Ten Cities: How Much Home Can You Buy?

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Published March 14, 2012

| Bankrate.com

How much does a typical home cost, and what do you get for the money? The differences from one metro area to the next might surprise you. And so might the differences within metro areas.

Bankrate got the median home prices for 10 frequently searched-for housing markets. (The median price is the midpoint; half of the houses cost more than the median.) Then Bankrate found homes for sale in which the asking prices were near the median.

It turns out you can buy a nicely sized brick house in Detroit with a detached two-car garage, complete with a guest suite, for around the area's median price of $66,500. At the other end of the spectrum, the Boston area's median price of $367,700 will net you a tiny studio in the Back Bay or a modest cottage 20 or 30 miles outside the city.

Here is what the median price will buy in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Tampa, Fla.

Atlanta metro area median price: $101,900.

Atlanta's median price might be close to $102,000, but that doesn't mean it's a realistic price to buy a home, says Mitch Kaminer, president of the Atlanta Board of Realtors.

"Having a lot of foreclosures and short sales brings down the median sales price," he says. "It's going to skew your thinking if you're looking to buy at that price range."

In the city, buyers will likely find an older home for $102,000 -- anywhere from 30 to 70 years old -- typically with two or three bedrooms, he says. At that price, the home might need some updating or renovating.

In Atlanta proper, buyers could find a one-bedroom condo that's anywhere from brand-new to 40 years old, he says. In the suburbs, the average age of a condo is about 20 years old, so it might need some modernization, Kaminer says.

And if buyers are willing to commute to the suburbs, they can find a three-bedroom house -- about 20 years old on average, he says. But that home might need new appliances, a new kitchen or new bathrooms, Kaminer says. "It's typically not going to be in move-in condition."

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Boston metro area median price: $367,700.

"Condos, condos, condos" is what you'll find at that price in the city, says John Ranco, Greater Boston region vice president for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

In neighborhoods like the Back Bay, that money would buy a 300- to 350-square-foot studio, he says. In the South End, "you're likely to get a more remodeled studio or one-bedroom -- definitely without parking. Right now, the inventory in the whole city is extremely low."

Buyers seeking cheaper options in the suburbs won't find them close by, says Bill Dermody, president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors.

"In the suburbs, the median price range is a lot higher," he says. The average in places like Needham and Newton is about $800,000, he says.

Drive 20 to 30 miles outside the city and you "could get a nice Cape (Cod) home with three bedrooms on a 10,000-square-foot lot," Dermody says. Likely, it will have been built anywhere from the mid-1940s to 1970s and have about 1,500 square feet or less, he adds.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Chicago metro area median price: $187,700.

In Chicago, bungalows rule.

Within the city, there is a wealth of smaller single-family homes built in the 1920s and '30s, as well as from the '40s, '50s and '70s, available at the median price, says Bob Floss, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and broker/owner of Bob Floss & Son Realty.

"A lot of people have rehabbed these," he says. In that median price range, buyers "can get something that's been upgraded -- with a new kitchen, hardwood floors and new bathrooms," he says.

There are also a number of new condos. And the median price will buy a studio or one-bedroom in a building that may have "a doorman and a lot of services," Floss says.

Farther out from the city, count on seeing similar houses for the money -- this time with a little more yard, he says. On average, suburban yards are about a third of an acre, he says.

Comparatively, "a yard in the city would be something you could cut with the clippers on your knees in half an hour," Floss says.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Dallas metro area median price: $151,800.

Trying to find a home in the city of Dallas at the median price "is tough," says Patricia Szot, immediate past president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors. "There are a lot of older homes and a lot of very pricey homes -- well over the median."

What a buyer can find: a two-bedroom condo or town house. "It would probably be from the 1960s" and need some renovation or updating, Szot says.

But travel to bedroom communities such as Richardson, and "it's pretty realistic for buyers who are looking for something to fix up or upgrade," she says. They'll likely find three-bedroom, two-bath homes with 1,700 to 1,800 square feet built anywhere from the 1960s to the 1980s, she says.

Buyers wanting newer median-priced homes can drive a little farther to communities such as Wylie and find places with larger yards and more square footage, Szot says. While a buyer can still pick up a three-bedroom, two-bath, it would offer 2,100 to 2,200 square feet and include some sort of bonus room -- and lots are typically half an acre or larger, she adds.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Phoenix metro area median home price: $113,700.

For homebuyers, shopping the Phoenix area is like eyeing a patchwork quilt.

"You can actually have houses selling in a neighborhood on one side of the street for $85,000 to $125,000, and across the street, houses go from $350,000 to a million," says Christopher Paris, president of the Phoenix Association of Realtors.

That means if you want a particular age, style or price range, you're not necessarily limited to one part of the Phoenix Valley or just to certain neighborhoods, he says. You could find it anywhere.

