Sometimes it feels like a good deal is hard to find, whether you’re buying a car or going out to dinner. That doesn’t change when you are considering where to live. Some towns just give you more bang for your buck, from the quality of life you’ll experience to the living costs you’ll incur. And especially if you’re taking out a mortgage on a house, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the best value you can. But getting good value from your city doesn’t always have to be difficult to attain. With some patience and information, a smart investment in an undervalued property now could mean that your home becomes worth significantly more and nets you a tidy sum if you decide to sell it. For those who aren’t experts in real estate, it can be difficult to figure out which parts of the country offer the best value. To that end, SmartAsset has once again assembled a list of the most undervalued cities in the country.
We analyzed 189 cities to find the most undervalued cities in America. Our model considers data on unemployment rates, price per square foot, high school graduation rates, percentage of residents with a college degree, crime rate, entertainment establishment density, average days with precipitation, average number of days with bad weather and walk score. For more information on how we put together our final rankings, see the Data and Methodology section below.
This is our fourth annual study on the most undervalued cities in America. See the 2018 version of our study here.
- Consistency among undervalued cities. The most undervalued city in America is Pittsburgh for the second year in a row. All told, eight of the cities from last year’s top 10 finish in the top 10 this year, though the order has certainly shuffled.
- Look East. The Eastern United States rules this list. Six of the cities in the top 10 are East Coast cities, with several more close by. Three of the top 10 cities are in Pennsylvania alone. There are only two Midwestern cities and none in the Mountain West or the Pacific Coast in the top 10.
1. Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tops this list for the second straight year. The Steel City has a high school graduation rate of 93%, the second-highest in the top 10 and a top-40 rate in the study overall. Pittsburgh can also boast a population in which 37% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, a rate that leads the top 10 of our study and ranks 14th out of all 189 cities in our study. Pittsburgh does not place as well for walk score, where it is the second-least walkable city in the top 10.
Zillow estimates that the price per square foot in Pittsburgh is around $104.50, but our model estimates homes should cost $262.79 per square foot, resulting in a surplus value of about $158. As you and your financial advisor scour the market for undervalued investments, Pittsburgh is an undervalued city that can give you the type of deals you crave.
2. Newark, NJ
Newark, New Jersey is the second city on our list and jumps up one spot from its place last year. Walkability is a great benefit of living in Newark – the walk score for the city is the best in the top 10, and fifth-best in the study overall. Newark does not fare as well for education. Only 18% of its residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, the second-lowest percentage for this metric in the top 10, and its high school graduation rate of just 73% is the lowest in the top 10. Overall, our model suggests that living in Newark yields an estimated $155.34 per-square-foot surplus in value.
3. New Haven, CT
New Haven, Connecticut is third on our list. The actual price of real estate in New Haven is $123.50 per square foot, according to Zillow, compared to a projected price of $275.49 based on our model. That’s a surplus value of almost $152. New Haven also has a high school graduation rate of 89%, third-highest in the top 10 of this study. Furthermore, 29% of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree, the third-highest rate in the top 10 and 42nd out of all 189 cities in our study. New Haven also has 2,243 dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents.
4. Philadelphia, PA
In the fourth spot on our list is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Homebuyers in the City of Brotherly Love can purchase homes at around $117.17 per square foot, according to data from Zillow. Based on our overall model, living in Philadelphia is equivalent to living in a city where homes are worth $264.77 per square foot, which means the city is undervalued by more than $147. Philadelphia has the second-highest walkability score in the top 10 and the sixth-highest in the study overall.
5. Baltimore, MD
Baltimore, Maryland is fifth on our list. According to Zillow, Baltimore has an actual home sale value of $106.83 per square foot, which is an undervaluation of approximately $116 compared to $223.07, the value our model projects. It also has approximately 50 extreme temperature days per year, which is the second-lowest rate in the top 10 and a top-40 rate overall. Fans of moderate weather will likely find that appealing. They’ll likely find the city’s top-15 walk score appealing as well.
6. Providence, RI
Coming in sixth place is Providence, Rhode Island. Providence has the third-lowest rate of violent crime in the top 10 of this list, at approximately 533 incidents per 100,000 residents. It has 1,276 dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents, the third-highest rate in the top 10 and 81st in the study overall. It’s important for people to consider cost of living before moving somewhere, and according to Zillow data, Providence provides good value: the actual price per square foot for real estate in Providence is $164.33, compared to a projected price of $277.08. That yields an undervaluation of almost $113.
