The Best Cities To Buy Real Estate In America

There is strong demand for real estate due to low mortgage rates, high inflation, and a desire for a more stable asset class. Further, stocks are volatile. This post looks at the best cities to buy real estate in America today.

Real estate continues to be my favorite asset class to build wealth due to its stability and income. Savvy investors are looking to buy real estate to keep the potential profits going.

With interest rates low, the value of cash flow has gone way up. Therefore, rental properties in good locations should be worth much more than they currently are. It takes a lot more capital to generate the same amount of risk-adjusted income.

In Search For Undervalued Real Estate

In a previous post, I already spent a ton of time analyzing the most attractive states to buy real estate based on migration trends and valuations. Now all I've got to do is identify the top cities from the top states. With the pandemic, the calculus of deciding the best cities to buy real estate have slightly changed.

Cities like New York City, LA, and Washington DC are crowded. Prices are high and people are getting fed up with the constant traffic. More people want more space as well due to the pandemic. As a result, more people are moving to lower cost and lower density areas of the country.

Thanks to technology, there's no reason why employees have to always come to the office anymore. They can work remotely. Given the largest cities are also the ones with the highest cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic should accelerate the remote trend and the desire to work in a less densely populated areas.

As a family man now, I'd personally love more space and safer streets for my kids. But to buy a 10,000 square foot lot in San Francisco would probably cost me over $20 million if one were ever available!

Therefore, I decided to buy another single family home on the less dense west side of San Francisco. Intracity migration is happening. Pay attention.

However, for those of you looking to invest in real estate around the country, here are the best cities to buy real estate today.

The Best States To Buy Real Estate

To figure out the best cities to buy real estate, let us first review the top states to buy real estate in the new decade by migration and valuation. I've ranked them based on the combined rankings of the two variables.

South Carolina comes out first, followed by Vermont, South Dakota, Tennessee, etc.

Top states to buy property

You may disagree with my ranking methodology, which is fine. This is why we have a market. However, let's now cross reference the most attractive states with the most attractive cities to buy real estate provided by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a commercial real estate institution.

CrowdStreet, my favorite real estate marketplace for accredited investors, pointed me to ULI after I discussed with their team my goal to identify cities with the most investment potential. The full ULI report, including their top real estate prospects for 2020 and beyond is available here.

Top cities for real estate investing in 2020 - a best city to buy real estate

You'll notice from the chart that 8 of the top 10 markets for overall real estate prospects are secondary metros (aka 18-hour cities). 8 of the top 10 markets also hail from my top 15 best states to buy real estate. The only two cities in ULI's top 10 that are not considered 18-hour cities and are not in my Top 15 states are Boston and Los Angeles.

Therefore, I think we can agree that both sets of analysis makes sense.

Reviewing ULI's Best Five Cities To Buy Real Estate

Austin #1 (ULI rank) / Texas #7 (FS state rank)

Austin seems like everyone's favorite city for real estate investing nowadays and for good reason. Its slogan is “Keep Austin Weird,” which sounds eerily similar to how things are in San Francisco. Austin has a deep talent pool. The city has a unique and high quality lifestyle. Further, the state has no state income taxes. Lifestyle is reasonably priced real estate. Finally, Austin has a strong commitment to business and real estate expansion.

On the downside, traffic is an ongoing issue and housing affordability pressures are rising. Austin has the highest projected population growth rate for the coming five years among the 80 markets ULI has analyzed.

Development is booming and the landscape studded with impactful
projects: Apple is building a $1 billion North Austin campus; a multi-developer transit-oriented development is underway near downtown on Lady Bird Lake; the new Dell Medical School recently opened at the University of Texas; a major airport expansion is underway; and Google is also aggressively expanding in town.

Austin will likely continue to be the best city to buy real estate in the country for many years. Although, its torrid price appreciation growth in 2020 and 2021 so far is unsustainable. Austin real estate prices have grown by over 30% YoY in 2021.

Raleigh/Durham #2 (ULI rank) / North Carolina #8 (FS state rank)

Raleigh/Durham, ranked number two overall, has been seeing impressive investment in its suburban office and multifamily sectors.

This market’s concentration of educational institutions—Duke University, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, and several smaller colleges has made the area a center for intellectual capital.

Further, there is Research Triangle Park, which is being branded as a technology mecca with more than 89,000 tech jobs. With tech jobs accounting for 10.9 percent of the employment base, the Raleigh/Durham area ranks third behind Silicon Valley and San Francisco in tech industry share, according to a recent Tech Cities report.