In downtown Phoenix, $113,700 will buy anything from "an upscale one-bedroom, one-bath" to "something in the neighborhood of 2,000 square feet with four bedrooms and two baths" that may require some serious work, he says.

Out in the more suburban areas, what you can get for the money "kind of depends on which direction you go," Paris says. As with most cities, "your dollar is going to buy more the farther out you go."

In the Phoenix-Mesa area, foreclosures and short sales are "still a factor in the market," Paris says.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Las Vegas metro area median home price: $122,700.

In Las Vegas itself, buyers can find houses and condos in the median price range, says Paul Bell, immediate past president of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors and treasurer of the Nevada Association of Realtors.

At that price, single-family homes are often 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, have two or three bedrooms with 1½ baths, and are built anywhere from the late 1960s through the 1990s, he says. Condos could be slightly larger, built in the 1990s or later, he says.

In the suburbs for the median price, "the most common floor plan will be a one-story, three-bedroom, two-bath house with approximately 1,500 to 1,600 square feet" in the northern or southwestern part of the Las Vegas Valley, he says.

Often, homes need updating but are sold as is, Bell says.

He remembers one recent home priced at $124,000. But the buyer "would need to spend $15,000 to cosmetically update it and put in one new air-conditioning and heating system," he says.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Los Angeles metro area median home price: $324,800.

At the median price in Los Angeles, "there's not a ton of inventory," says Geoff McIntosh, director with the California Association of Realtors and founding president and current vice president of the Pacific West Association of Realtors.

While the median probably isn't that far off the average home price, "it's definitely the low end of the Los Angeles market," he says. And most of the homes at that price would likely be condos, he says.

In West Los Angeles, $325,000 might buy an older, 800-square-foot one-bedroom condo that has been redone, he says.

It may also get a smaller, older family home that needs some work, says LeFrancis Arnold, president of the California Association of Realtors. Typically, think 15 to 40 years old and 1,200 to 1,400 square feet -- or smaller if it has been renovated, he says.

In Long Beach, "we have a lot of housing stock that falls into this price range," McIntosh says. You might find a three-bedroom, one-bath tract from the 1940s. And while it will be in good condition, at that price it probably still has the original kitchen and bathroom, he says.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Detroit metro area median home price: $66,500.

The market for homes in Detroit "has been hit really hard with short sales and foreclosures," says Deitra J. McBryde, president of the Detroit Association of Realtors.

But with manufacturing -- especially the auto industry -- gearing up, this is a city that is bouncing back, she says.

In Detroit proper, for a bit more than $66,000, buyers can pick up a two- or three-bedroom condo -- perhaps even something on the waterfront --- built anywhere from the 1920s to the 1970s, McBryde says.

"A lot of them were built in the 1930s," she says. "You can see all the old architecture. A lot of the homeowners have put in stainless-steel (appliances) and granite -- they've updated their condos." Many of those will be foreclosures or short sales, she says.

Detroit's suburbs offer a mix of options. Often the homes are from the 1960s and '70s, she says. And depending on what you want, the condition and where it is, the median price will buy anywhere from 1,300 to 2,000 square feet. While the homes at that price won't be fixer-uppers, they likely will need some updating, she says.

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Philadelphia metro area median home price: $219,600.

"Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods," says Mike McCann, director on the executive board of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors.

The typical $220,000 buyer is a first-time homeowner, he says. And "they have plenty of choices. They can go from Center City, in the historic district where there are million-dollar houses, to the far northeast, where there are driveways, wider streets and street parking."

In the historic district, that money will fetch a studio or one-bedroom condo with 600 to 1,000 square feet in a vintage building that likely doesn't have an elevator, he says. Or a buyer can pick up a 50- to 120-year-old row house in one of the outlying neighborhoods.

In the suburbs, purchasing power varies widely with the area, says Marilou Buffum, past president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors.

And don't count on the old rule of "the farther out you go, the less expensive it is" to hold true for the Philadelphia suburbs, she says. In places like Chester and Montgomery counties, "it gets more expensive."

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

Tampa metro area median home price: $138,800.

Within the city limits of Tampa, Fla., $138,000 will buy a three-bedroom, two-bath home that could range in age from postwar to something built in the 1980s or 1990s, says Sally Irwin McFolling, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors.

A one- or two-bedroom condo of the same vintage is an option at the median price, she says.

In the suburbs, homes and yards get a little bigger. Buyers can get an extra 100 square feet or so in a development or planned community, McFolling says. And lots are typically one-tenth to one-quarter of an acre.

In Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Fla., buyers are likely to find "more condos and very little new development," she says. For $138,000, "you're getting an older house, probably 20 years -- if not more."

The good news for median-price buyers is that they can still get more for the money than they could have a few years ago, she says. And potential owners can find "a livable home" in that $138,000 range, McFolling says. "You have some selection."

*Source: National Association of Realtors, fall 2011.

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