The Cheapest Places to Live in the United States
Cost of living, schools, job prospects: there's so much to consider when moving. We've rounded up the top cities with the lowest median home value to make your choice a little easier.
Buying a new house comes with what feels like a million considerations. But at the top of that list are often job opportunities and cost of living.
According to Skylar Olsen, Zillow Director of Economic Research, the United States is poised to hit one of the longest expansionary periods ever in terms of job growth. Meanwhile, the housing market is cooling down and becoming more buyer-friendly, making it the perfect time to consider relocating or buying your first home. So where are the cheapest places to live?
We looked at the April 2019 Zillow Home Value Index to reveal the top 10 states with the lowest cost of living by median home value.
Median home value: $144,800
You’ll find no shortage of bourbon, baseball, and bluegrass when you move to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The gorgeous state is home to the iconic Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory as well as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail where nearly all of the world’s bourbon (including Makers Mark) is produced. Other major industries include food and beverage and aerospace. Depending on where you put down roots, you’ll also be within reach of the world’s longest known cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park. Oh, and don’t forget to head to historic Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May where you can sip on mint juleps and cross watching the famous Kentucky Derby horse races off your bucket list.
Median home value: $144,500
Hang with the Hoosiers in Indiana, where the sports are intense and the parks are plenty. (Just ask Leslie Knope!) The Colts-cheering state is known for its leading auto and transportation industries, with its official state motto being “Crossroads of America.” Naturally, the world’s longest-running car race, Indy 500, began here back in 1911 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and continues to be held each May. Not only is the state big on cars, but don’t be surprised to find a plethora of aspiring pilots, either—Big Ten school Purdue University is the country’s top school for aviation. Looking for jobs outside transportation? The city is seeing a recent growth in tech jobs, thanks to global company expansions by SalesForce, Microsoft, and Aerotek—all of which scored spots on this year’s list of Best Places to Work In Indiana.
Median home value: $142,800
Nestled in the heart of the Midwest is Iowa, ranking 8th for cheapest places to live and buy a home in the U.S. If you’re a fan of bike trails, craft beer, ranch dressing, and college sports, then consider calling the Hawkeye state home. Iowa is big on agriculture and food production and is best known for its cornfields that stretch as far as the eye can see. It also leads the nation in renewable energy, thanks to high ethanol production and windmills that line country roads. Looking to bust into the insurance business? Des Moines is the place. The surprisingly hip capital city is headquarters for Principal Financial Group, and home to big office expansions including Nationwide and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Live like a local and hit up downtown and the East Village, a top spot for shopping, bars, restaurants, and even outdoor summer concerts on the Des Moines River. And according to novelist Jack Kerouac, “The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines.”
Median home value: $140,800
Make Dorothy’s “No place like home” your own. Part plains, part wetlands, the Sunflower State is filled with alluring landscapes and plenty of farmland for which the state leads in highest grain, beef, and wheat production. Another leading industry, bioscience takes full advantage of the state's natural resources, including the Great Plains and 41,000 acres of the Cheyenne Wetlands Refuge. Flint Hills is another can’t-miss for natives. Spanning 4.5 million acres, the country’s largest prairie is filled with tall grass and wildflowers. Can’t get enough flora and fauna? Escape to Botanica in Wichita where you’ll find a botanical paradise of more than 30 themed gardens and exhibits that are open year-round. Other popular places to see throughout the state include the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka and the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. If you're interested in moving to a college town, head to Lawrence, an eclectic and artsy city where you can museum hop and cheer your heart out for the Kansas University Jayhawks.
Median home value: $139,100
Football is a way of life in Ohio. Not only is it where the American Professional Football League (now known as the NFL) was founded back in 1920, but its capital, Columbus, is where you’ll find The Ohio State Buckeyes—one of the largest football programs in the US, generating nearly $90 million in revenue for the university each year. According to Zillow, Columbus is increasingly popular for young professionals, ranking number 6 for the highest share of millennials in a metro (nearly 23.4 percent of the population) as of March 2019. Major job industries include health, manufacturing, real estate, and education. The state houses popular Fortune 500 companies including Kroger, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble, and Marathon Petroleum. Looking for adventure? Pop up to Sandusky for a day (or three) at the largest amusement park in the world, Cedar Point. Or head further north to Cleveland to experience ultimate lake living on Lake Erie or island hop by ferry. (Yes, there are islands!) Just along the shore, you’ll also find the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, where you can check out cool exhibits on all of the inductees.
