annual Lions Summerfest, during which nearly a quarter of the town’s population comes out to enjoy games, a Father’s Day parade, and a softball tournament. Best yet, the median price of a home in Mukwonago is just under $290,000, well below average for the Milwaukee region.
New Castle, Delaware
New Castle, Delaware, located in New Castle County, is part of Delaware’s fastest growing region, though first-time homeowners can still get in on the fun for an average sale price of $177,700. Many New Castle residents commute to Baltimore, D.C., and even New York City.Those able to work and stay closer to home are able to spend more time in this charming and affordable small town near the spot where William Penn first landed in America in 1682.
Located a mere 20 miles from downtown Kansas City, Olathe is another great small town for first-time homeowners! Quality of life is high here. The town is close to big-city amenities. Features like two public lakes that are perfect for fishing and boating contribute to an environment that celebrates nature. A number of major employers, including Garmin International and the Kansas Bioscience Park, are located here. This results in a very low unemployment rate and a very stable housing market. Best yet, Olathe’s median household income is about $80,000. The median sale price for a home here is around a very reasonable $261,000.
Located within commuting distance of Houston, Pearland, Texas makes our list of the best small towns for first-time homeowners for its lower-than-average living costs and high quality of life. Indeed, Pearland’s median home price is $267,300 — a pretty large increase from just two years ago, but easily explained by the fact that Pearland’s population has grown by 37% in the last decade. Pearland is a community oriented small town, with lots of parks, tennis courts, and trails that appeal to families and those who enjoy the outdoors.
The small town of Pella, Iowa takes its Dutch heritage very seriously. Man-made canals meander lazily past square-topped buildings. Pella boasts a working Dutch windmill and even hosts the famous Tulip Time Festival. Nearby Lake Red Rock provides Pella residents easy access to camping, fishing, kayaking, and other outdoor activities. Best of all, Pella is extremely affordable for first-time homeowners, with an average home sale price of $209,400 (up nearly 21% in the last year alone)!
Pretty Springboro, Ohio is a great small town for first-time homeowners, especially those with families or those who are planning children in the future. The town’s school system received nine points out of 10 on NerdWallets’s annual list of the best places in the country to raise children. Various community-wide events, such as the annual Christmas in Historic Springboro Festival, also make this small Ohio town one of the best for families. The median home price is $271,800, only slightly above the average of nearby Cincinnati Metro.
St. Augustine, Florida
The oldest American city is also one of the most affordable small towns for first-time homeowners. Located near Jacksonville in the northern part of the state, St. Augustine enjoys a median home value of $256,000 — though this number is expected to continue to rise. St. Augustine is a picturesque small town, loaded with Spanish architecture and oceanside charm. Tourist attractions include the World Golf Hall of Fame and the Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Boating and diving are also popular pastimes here.
St. Matthews, Kentucky
Thanks to accessible median home prices and its business-friendly environment, the Louisville metro area consistently ranks amongst the top places in the country for both young people and first-time homebuyers. St. Matthews is a centrally located small town within the metro. It’s a great place for first-time homebuyers to start their search. The median sale price for a home in this active, up-and-coming area is only around $287,400. Though a growing number of businesses operate here, residents of St. Matthews enjoy incredibly easy access to Louisville’s business district, plus the restaurants and shops of trendy Frankfort Avenue for taking advantage of Louisville’s lively evenings.
Van Wert, Ohio
Though its population currently tops out at about 11,000, and it’s a full 40 minutes to the big city (Fort Wayne, Indiana is the nearest), the town of Van Wert, Ohio has a ton to offer — not least of which is remarkable value. The median home price in Van Wert is $93,800, though that number has been on a steady rise for the past few years. In the same time, the town’s unemployment rate has shrunk to a respectable 3.5%, while the median income has grown to $36,783. Best of all, Van Wert offers residents a full calendar of fun community events. Our favorite is the Dog Bone Hunt held each Easter at the Van Wert Community Dog Park. A pedestrian-friendly Main Street looks right out of a postcard. Arts and culture abound through the Wassenburg Art Center and the Van Wert Civic Theatre.
Villa Hills, Kentucky
Despite being located in Kentucky, Villa Hills is actually a suburb of Cincinnati, and is one of the most affordable small towns for first-time homebuyers. This picturesque bedroom community offers residents a short commute into the city and a low crime rate. The school system that was ranked by NerdWallet as an excellent nine out of ten. It’s also accessible and inviting to first-time homeowners, with home sale prices approximately $251,800.
See also: Compare Homeowner’s Insurance Quotes