Owning a great home is a cherished goal for most Americans. But take a peek behind the curtains, and a deeper national desire reveals itself: owning a great big home. In a land where size truly matters, plenty of folks dream of living in a place where dogs can roam, kids can scream their hearts out without inflicting familial insanity, and multiple generations can nest. Maybe you can even have room to set up an in-house bar!
But all of that glorious space doesn’t come cheap. The typical home over 3,000 square feet costs $589,700—or about $147 per square foot, according to realtor.com® listings data. In desirable neighborhoods of big cities such as New York, that price barely covers the cost of a closet-size, one-bedroom co-op. And let’s not even talk about the $809 per square foot people are shelling out in San Francisco.
Fortunately, there are still oversize bargains to be had in some of the nation’s more affordable markets —and your trusty realtor.com data team set out to find them! We uncovered the housing markets that offer buyers the lowest cost per square foot on large homes.
Typically—but not always—these are areas with struggling economies, where there are fewer buyers vying for these spacious residences
“Long periods of job losses or higher unemployment means that there is going to be fewer buyers for large homes,” says Paul Bishop, vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors®. “Fewer buyers mean home prices are lower than they would be elsewhere.”
But we also found a few surprise markets with big-house bargains.
We sifted through realtor.com listings in the first six months of the year to calculate the price per square foot for homes with more than 3,000 square feet. Then we limited the lowest big-home price rankings to one metropolitan area per state to ensure geographic diversity. (Metros include the main city and the suburbs and exurbs surrounding it.)
So where can buyers score the most home for the least cash?
1. Scranton, PA
Decades of coal mine and industrial plant closures caused an exodus of residents and all types of financial woes for this city, which almost went bankrupt in 2012. The troubles have kept home appreciation from soaring—attracting some home buyers trying to escape expensive Northeast cities.
“A lot of people are coming from New York City,” says Sam Scelta, a real estate agent at Century 21 Jack Ruddy Real Estate. Scranton is just 2.5 hours from Manhattan. “They’re surprised to find how low the homes and property taxes are.”
Sorry, Dunder Mifflin fans: Unlike Michael Scott and his co-workers from TV show “The Office,” which was based in Scranton, most folks here aren’t in the paper biz. Of the eight largest employers, all are either schools, government, or hospitals.
Folks who want to buy a big, sprawling, historic home with five or more bedrooms should start their search in the Green Ridge neighborhood, where Victorians topping 3,000 square feet range from $150,000 to over $500,000.
And there are things to do in town (and not just “The “Dundies” at Chili’s). Skiers can head to the Montage Mountain Resorts, about eight miles from the city’s downtown, while history buffs won’t want to miss the Steamtown National Historic Site, a very cool railroad museum.
2. McAllen, TX
Located along the U.S.-Mexico border, McAllen regularly ranks among the poorest metropolitan areas in the country. And despite some recent growth—with a spate of new homes, restaurants, and hotels—bargain housing still abounds, especially Texas-size homes.
“We are a very inexpensive place to live,” says Joyce Smithers, a broker associate at Keller Williams Realty in McAllen. “The upper price range [which large homes fall under] doesn’t have as much demand as homes under $200,000.” That means buyers with their hearts set on big abodes have way more to choose from.
Those who have a little extra dough to spend may want to consider the master-planned community of Sharyland Plantation. It’s filled with large, two-story homes priced around $350,000, and the community boasts scenic trails and pathways weaving through it.
Those ready to settle down into a big abode have plenty to choose from both downtown and in the suburbs. Among the places that made our list, Indy by far has the highest share of large residences.
One popular destination is Cottage Home, a historic district with older big homes, as well as Mapleton-Fall Creek. The latter is an up-and-coming area with remodeled, historic homes where folks can expect to find lower prices, with 3,000-square-foot homes starting at $175,000.
“If you’re looking in Indianapolis, a 3,000-square-foot home with updated amenities goes for somewhere in the low to mid $300,000s,” says Jenni Dubach Bliss, a local real estate agent with Nottingham Realty Group. “You can get them for lower, but they’ll probably need some serious work.
From the Monongahela valley; To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia; The story’s always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day; Now, sir, you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough; Rich enough to forget my name…My sweet Jenny, I’m sinkin’ downHere darlin’ in Youngstown
The area doesn’t have a lot of big homes, but what is available can be found for a great price. Just south of downtown in the suburb of Boardman, buyers can find four- or five-bedroom homes priced under $250,000. This five-bedroom, 3,100-square-foot home features a kitchen with granite countertops and a limestone backsplash, and it’s listed for just $225,000.
But lately there have been some signs of resurgence. It’s been kick-started by the Youngstown Business Incubator, which has raised nearly $50 million for startups in town. And after 44 years with no hotel in its downtown, a DoubleTree by Hilton opened in May. This is progress.
