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Published: May 19, 2023 4 min read
Aerial view of Chevy Chase, a suburban neighborhood in the outskirts of Washington, D.C.

Living in the big city isn’t cheap, and for those looking to buy a home, it’s often a pipe dream — especially given today’s rising cost of living and high mortgage rates.

New analysis, however, shows that while a brownstone in Brooklyn may be out of most home seekers’ budgets, there are more affordable (and spacious) options in suburbs near the U.S.’s priciest cities. Data from the real estate research site Point2 found that homebuyers have a better chance of finding the right price if they extend their searches within commuting distance of their city of choice.

To rank the most affordable suburban alternatives, Point2 looked at the 20 most populous and expensive U.S. cities and compared the average cost per square foot of living space to that in surrounding communities.

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What the data says

  • Buying a house in the suburbs isn't just a little easier on the wallet for city dwellers. In some parts of the country, bedroom communities offer an entirely different real estate market. Over 600 of the 777 suburbs within 30 miles of the country’s 20 most expensive cities are more affordable in terms of price per square foot — up to 65% cheaper in some places.
  • The East Coast offers the most suburban alternatives to main cities: 95 of the top 100 suburbs with the biggest price differences are near New York, Washington D.C., Boston, and Miami.

"Suburbs may still provide the silver lining that all aspiring homebuyers are looking for," the report says. "Given their extended freedom to move and relocate in this brand new era of remote work, home seekers could expand their search radius, so they can really start looking and stop compromising."

Cities with the highest share of affordable suburbs

Salt Lake City, Utah, tops the list of cities with the most comparatively affordable surrounding suburbs, according to the analysis. In fact, buying a house in any nearby suburb there is cheaper than in the capital city.

These are the top 10 cities with the most relatively affordable suburbs for home buyers, ranked by the percentage of suburbs with a lower cost per square foot compared to the main city.

  1. Salt Lake City, Utah (100%)
  2. New York, New York (98%)
  3. Washington, D.C. (97%)
  4. Boston, Massachusetts (93%)
  5. Honolulu, Hawaii (90%)
  6. Austin, Texas (89%)
  7. Seattle, Washington (83%)
  8. Boise, Idaho (80%)
  9. Denver, Colorado (80%)
  10. Riverside, California (79%)

Keep in mind

Not all suburbs offer relative affordability, according to the report. About 18 of the suburbs analyzed are “absolute kryptonite” for the average homebuyer, with prices an astounding 100% to 212% higher per square foot than their main cities.

Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, the priciest suburb on the list, has a price per square foot of $1,400; 385% higher than the median price in its main city, Charleston. In fact, fewer than half (41%) of Charleston's commutable suburbs are more affordable — the lowest share behind San Jose, California, where only 32% of surrounding suburbs offer a lower price per square foot of living space.

California is home to four of the top five cities with the lowest share of affordable suburbs: In San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento, only 54% to 57% of each city's surrounding suburbs are comparatively affordable.

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