Nashville #3 (ULI rank), Tennessee #4 (FS state rank)

Tennessee is my #4 best state to buy real estate and Nashville is the top city prospect. The local mood is ebullient, with expectations strong for continued investment and development.

On the corporation front, Nashville has Alliance Bernstein's headquarters, an Amazon operations center, and the expansion of dental products firm Smile Direct Club. There are some 8,000 new jobs linked to these firms.

Just beware that housing supply is increasing in places like Austin, Nashville, Dallas, and Houston in 2022+. Therefore, the key is to forecast whether demand will continue to more than outstrip supply. When it comes to forecasting a housing downturn, you've got to be aware of upcoming supply.

Charlotte #4 (ULI rank), North Carolina #8 (FS state rank)

Charlotte moved up from ninth to fourth in ULI's survey as the city is attracting technology and manufacturing firms.

The city has been a banking sector hub for over 20 years given it is the headquarters of Bank of America.

Charlotte (with just 0.8 percent of the U.S. population) attracted 1.2 percent of the nation’s real estate investment in the three-year period from 2016 through 2018 and stepped up to a 1.5 percent share during the first half of 2019.

Orlando #5 (ULI rank), Florida #9 (FS state rank)

Orlando captured 1.3 percent of the 2016–2018 national investment volume, holding steady at a 1.2 percent share in early 2019, and, like Charlotte, well-exceeded its 0.8 percent share of the U.S. population.

ULI's survey highlighted Orlando as seventh in overall real estate prospects, ninth in development/redevelopment opportunities, and 17th in both homebuilding prospects and local expectations of investor demand in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, given its projected population increase of 71,000 over the
next five years, this market is overwhelmingly rated a multifamily “buy” in ULI's survey, with offices also seen as a “buy” by 50 percent of our respondents. Local experts anticipate that the expansion of the rail link from Miami—now under construction—will boost already robust tourism flows.

Finally, who doesn't love no state income tax?

CrowdStreet's Best Cities To Buy Real Estate

Given CrowdStreet is primarily focused on investing in 18-hour cities, they've also come up with four cities they see as interesting opportunities for real estate investing.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

* $131,000 median home price, #66 ULI rank

One of the largest real estate projects of 2018 was the $524 million Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. It is home of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team. The Bucks are one of the four favorites to win the NBA championship in 2020. If they don't, Giannis Antetokounmpo is probably going to leave in 2021. He will join my Golden State Warriors for maximum money!

A new modern streetcar, known as The Hop, will soon run downtown within a quarter-mile of the most densely occupied office towers, including the headquarters of Northwestern Mutual, who recently invested $450 million into their downtown space.

Milwaukee also has a lower cost of doing business, especially in comparison to its neighboring 24-hour city, Chicago, which has some of the highest taxes in the country. Several companies have already made the journey north from Chicago to Milwaukee, including Gold Standard Banking (bringing 300 jobs), Vonco Products, and Colbert Packaging.

Milwaukee Labor Force & Population Growth - a best city to buy real estate

Milwaukee’s manufacturing employment comprises 14.3% of the labor force, nearly double the national average. As automation continues to improve, the city’s exposure to manufacturing jobs could negatively affect employment. However, based on current population growth, Milwaukee looks solid.

Columbus, Ohio 

* $171,000 median home price, #26 ULI rank

Columbus was the most commonly asked about city by people who read my Top States To Invest In Real Estate For The New Decade. Due to positive net migration, specifically college-educated millennials moving to downtown Columbus, Columbus' population continues to grow handsomely.

Due to the millennial migration, Columbus has a higher than average population of prime workers (employees ages 25-44). The labor market is extremely tight with unemployment below 3.0%.

Unlike other midwest cities, Columbus doesn’t have a large exposure to manufacturing, shielding it from potential job loss due to automation. Alternatively, a large portion of the labor force, 16% of overall employment, is employed by the state government, providing a sturdy backbone and less office rent volatility.

Sector diversity within an economy provides insulation against economic volatility. Other expanding sectors in Columbus include education, healthcare, professional services, and hospitality.