7. Chicago, IL
Chicago, Illinois is the seventh-most undervalued city in America, according to our study. Chicago is tied with Providence, Rhode Island for the third-highest walkability score in the top 10 and seventh-highest overall. The actual price of real estate in Chicago is $171 per square foot, according to Zillow data, but our model estimates that homes should cost $282.84. While Chicago does not score relatively well when it comes to violent crime rate, ranking in the bottom 20 for this metric overall, it does have a high school graduation rate of 85% and 676 dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents.
8. Charleston, SC
Charleston, South Carolina comes in at No. 8 and ranks in the top half of the study for five metrics. There are only 24 extreme temperature days and approximately 65 days with precipitation each year, both of which are the lowest rates in the top 10. The violent crime rate in Charleston is around 283 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents each year. Charleston’s walk score is the lowest in the top 10 and its concentration of entertainment and dining establishments is third-lowest in the study overall, but the city’s unemployment rate is 3.2%, a top-50 rate. According to Zillow, the actual cost of real estate is $187.25 per square foot, but our model estimates homes should cost $289.24 per square foot, yielding a surplus value just shy of $102.
9. St. Louis, MO
St. Louis, Missouri, coming in at ninth place, is the westernmost city in our top 10. St. Louis does have the fourth-highest high school graduation rate in the top 10, at 88%, which ranks 91st in the study overall. Furthermore, 28% of the adults in the city’s population have at least a bachelor’s degree, the fourth-highest rate in the top 10 and 61st out of 189 cities overall. The unemployment rate in St. Louis is 3.9%, the second-lowest rate in the top 10.
Zillow data shows that actual cost per square foot in St. Louis is $104.25, while our model estimates that it should cost about $100 more than that, at$205.58. For those looking to get a smart start, it’s also one of the best cities for new college grads.
10. Allentown, PA
Taking the 10th spot in our list is Allentown, Pennsylvania. Allentown has just 461 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents each year, which ranks the second-lowest in the top 10 of this study and 84th in the study overall. Allentown also has 1,042 dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents, the fourth-highest concentration in the top 10 and 96th overall. Actual cost per square foot in Allentown is $92.17 according to Zillow data, while our model estimates that it should be $190.73, yielding an undervaluation of $98.57.
Data and Methodology
To determine the most undervalued cities in America, we created a model to project home values based on various quality-of-life metrics. We collected data for nine metrics for 189 of the largest cities in the country. Specifically, we compared the cities across the following metrics:
- Home value per square foot. Data is from Zillow and is for 2018.
- Violent crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting tool and is for 2017.
- High school graduation rate. Data comes from the U.S. Department of Education EdFacts and is for the 2016 – 2017 school year.
- Number of extreme temperature days. This is the average number of bad weather days a city has in a year. To measure this, we found the average number of days where the temperature exceeds 90 degrees or is under 40 degrees. Data is a 30-year average from 1981 – 2010. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Average number of precipitation days per year. This is the average number of days per year with at least 0.1 inches of precipitation. Data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is the 30-year average from 1981-2010.
- Walkability. This is a measure of how walkable a city is. Data comes from walkscore.com
- Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 1-year American Community Survey.
- Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics local area unemployment statistics. It is the average of the unemployment rates between January 2018 and February 2019.
- Concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. This is the number of dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 Zip Codes Business Pattern Survey.
To model home value per square foot, we ran a linear least squares regression with home value per square foot as the dependent variable and using the eight quality of life metrics as explanatory variables. Below is the formula to measure estimated dollars per square foot:
Home value per square foot = 41.71 – (0.05 * violent crime rate) + (1.57 * average high school graduation rate) + (5.56 * dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 residents) – (2.47 * average number of days of significant precipitation per year) – (1.45 * number of days with extreme high or low temperatures per year) + (3.03 * percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher) + (5.26 * walk score) – (21.07 * unemployment rate).
The above formula may seem complicated, but it is actually quite easy to read. For example, we see that in our formula walk score is multiplied by 5.26 (this figure is known as the coefficient). This means that if a city’s walk score improves by 1, assuming all other metrics remain constant, the projected home value per square foot would increase by $5.26 per square foot.
We can see how overvalued or undervalued a city is by plugging our data back into our formula. By plugging the collected data back into our model, we get a projection for home value per square foot, which we can then compare to the Zillow data. In order to create our final rankings, we subtracted the estimated value per square foot by the actual Zillow value per square foot. The city with the largest positive difference ranked first while the city with the largest negative difference ranked last.
In order to create our model, we only included quality of life metrics. We left out other potentially explanatory variables like population change and new home change. Because of this, these figures are not meant as a prediction.