5. Wichita, KS
Big-home buyers in Wichita tend to either work for local employers like Koch Industries or Cessna, or come from one of the many nearby state colleges and universities. Indeed, Wichita State University alumni are among the most likely to buy the big homes in the area—once they get their careers off the ground.
“It’s very much a seller’s market unless you’re looking at homes above the $400,000 range,” says Jared Viernes, a real estate agent with Sunflower Real Estate in Wichita. They’re simply too expensive for many locals. “Big homes that slip below that price are likely to get more action.”
Wichita is known for its friendly and open community—and its trademark loose meat sandwiches (delicious!). The city is also home to the Wichita River Festival, which bring tons of people into town in each summer for concerts right on the Arkansas River.
“People come here specifically because they want to be able to afford those big types of houses,” Viernes says.
6. Columbia, SC
Once late August rolls around, it’s all college football all the time in South Carolina’s state capital. The world here revolves around the University of South Carolina’s SEC football team, the Gamecocks, and their long-standing rivalry with the Clemson University Tigers.
Many of those fans eventually become homeowners. And why not? The price is right, and there are plenty of neighborhoods filled with Southern charm. Of note are Forest Acres and Heathwood, where the streets are dotted with picturesque, two-story homes that look like they emerged from “Steel Magnolias.”
Usually a booming population means sky-high housing costs, but not in Columbia. The city’s population has grown by about 50,000 residents since 2010, bringing its total to above 816,000. However, the median price for all abodes has stayed at just $220,000—significantly lower than other nearby Southern meccas such as Atlanta, at $330,000.
7. Augusta, GA
The second-largest city in Georgia, Augusta is best known for the Masters golf tournament, which brings 200,000 fans to town each spring. But unlike many other Southern cities, which are seeing population, job, and cultural booms, Augusta’s turn in the spotlight has yet to come.
However, that may be changing. Downtown Augusta is experiencing a boost in development. In May, voters approved the construction of a $100 million arena that will host concerts and sports events.
The city boasts a number of large homes built in all types of styles. Many were constructed in the early part of the 20th century, when the city was a major tourist destination. Some of these abodes priced under $400,000 would be the talk of the town in other parts of the country with their all-brick exteriors, front stoops, and granite countertops.
8. Tulsa, OK
Carriers such as American Airlines and Lufthansa have a big employment presence in Tulsa, part of the booming aerospace industry that’s ushering folks to this area. And once they get here, many are shocked to find out how affordable it can be to buy a giant five-bedroom house with all sorts of amenities.
“We have people relocate here from other pricier areas, where they might not have had the employment to justify owning a big home,” says Darryl Baskin, a broker associate at eXp Realty in Tulsa. “They are coming here and enjoying life more.”
Downtown Tulsa was built during the oil boom of the 1920s, and art deco–style buildings line its streets. When it comes to big homes, Tulsa has everything from two-story brick Colonials to recently built one-story homes with open concept designs.
One reason larger homes are more affordable in Tulsa: The population is aging, and there aren’t as many folks who need these cavernous places homes now that their kids have grown up and moved away.
The capital of Arkansas, Little Rock has a blazing real estate market with homes skedaddling faster (a median of just 59 days) than in sweet spots such as New York City or Miami. But the go-go part of the market doesn’t extend to the giant houses here, putting big-home buyers in the driver’s seat.
“I’ve negotiated a sale recently that the seller was asking $525,000 and we brought it all the way down to $462,500,” says Joel Tvedten, a real estate agent at River Rock Realty Co. in Little Rock. Those interested in homes built in the 1990s with gold fixtures and out-of-date backsplashes can get a bigger home for a lower amount than the new construction going up around town, he says.
Folks on the hunt for large homes in Little Rock should look at neighborhoods along the Arkansas River, like Cammack Village or Hillcrest. Neighborhoods in this area have everything from 3,000 square-foot ranches priced around $500,000, to legit mansions priced over $1 million.
Dina Buztua, 47, is among those locals looking to move into a more spacious, older home in Little Rock. She and her husband are planning to trade up from their already large, 3,800-square-foot home to a five-bedroom in the $400,000 to $500,000 range closer to their daughter’s school.
“The older homes are a much better bargain. They’re much prettier and have bigger backyards,” Buztua says.
10. Louisville, KY
Located along the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville is hitting all the right notes and setting itself up for a growth explosion. The city is best known for the Kentucky Derby, and employers such as Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) and Humana have headquarters here. That’s attracting workers from all over the Midwest and beyond.
Louisville boasts a number of large, historic homes in walking areas near downtown. Buyers who want a bigger-than-life landmark gem will fall in love with this six-bedroom brick home dating to 1890 in the heart of Old Louisville.
“I don’t find so much that people are saying, ‘I want a bigger house.’ Instead, they’re looking for better amenities, a basement, or maybe a big backyard—and those traditionally come with bigger places,” Ellis says.
* Median price per square foot on homes with at least 3,000 square feet
Allison Underhill contributed to this report.