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Best Cities for Homeownership in New York

Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll ever make. It’s also a move that may shape the quality of your life for years to come, depending on factors such as the local cost of living, job market and how quickly your home appreciates in value.

If you’re looking to buy in New York, there’s reason to be optimistic. The state’s housing market started 2019 on an upswing. In January, the median home sale price was $278,000 versus $262,853 a year earlier, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. During that year-long period, the state’s housing market saw an 8.2% uptick in new listings and a 3.9% increase in pending sales.

To find the best cities for homeownership in New York, LendingTree looked at U.S. Census Bureau data for 2013 and 2017 for both large, metropolitan areas and smaller, micropolitan areas that have populations between 10,000 and 50,000. The information we collected reviewed key qualities, such as the median home value in each area, appreciation, housing costs overall (e.g., mortgages, taxes, utilities), commute times and unemployment rates. To help narrow your options in New York, keep reading to see how individual cities ranked within the state.

Key findings:

  • The Ithaca Metro Area is the best place in New York for homeownership. It has a high median home value ($198,800), low unemployment of 4.8%, short average commute time (18.6 minutes) and increasing home values from 2013-2017 (17.22%).
  • The Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls Metro Area is the second best place for homeownership in New York. It ranked highly due to its higher median home value ($144,100), increasing home values from 2013-2017 (11.62%) and stable housing costs from 2013-2017 (0.46%).
  • The Amsterdam Micro Area is the worst place for homeownership in New York. It has a low median home value ($113,400), higher unemployment (7.3%) and increasing housing costs from 2013-2017 (2.13%).
  • The New York-Newark-Jersey City Metro Area ranked 18th on this list. It had the highest median home value ($416,800), but it also had the longest average commute time of 36.3 minutes and low median home value appreciation from 2013-2017 (1.39%).

The best cities for homeownership in New York

1. Ithaca metro area

Ithaca’s metro area in central New York tops the state’s rankings in more ways than one. Between 2013 and 2017, the cost of owning a home here rose 6.35%, but the median home value for the area grew 17.22%, to $198,800. Of the top 10 cities on this list, Ithaca had the lowest unemployment rate in 2017, at 4.8%. It also had the second-lowest average commute time, coming in at 18.6 minutes versus 17.4 minutes for the Watertown-Fort Drum area. Ithaca’s overall homeowner score: 76.2.

2. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls metro area

This metro area, which includes both the famed Niagara Falls and the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga, is in the northwest corner of New York, beside Lake Erie. Home values here appreciated almost 12% between 2013 and 2017, to $144,100. Meanwhile, housing costs were relatively stable, increasing by less than half of a percentage point. This combination helped give the area an overall homeowner score of 70.8, which is about five points lower than Buffalo but five points higher than the Plattsburgh area described below.

3. Plattsburgh micro area

The Plattsburgh micro area, which sits on the shores of Lake Champlain close to the Canadian border, is another good option for potential homebuyers. At $138,600, the median housing value in 2017 was just slightly below the Buffalo area. Housing costs, meanwhile, actually decreased 3.69% from 2013 to 2017. Still, appreciation for homes barely budged during those five years, growing just 0.65%, and the unemployment rate in 2017 was 5.8%. Plattsburgh scored 65.4 on our homeowner scale.

4. Utica-Rome metro area

This metro area is also in the center of New York state. Homes here appreciated in value 7% between 2013 and 2017, while the cost of owning a home increased less than 1%. However, at 6.5%, the area had the second-highest unemployment rate of any top 10 city on our list after Watertown-Fort Drum. Overall, the Utica-Rome area scored 64.2, about a point shy of Plattsburgh.

5. Cortland micro area

Cortland is another score for central New York. While the median home value for this micro area in 2017 was a relatively modest $118,100, values rose 6.21% between 2013 and 2017. Unemployment in 2017 was also relatively low, 4.9% versus 4.8% for the top-ranked Ithaca metro area. Still, with an average commute time of 20.5 minutes, Cortland scored higher than many other top 10 cities. Cortland’s overall homeowner score is 63.5.