Columbus Labor Force & Population Growth - a best city to buy real estate

Approximately 7,800 multifamily units are currently under construction, with a majority of projects within the downtown core. Despite the boom in construction, multifamily vacancy remains near record lows at 6.1%. Net absorption (the amount of space that was occupied) was positive. Over 3,000 apartments were occupied from June 2018 – June 2019, rounding out the extremely healthy fundamentals.

Columbus has also had a push of development in the past two years. Over 2.5 million square feet (MSF) of office space delivered, more than the previous ten years combined.

Charleston, South Carolina

* $331,000 median home price, #19 ULI rank

When I first interviewed CrowdStreet about their favorite 18-hour cities, they chose Charleston as #1 due to its downtown vibrancy, and population and job growth. Based on my top states analysis, South Carolina is also my #1 state to buy real state.

Sales volume hit a record high in 2019. 200 office buildings traded for a total of $330 MM, beating a record year in 2018.

Employers such as Boeing and Mercedes-Benz have flocked to Charleston, among many others. Volvo recently expanded into a $1.1B factory that will hire an additional 4,000 employees. As a father of two now, I sure like the new Volvo XC90 SUV.

Charleston, South Carolina Labor Force - a best city to buy real estate

The Port of Charleston has also been a driving force in expanding job growth, specifically manufacturing jobs. The Port’s deepening of the Charleston Harbor will accommodate increased container volume.

Kansas City, Missouri

* $159,000 median home price, #47 ULI rank,

What's not to like about Kansas City except that they beat my 49ers in the 2020 Super Bowl.

A surge in downtown activity is driven by higher than average population growth. Population is steadily growing since 2015 due to a lower cost of living and more jobs.

Kansas City’s unemployment rate of 3.1% is lower than the national unemployment rate of 3.6%. None other than Warren Buffet announced that GEICO selected Lenexa, a submarket of Kansas City, as its next service center.

Kansas City offered an economic incentive package to the insurance company in exchange for GEICO adding 500 entry-level jobs to the economy. Incentivizing large corporations like GEICO to move into the market will continue to grow Kansas City’s employment growth.

Kansas City Labor Force & Population Growth - a best city to buy real estate

Biotech research also has a massive presence in Kansas City. The healthcare IT giant, Cerner Corporate, is rapidly expanding with already 900,000 sf of space in the market. After winning a $624MM contract, Cerner will employ more than 16,000 people over the next ten years. Additionally, Children’s Research Institute is expanding their research arm and will soon employ over 3,000 researchers.

Along with biotech research, telecom companies like Sprint Corp. and AT&T occupy over 2MSF of office space. They are major employers of the area. Kansas City has historically been more dependent on large employers like these. Howver, recently the city has had a spike in small business creation, an indicator of positive market health and investor confidence.

Due to Kansas City being centrally located geographically, the industrial sector has room to grow. E-commerce has revolutionized warehousing and other retailers are under pressure to have Amazon-like shipping. The need to have warehouses in centralized areas like Kansas City is crucial to national distributors and supply chain operators.

The Best Cities To Buy Real Estate Are 18-Hour Cities

I'm happy CrowdStreet's platform is focused on 18-hour cities. I do believe 18-hour cities are the best cities to buy real estate in 2021 and beyond. A strong multi-decade migration trend towards lower cost areas of the country is upon us.

For those of you who currently live in 24-hour cities, the ability to invest in 18-hour cities has never been easier. For those of you who are already living in 18-hour cities, try and buy as much of your piece of America as possible. Capital will flow to where there is the most potential for profit.

To invest in 18-hour cities, check out CrowdStreet, one of the leading real estate marketplaces today. It's free to sign up and explore.

CrowdStreet Marketplace

About The Author

23 thoughts on “The Best Cities To Buy Real Estate In America”

  1. What would be a recommendation for a 5-7 year investment in RE? We are in Boise but the prices have skyrocketed to a point that it’s going to hit a ceiling it seems. We are open to moving where the best investment may be. Thanks in advance for your insight.

  2. Should have included Richmond, VA. “Fall line” location along I-95 is very attractive and interest has been building in that city for years. Job growth is good, economy doing well and beautiful nature nearby. More breweries than anywhere else if used as a barometer for “cool”. Halfway between DC and Raleigh/Durham but more interesting than either of them. Just not enough press, so it remains a hidden gem so to speak. Definitely a darkhorse candidate that can come seemingly out of nowhere to take the spotlight. Investments pay off longer-term, even for positive cash flow now.

