Top 10 Most Underrated U.S. Cities to Live In

By Luke Babich

Posted on October 5th, 2022

If you want to sell your home before the market cools but aren't sure where to move, that’s understandable. Selling your home is a lot of work and involves a lot of moving parts. From termite inspections to organizing home showings and haggling over contingencies, it’s hard to get motivated unless you have a great destination to look forward to.

A new study by real estate website Home Bay asked 1,000 Americans where they live, where they want to live, and how they chose where to move. Overall, Americans like where they live, but they’re open to better opportunities. Although 81% of Americans are satisfied with where they live, 92% of those could be convinced to move to a different city or state.

The most popular reasons to relocate are for financial purposes, such as a great job opportunity (52%), a lower cost of living (52%), or more affordable housing (44%). Reasons to move also vary widely by age. Millennials and Gen Z are three times more likely than baby boomers to relocate for a better job, while Gen Z is four times more likely than baby boomers to move for better dating opportunities.

Many city dwellers moved to the country during the pandemic, and that trend is likely to continue, according to the study. About 30% of respondents say they'd prefer to move to the country, suggesting the housing market is in for a shift as Americans move from cities to rural areas.

Respondents say a great city is characterized by a low cost of living, safety, and affordable home prices. As a result, 61% of respondents say they wouldn’t move to a place with a high cost of living, 60% wouldn't move to an unsafe neighborhood, and 46% wouldn't move into an expensive home.

In light of those preferences, here are the 10 most underrated cities in the U.S.

10. Nashville, Tennessee

This booming city is home to a burgeoning tech startup scene and one of the biggest tourism industries outside of Florida and California. Nashville boasts a strong economy and has an unemployment rate (3.4%) that's lower than the national average (3.7%).

Crime has been steadily falling for years in Nashville, and the city uses an impressive 11% of city land for public recreation.

When it comes to housing, Nashville's average home values are slightly higher than the national average, but they’re also rising fast. The average home value in Nashville is $457,568, compared to the U.S. average home value of $449,718. If you buy now, you’ll likely get a great return on your investment.

9. Denver, Colorado

Denver is known as a great city for young professionals with nearly unlimited outdoor recreation opportunities. Colorado has also benefited from being one of the first states to legalize marijuana.

With just 676 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Denver’s violent crime rate is low when you compare it to the national average (895 per 100,000 residents). Its unemployment rate of 3.2% is also lower than the national average (3.7%).

Housing affordability, however, isn’t one of Denver’s strong suits. The average home value in Denver is $671,055, which is much higher than the U.S. average of $449,718.

8. Charlotte, North Carolina

The Queen City is an oft-overlooked Southern city that offers a rock-solid economy. It’s the second largest banking hub in the U.S. behind New York City.

Charlotte has gained more than 206,000 residents in the past five years as Americans are drawn to Charlotte’s excellent quality of life and affordable cost of living — about 5% lower than the national average.

That population explosion makes it all the more impressive that housing has remained affordable. The average home value in Charlotte is $391,651, which is lower than the U.S. average of $449,718.

7. San Francisco, California

San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the country, but once you get past the price tag, you’ll find a city with a flourishing economy, vibrant culture, and a very high quality of life.

San Francisco’s unemployment rate is an incredibly low 2.6%, so qualified job seekers will have their pick of job openings. There’s plenty to do after work, too, especially if you like the great outdoors. San Francisco devotes a stunning 21% of city land to public recreation.

But the average home value in San Francisco is a jaw-dropping $1.57 million, more than triple the national average of $449,718. To put it in perspective, the average California real estate commission for a $1.57 million home is more than $77,000 — the price of a mid-range condo in some states.

If you’re buying a home in San Francisco, you’ll need all the help you can get from a home buyer rebate.

6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This blue-collar Midwestern city offers an affordable cost of living and a friendly heartland vibe. Not only is the general cost of living 4% lower than the national average, the average home value is $279,560, compared to the national average of $449,718.

However, with 1,597 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Milwaukee has the sixth-highest crime rate among the 50 most-populous metros in the U.S.

5. Richmond, Virginia

The first of two Virginia cities on this list, this historic state capital is a hidden gem that combines a laid-back college town with big-city Southern charm.

It’s also extremely safe. With just 228 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, the violent crime rate is one of the lowest of any city in the U.S.

Richmond also offers excellent affordability. The average home value is $332,599, which is lower than the U.S. average of $449,718 — an incredible deal for a city with this much to offer.

4. Salt Lake City, Utah

This booming Utah city is within a short drive of five national parks and has a booming job market. If it’s underrated now, it won’t stay that way for long.

It’s extremely safe, too, which is a big bonus for families. The rate of violent crime (367 violent crimes per 100,000 residents) is very low for a city of its size.

However, housing is somewhat expensive in Salt Lake City. The average home value is $635,974, compared to the national average of $449,718. Although it’s a great place to move, you may not find any bargains on the market.

3. Seattle, Washington

Although Seattle’s cultural cachet has faded a little since its heyday in the ’90s, Seattle has evolved into a sophisticated, world-class city that, along with San Jose, forms the heart of the massive U.S. tech industry.

It’s also a pretty safe place to live. Seattle’s violent crime rate (633 violent crimes per 100,000 residents) is lower than the national average (895 per 100,000 residents). That’s a huge draw for everyone from families to young professionals.

Seattle housing isn’t very affordable, though. Home values in Seattle are sky high, with an average home value just short of a million at $828,681. That’s nearly double the U.S. average of $449,718.

2. Phoenix, Arizona

The crown jewel of the Sun Belt has experienced an unprecedented boom over the past decade with exponential growth in its job and real estate markets. The population has exploded, with the city gaining more 440,000 residents in the past five years.

Although Phoenix’s real estate market has been one of the hottest in the U.S. over the past 10 years, the average home value isn’t that much higher than average. The average home value in Phoenix is $490,943, while the U.S. average is $449,718.

1. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach tops this list, and once you take a closer look, it’s easy to see why. Virginia Beach has a strong economy supported by a robust tourism industry, as well as the largest concentration of military personnel and government contractors outside of the Pentagon. It’s also a laid-back beach town with a vibe that’s hard to find outside of California or Florida.

It’s safe, too. The violent crime rate (138 violent crimes per 100,000 residents) is lower than the national average (895 per 100,000 residents), but the property crime rate is slightly elevated.

Virginia Beach is also easy on the wallet. The average home value in Virginia Beach is $331,804, which is lower than the U.S. average of $449,718. If you’re ready to buy a house, this is a place where that’s realistically possible.

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