By Nikhita Mahtani

Published on August 20, 2018

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ILLUSTRATION BY PHUONG NGUYEN

The biggest hurdle when it comes to buying a home is saving that extra bit of cash to afford a down payment—a serious struggle, especially considering the fact that both rents and home prices have been rising exponentially over the past few years. But maybe there’s some hope yet: According to Zillow’s newest report, based on an analysis from their brand RealEstate.com, some huge cities are still very affordable for millennials looking to buy their first homes, because saving up for a down payment is just that much easier in that specific area.

Zillow looked at the median household income among millennials (here, defined as ages 24 to 36) and their estimated annual household savings, in order to determine how long it would take to save up for a 20 percent down payment on a starter home, or a home priced within the bottom third of the market. This range was chosen to maximize affordability, and focused solely on metros in order to find areas where millennials would be able to look for jobs.

“Since nearly half (44 percent) of buyers move outside of their current city with their home purchase, knowing which metros can help ease some of the down payment burden can be valuable for first-time buyers considering moving,” writes the report.

So, where are the price of a starter home and average salary more conducive to saving for a home? The winner turns out to be Chicago, where it would cost the average millennial only three years to save up for the 20 percent down payment needed for the average starter home. By comparison, in Portland, Oregon, the estimated annual savings for a millennial household is $5,288—that’s nearly nearly half of what it is in Chicago ($10,821). A millennial in Portland, therefore, would have to save up for over 13 years to be able to afford a down payment in the city, due to a combination of lower income, higher home cost, and higher overall expenses. It may have some of the coziest cafes in the country, but Portland doesn’t seem to be the most fiscally responsible choice for young people looking to buy a home. 

And, make no mistake, they do want to buy a home—it’s just tricky. “Contrary to popular belief, millennials want to buy homes. But high home prices, low inventory, and stagnant wage growth are some of the many factors that may be driving would-be buyers into delaying homeownership,” says Justin LaJoie, RealEstate.com General Manager. “However, in certain US housing markets, first-time buyers can find some relief: They just need to know where to look.”

Below, check out the top 10 and worst 10 metropolitan areas for saving up for your first home’s down payment.

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Best 10 cities for buying a home, along with the number of years it would take to save for a down payment:

Chicago, IL – 3 years, 3 months

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX – 3 years, 5 months

Detroit, MI – 3 years, 7 months

Baltimore, MD – 3 years, 8 months

Indianapolis, IN – 3 years, 9 months

Pittsburgh, PA – 4 years

Cleveland, OH – 4 years, 1 month

St. Louis, MO – 4 years, 5 months

Austin, TX – 4 years, 7 months

Washington, DC – 4 years, 9 months

Worst 10 cities for buying a home, along with the number of years it would take to save for a down payment:

Portland, OR – 13 years, 2 months

Denver, CO – 12 years, 5 months

San Jose, CA – 11 years, 11 months

Riverside, CA – 10 years, 4 months

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL – 10 years, 3 months

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim – 10 years, 2 months

San Diego, CA – 9 years, 8 months

San Francisco, CA – 9 years, 7 months

Las Vegas, NV – 8 years, 5 months

Phoenix, AZ – 8 years, 4 months

Keep in mind, though, that this study focuses solely on starter homes in big cities. Earlier this year, Zillow released another study that looked more broadly at the market; it didn’t focus on metros, millennials, or even down payments specifically, instead analyzing other metrics like median home values combined with home value forecasts (aka, how much the home is expected to rise over the next year) and for-sale inventory. If finding a starter home in a popular metro area isn’t high on your list of priorities, maybe try looking at Tampa, FL, or San Antonio, TX, which also boast more affordable mid-priced homes than the rest of the country. You can check out the entire list of cities in that study here.

But how can you tell if you’re ready to buy your first home? According to Priya Malani, co-founder of modern financial firm Stash Wealth, you first have to understand that buying a home comes with a huge range of responsibilities that renters simply do not have—such as lack of a super, a mortgage, and closing costs—and they shouldn’t scare you. You also have to make sure you won’t be cutting costs to live in your home, and that it’s a place you’ll actually be comfortable living in for a while.

Reality check: “When most of us start looking at homes, we realize pretty quickly that there’s a monumental difference between the place we want to buy and the place we can afford to buy,” says Malani. “You shouldn’t compromise on things like safety, neighborhood, and a reasonable commute, but it may take you a little longer to save up for the place that you’d be willing to live in.”

Aware of all these factors, and still feel like buying a home is something you have to do? Well, then, it’s time to start saving. While the obvious easiest way to do this is to spend less than you earn, Malani also suggests making sure a part of each paycheck goes directly into a savings account that you aren’t allowed to touch. And make sure you have a specific home or goal in mind, so that you’re not “saving for the sake of saving,” per Malani.

“Unless you have a goal in mind (like that one-bedroom in Williamsburg), studies show that you’re almost always going to lose steam and get side-tracked or tempted to use your stash for something other than its intended purpose,” she says. So, make sure to find a space you love (no matter where it is!), and then work hard toward making that dream home yours.

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