  3. Well written analysis!

    I lived and invested in several properties (1-4 units) in Raleigh-Durham the past 8 years. Most of our close friends live in NYC but become increasingly jealous of our lifestyle here with backyard, space, nature, nice weather yet decent culinary, cultural offerings. The tables have turned :-) Certainly also a matter of age in our group as we now are in our early/mid thirties.

    I think this particular area might take further off and catch up to its peers Austin/Nashville/Denver in coolness/hip appeal once perception changes of NC (politically) and Raleigh/Durham (brand) – then even more young people will poor in.

  4. Hey Sam, great article . You mentioned local sponsor what you mean to save out of state taxes ? Also with this downturn cities like Nashville is planning to increase the taxes. Have we considered that? Any thoughts will be great.

    1. Everything is a case by case basis. Lots of plans that are hard to predict what will happen. I’m focused on demographic trends, valuations, and taxes. Even if Nashville raises taxes.. if other cities do too, is Nashville less attractive?

  5. I am current live in Charlotte and used to live in RTP, with investment properties in both. They both attract many large companies in recent years, big chunk of MetLife from Manhattan to RTP and Charlotte at the same time several years ago. Honeywell moved global HQ from NJ to Charlotte last year, Corning moved their fiber optic cable division HQ from smaller Hickory, NC to Charlotte, SunTrust bank merging with BB&T with new HQ to Charlotte. Although IBM is a NY company, they have the largest campus in RTP, etc… Overall, living standard, job market and weather is nice in both. Many of my colleagues from previous jobs all came from northern states… On the other hand, I think the real estate in Charlotte should start to slow down. The price continued going up in the past winter, supposed to be slow in general. I just sold an low price condo mainly trying to do Section 8. I bought it with $64K cash without seeing inside the property and sold it for $77K in a year with monthly rent at $950, not bad for ROI. I sold it because I saw the virus wave is coming from seeing what happened in China, and a lot of new issues I had to deal with from low-income family that I didn’t foresee. There are at least 3K low income applicants waiting for housing in Charlotte. In RTP, many of my Asian friends in tech or bio-tech have 4+ investment properties. Hope this helps.

  6. That is a good list. We’ve invested already in Kansas City, Arizona and DC area. So I agree with you. California is too expensive now. We are doing a property exchange in the next 3 months and I’m looking at maybe Arizona. But with COVID19, who knows? In 2 weeks it’s going to be a completely different real estate world for better or worse. Have been following your blog for a long time and have appreciated your articles.

  7. Hi Sam,

    Thank you so much for your article. I see Nashville on everybody’s radar lately for places to buy and invest in. I moved from Nashville around a year ago, and even then the demand for property was at an all time high! I moved away because I had a job offer I could not refuse. The thing is everybody is moving to Nashville for work, retirement or just for a change and want a “cool” and “trendy” city.

    It is definitely still a sellers market, and I know a lot of friends we still have there are wondering when the bubble will burst. The bubble may not burst for a very long time, because Nashville is continuing to appeal to people of all ages and even companies wishing to move there. The recent tornado may hurt business for a while, but I think they will rebuild stronger than ever. We saw that after the flood that happened there in 2010.

  8. Hi Sam,

    Interesting post.

    Could I get your thoughts on Chicago? It seems like the cheapest 24-hour city, has a diversified economy (although not growing), it’s one of the most beautiful in America, and rents are high compared to purchase price. I think that it is undervalued under many metrics – I understand it’s not going to appreciate like other ‘trendier’ cities but in the long term do you consider it a good investment? (300kUSD purchase price, 2kUSD gross rent -> approx. 1kUSD net not considering mortgage).

    From the cities you mention, I’ve travelled to several of them and although they’re definitely growing and gaining momentum I can’t see certain people leaving NYC, Boston, SF, Miami or LA to move to more regional cities in the south of the US. As a European (and I know you’ve been there several times) I agreed to move to London but wouldn’t have moved to a town like Liverpool or Manchester, even if they’re growing. They’re too local and this especially applies if you are part of a minority (such as immigrants are). I feel like the same would apply in the US – I don’t know if I would move to small towns in the south of the US (although I do love cosmopolitan 24-h American cities).

    Thank you in advance for reading this comment.



    1. Chicago has always been good value and continues to be good value as a 24-hour city. I’m just afraid of their high property taxes and seemingly mismanaged local government.

      It feels to me they are stuck in the middle too. Folks either will go to a coastal 24-hour city or go to a 18-hour city to save money and find new opportunity. That’s what research for folks heading to Milwaukee is showing, for example.