Median home value: $130,600
Make like Lynyrd Skynyrd and call Alabama home. The southern state is one of the top five most affordable places to live in the U.S., and it is brimming with elegant Antebellum architecture and rich history. Birmingham, one of its largest cities, was a key site for many events in the Civil Rights Movement and is where you’ll find the Rosa Parks Museum. The state is also well-known for its Roll Tide football in Tuscaloosa, the Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Never been to Bama? You might be surprised to find caverns, waterfalls, and lots of stunning natural sites. The state includes a portion of the Appalachian Mountains, making it a top hiking and camping destination for locals. If you prefer to be near the ocean, head to Gulf Shores, a coastal city lined with golf courses and white-sand beaches sprawling with adorable sea turtles.
Median home value: $128,400
The Magnolia State rings in at fourth cheapest state to buy a house. If you’re big on blues, bayous, and southern hospitality, you’ll fit right in. From the delta to the Gulf Coast, Mississippi is full of cool landmarks and job opportunities. Major markets include agriculture, fishing, and forestry, which comes as no surprise as the state produces more than half of the country’s farm-raised catfish and is home to six national forests. Healthcare is another leading industry for Mississippi—the first heart and lung transplants were performed at the Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo in the 1960s. The bustling metro is also the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. Check out his museum when you hop on the Mississippi Blues Trail. If you're considering a move to southern Alabama, consider Biloxi, a charming waterfront city where you can enjoy some of the Gulf’s best shrimp, plus sip on Barq’s nostalgic root beer, which was created in the town in 1898.
Median home value: $126,800
One of the cheapest places to live is Arkansas—where 3 million people call home. Its most populous cities include Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville, but across the world, it’s best known for Bentonville—headquarters of the world’s largest company: Walmart. Other top employers include Tyson Foods, Dillards, and J.B. Hunt Transport Services. You might be surprised to learn that rice is a major product here, and supplies to more than half of the United States. Meanwhile, one of the state’s not-so-hidden gems remains quartz. Along with Brazil, Arkansas is a top producer of the crystal, which can be found within beautiful landmarks, such as Mount Ida, Fisher Mountain, and Hot Springs National Park. These breathtaking spots, along with its many lakes, rivers, and wildlife, are what give the Natural State its well-deserved nickname.
Median home value: $123,500
Another Great Plains state is Oklahoma, runner-up for cheapest states to live in the U.S. According to Forbes, cost of living in the state capital, Oklahoma City, is 5 percent below the national average, making it a top pick for those hoping to get the most bang for their buck. It’s also where the Tinker Air Force Base is located, as well as several colleges and universities. Industry leaders include technology, energy, natural gas, and oil—even the state’s capitol building sits above an oil well. Catch an NBA Thunder game at Chesapeake Energy Arena or go urban whitewater rafting on the Oklahoma River. In the evening, visit the Bricktown district, an industrial-chic hub of repurposed warehouses turned into trendy wine bars, restaurants, and piano lounges. You can even take a sunset water taxi cruise along the river. (Yes, please!)
1. West Virginia
Median home value: $96,300
So what is the cheapest state to live in? West Virginia! Unless you’re buying a tiny house, it’s not often you can snag a home for less than six digits. West Virginia is not only the cheapest state to buy a home, but it’s also ranked number 6 for the cheapest land in the U.S. According to Zillow, as of April 2019 the median price per square foot is just $1.22 for a home in West Virginia, with an average size of 60,992 square feet. The state’s leading job industries include automotive, aerospace, metals, and manufacturing. Plus, the state offers year-round outdoor attractions—catch the Mountain State’s colorful fall foliage or hit the slopes for some of the country’s best skiing.
Where's the Cheapest Place to Build a House?
Thinking about building instead of buying? You’ll have to bust out of the city and away from the metros. “The most density is where the land tends to be the most expensive,” explains Olsen. “Vacation areas around Lake Tahoe and Vail are more affordable but not as affordable as places that are truly remote like Montana and Alaska. That’s where it’s easiest to build.” If you're looking to build, rather than buy, a new home, you'll need to consider the median price per square foot of the state. According to Zillow, here are the top five states where you can find the cheapest land to build a home.
Median price per square foot: $1.15
Median square foot: 46,021
Median price per square foot: $1.13
Median square foot: 17,860
3. New Hampshire
Median price per square foot: $1.01
Median square foot: 96,703
Median price per square foot: $0.94
Median square foot: 96,703
Median price per square foot: $0.83
Median square foot: 53,579
While there are many factors that go into choosing a location for your new home, the median home values in these states will help your paycheck go further.