The Days of Great Deals on Southern Homes May Be Over
This summer, my wife and I went on a 3,400-mile road trip (and honeymoon). This adventure gave me the opportunity to look at housing markets outside of the Merrimack Valley.
We began our journey with the assumption that the South would be much more affordable. Many New Englanders have heard stories about people moving there and buying homes of twice the size for half of what we would pay in the MV. Those days may be over, at least in prime locations. As usual, location is the primary catalyst of home prices, and large city centers with clear economic development command the highest prices in the housing market, whether you’re talking Massachusetts or Mississippi.
Take Charlotte, N.C., for example. We stayed in the NoDa (North Davidson) neighborhood. It’s an “up-and-coming” destination spot, with home prices that have skyrocketed in recent years to the point where values are reaching levels that mirror communities directly north of Boston. Many homes sell for a half-million dollars or more. When you move farther out of downtown Charlotte, the prices sink and are comparable to areas in central Massachusetts, such as Leominster and Fitchburg.
Farther west, Tennessee boasts homes at prices low enough to shock New Englanders, but Nashville’s housing costs have risen greatly due to the city’s popularity. In Louisiana, Slidell, a community north of New Orleans, is very affordable, but in New Orleans’ French Quarter, house prices rise to the million-dollar mark.
Heading back north, Pittsburgh bucks the city inflation trend and shocked us with its affordability. We visited for a day, stalking neighborhoods with our mobile real estate apps like sharks in seal-infested waters. We pulled up to a beautiful neighborhood on the northwest side of the city. By the looks of the regal homes adorned with stone siding, we assumed values in the millions, but when we searched online, nearby homes with more than 2,000 square feet were listed around $350,000.
There are other factors to consider beyond home values. Take food. In southern Ohio, locals flock to diners and eateries where breakfast can be covered with a $10 bill. West Virginia offers plenty of restaurants that serve cheap entrees and drinks. In many smaller towns and cities in the South, affordability and cost-effectiveness are heavily esteemed. To my delight, we found restaurants and breweries in Charlotte that offered daily and half-off specials. Beyond restaurants, groceries in general were slightly cheaper than those up north. Louisiana had some of the cheapest groceries I found, especially seafood, possibly due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico.
Focusing on real estate and food prices only gives us a sense of the cost of living. Wages and personal revenue are crucial considerations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Massachusetts in 2019 was $81,215, compared with Charlotte at $62,817 and Nashville at $59,828.
Looking at wages alone, the rising cost of housing in hot Southern markets doesn’t seem justified. However, with economic growth and new tech jobs, Southern states continue to see populations rise. With this demand comes increased home values and overall higher costs associated with basic living expenses. These rising costs put a damper on my idea of buying a part-time vacation home in Charlotte, and laid to rest daydreams of life in a Southern mansion.