      1. Chicago is a tough market and you need to make sure all the numbers check out. My family and I own multiple properties in the Chicago area. The property taxes are extremely high and the eviction process is very slow so tenant screening is paramount. The only eviction I had to do was in a newly acquired property (for non-payment with month to month lease) took 6 months from start to close. Part of this delay is all the number of new cases each day and the county doesn’t do any evictions when the temperature is under 35*. You can see how the system gets backed up between November and February…

        There are more people moving just over the border into Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie, WI. Milwaukee has good value, but it’s also one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. Real estate is very block-by-block there. The chart above is also concerning where the labor force and population growth isn’t in lock step.

  9. Not surprising about the Raleigh/Durham market. We keep making all these lists and still relatively affordable compared to other parts of the country. I grew up here so I definitely understand the appeal!

  10. South Carolina Investor

    I’ve bought 3 rental properties in Horry County, SC in the past 11 months.

    .33% is the effective tax rate for Myrtle Beach primary residences.

    .37% for unincorporated Horry County primary residences (other side of the intracoastal waterway)

    Even without the tax break you get for your primary residence, the property taxes here are still lower than average.

    All 3 are cash flowing quite nicely compared to my rental properties in the DC area.

    The demographic trends in both the Myrtle Beach and Charleston areas are incredibly favorable & getting stronger each day.

    Lots of people move here from the Northeast who first moved to Florida & then came half way back to the Carolinas. “Half-Backs”

    Usually to be closer to family & enjoy less intense heat than what Florida offers.

    Myrtle Beach has a much higher elevation than Charleston – that could be increasingly important in the future!

    Areas around 79th Ave N in Myrtle Beach allow you to be 40 feet plus above sea level and still have view of the ocean.

    Sort of like California geography, but without the California prices. Very cool.

  11. Great post and overall I totally agree with the cities that were listed. The only city I am struggling with is Columbus. The downtown area was a ghost town past 5 pm, and didn’t have the excitement and growth I found in cities like Milwaukee, Austin, and Charleston. I also found a lack of local and ethnic food in comparison to other cities listed. On the positive side Ohio State is in Columbus and does provide lots of entertainment and sports to the city. As usual your article makes me think and give a different perspective.

  12. Fun and insightful post! I believe Raleigh and Charlotte are accurate based on my personal network. Austin sounds like a top city indeed with the tech activity. Personally I have no desire or reason to move to those cities, but I can easily see a lot of other people moving and buying there. I like real estate as an asset class, especially in rocky market times like this.

    1. Yeah, loved that mega mansion your friend bought in Raleigh for under a million!

      My friend bought something MASSIVE to house his three kids for $1.7 million. The land to runaround on is amazing.

  13. Hi Sam,

    I spent close to 30 years in the U.S. Army and every where I went I bought a house and rented them when I left. I own 6 currently. I loved the 2 years in South Carolina. I caution any investors about purchasing there. You will get clobbered as an out of state owner on property taxes. Also, the appreciation is horrible there. I paid $136,500 for it 15 years ago and selling for $150K. I currently have my house there under contract and it should close in 3 weeks. Taxes for my house are $1650 a year. I pay $4600 as an out of state owner. All well and good if you are paying cash for your rental property there for investors. I own 5 houses 30 to 45 miles south of Seattle. I will keep mine here and continue to ride the 30-50K a year appreciation we are receiving here.

    Recently discovered your site and really enjoying your work and advice!

    “Keep up the Fire” (Funny as that’s an old units motto)

    Big Sarge

    1. Great color! Thank you. I’ll clarify about the tax situation if you are investing with a local sponsor, which is what I plan to do. I’m currently more focused on steady income over appreciation.

      I wouldn’t be so surge about Seattle at this stage, but I hope so!

      1. Yes, if investing as you are all the better! It was mainly meant for any investors looking to purchase rental homes. I know at some point the greater Seattle area may slow down. It is becoming so crowded and expensive many people are commuting over 60-90 minutes away just to be able to afford the “American Dream”. I also flip homes, but they are becoming harder to find in the market now. I am fortunate with my great retirement and real estate investments that i can be picky with flips. I have done 5 so far and have an empty lot I am going to build on. I don’t do the construction or flips. I coordinate, schedule and check on the contractors. I’m 51 and living the early retirement dream!

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