6. Seneca Falls micro area

Located in the Finger Lakes section of central New York, the Seneca Falls micro area might be a very affordable choice for some buyers. Its 2017 median housing value of just more than $100,000 is the lowest of any top 10 city on our list. Still, home values here appreciated nearly 7% from 2013 to 2017, while housing costs decreased 1.27%. Those numbers helped give Seneca Falls a total homeownership rating of 61.9.

7. Watertown-Fort Drum metro area

The Watertown-Fort Drum metro area sits along the Black River, close to Lake Ontario in northern New York. From 2013 to 2017, housing costs here grew by almost 2%, but so did home appreciation, rising 9.58%. In 2017, this metro area had a comparatively high median housing value of $159,000 and also the shortest commute time for any city on our list, with commutes averaging just 17.4 minutes. Still, that year Watertown logged an 8% unemployment rate, the highest for any top 10 city on our list. Together, these factors earned it a total homeowner score of 61.5.

8. Batavia micro area

Batavia, located between Buffalo and Rochester, scored 60.8 overall. Housing costs in this part of New York were relatively stable between 2013 and 2017, growing by just 0.4%. Home appreciation, however, grew a healthy 6.45%. In 2017, the median value of a home in Batavia was $117,200, but unemployment was relatively high, at 5.1%.

9. Rochester metro area

The Rochester metro area sits along Lake Ontario, and in 2017 the median home value there was $141,100. This is comparable to the second-highest-ranking metro area on our list, Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls. As in Buffalo, homes in Rochester appreciated nicely between 2013 and 2017, with the median home value growing 5.53%. However, the cost of owning a home grew 1.61%. In 2017, Rochester also registered a high unemployment rate of 6.3%. Its final homeownership score: 58.5.

10. Elmira metro area

Elmira, in central New York close to the Pennsylvania border, rounds out our list of the top 10 cities in New York for homeownership. Between 2013 and 2017, homeowners here saw an increase of 11.5% in the median value of a home. However, during that time, housing costs grew 4.67%, giving Elmira the second-highest cost of housing increase after Ithaca. One plus: In 2017, the city had an average commute time of less than 20 minutes. Its homeowner score is 57.3.

Homebuying tips for New York

With the average home now on the market 78 days — down from 82 days from 2018 — buyers in New York would seem to have plenty of options, especially since new listings in January were up 8.2% from the year before.

Still, affordability can be a major issue in the state. According to statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), buyers who earn at least $125,000 per year can now afford about half of homes currently on the market in New York, while those who earn $50,000 can afford only about 20%. The state’s overall affordability score is also just 0.64, which puts it ahead of California (0.55) but below neighboring states New Jersey (0.78) and Pennsylvania (1.00).

To be sure, New York’s housing market is diverse. For the top 10 cities on this list, the median home value in 2017 ranged from$105,400 to $198,800, well below the $212,600 value for Albany-Schenectady and considerably lower than the $416,800 value for the New York-Newark metro area. With the exception of Plattsburgh, these top 10 cities also produced strong growth in home appreciation that was at least 5% overall and in the double-digits for Ithaca, Buffalo and Elmira.

If you are a first-time buyer in New York — or don’t qualify for a conventional mortgage — national loan programs such as those provided by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may help make homeownership more affordable. The State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA) offers special programs, too, such as Achieving the Dream, Remodel NY and down payment assistance loans.

Potential buyers should know the costs of buying a home in New York. For example, it’s customary for both buyers and sellers to hire an attorney to negotiate the contract of sale and represent them at closing. New York Attorney General Letitia James also suggests on her website that buyers get their own appraisal to ensure they’re not overpaying; the appraisal should cost about $175. If you can’t afford an appraisal, visit the County Clerk’s office in your desired neighborhood to see what homes have been selling for recently. James recommends getting a home inspection, too, for about $225. This will help you flag potential issues and, if necessary, figure out how much to drop your offer.

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 received for each metric.
4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical areas were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 31 (Worst) based on their average scores.
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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