These are the best cities for first-time home buyers

Ready to buy your first home? These great cities will make it worth your while.

Breaking into the housing market for the first time is equal parts thrilling and terrifying, especially if you live in a pricey or highly competitive market. Notoriously expensive markets like San Francisco — where the median price for a single-family home is about $1.3 million (yep, you read that right) and rising — are completely inaccessible for first-time buyers (because let’s face it, not many of us have an extra $260,000 laying around for a down payment).

Luckily, there are still plenty of small and midsize cities around the country that are affordable and welcoming for first-time buyers. Some of these fantastic cities even provide incentives and programs to entice new homeowners to invest in the community. Looking to set down some roots? Here are Livability’s seven best cities for first-time home buyers, based on affordable home prices, resale value, first-time home buyer programs and — of course! — a great quality of life.

Louisville, Ky.

Population: 608,732

Even beyond the bourbon, the Kentucky Derby and their famous baseball bats, Louisville is not a bad place to put your feet up at the end of the day. This city is certifiably Southern when it comes to food, drink and hospitality, but Louisville is also inclusive and friendly to LGBTQ residents and visitors, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index in 2017. In other words, Louisville is more than just your stereotypical Southern city — it’s a cool, thriving and welcoming place to all (which is why they ranked at No. 28 on Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list in 2019).  

In addition to an inclusive, amenity-filled environment, Louisville is affordable for first-time buyers. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the Housing Opportunity Index (HOI) in Louisville is 80.5, meaning more than 80% the city’s housing is affordable to median-income families. The median price of homes sold in Louisville is $176,300.

And to encourage low and middle-income families to invest in the city, Louisville also offers an innovative down payment assistance program, which offers all buyers (not just first-timers) who are at or below 80% of the area median income with down payment assistance up to 20% of the purchase price. As long as you live in the home for five years and financially contribute $500 to the purchase of the property through the appraisal payment, home inspection or earnest money, you can get some financial help to buy your beautiful Southern dream home.

Knoxville, Tenn.

Population: 183,066

Knoxville offers first-time buyers Southern charm, the youthful energy of a college town and the beautiful backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. While life around Knoxville largely centers around the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, there is plenty of life outside campus, including 55 parks, Market Square — the downtown dining, entertainment, and shopping destination — as well as arts and culture hot spots like the East Tennessee Historical Society or the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Beyond the amenities Knoxville has to offer first-time buyers, it’s also a much less intimidating market to get started — unlike places like Nashville, where prices are much higher and competition for a single-family home can be fierce. The median price of homes sold in Knoxville is only $184,000, and the city has an HOI of 80.7, which means that a large portion of real estate in town is affordable based on income and housing costs.

Buying a home in Knoxville also means that you’re making a solid investment. Should you decide to sell, you won’t have any trouble finding a buyer as the average days on the market is about 62, according to Zillow

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  (three days shorter than the national average). Knoxville is also known for being a recession-proof city, and we’ve written at length about its attractive affordability.

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Population: 236,642

North Carolina has no shortage of amazing cities to put your roots down, but Winston-Salem is a particularly good spot for first-time buyers because of the town’s historic appeal and its easy access to 40 vineyards in the region (need we say more?). Large urban green spaces, plentiful art galleries, 19th century taverns, plus a top-ranking HBCU campus all make this town of 244,000 feel like a much larger city in all the best ways.

The Winston-Salem real-estate market is also accessible to first-time buyers, with the median price of homes sold at an affordable $141,100, and an HOI of 79.3 (meaning nearly 80% of the homes in the area are affordable based on income and housing costs). You can also count on your investment to gain value in Winston-Salem, as home values are predicted to rise about 5% over the next year. And should you choose to sell your home, you won’t have to worry about it sitting on the market for too long — according to Zillow, the average days on the market is around 52, which is a week less than national trends.

Pueblo, Colo.

Population: 108,073

Denver real estate might be out of your reach as a first-time buyer, but you’ll definitely find more luck in the charming city of Pueblo, Colo., located about two hours south of the big city. Pueblo has all of the amenities that make Colorado such a magical place to live — beautiful mountain views, an abundance of outdoor activities, unique local attractions and tasty food (seriously, you have to try their namesake chili) — all at about half the price of many other cities in the state.


Downtown Pueblo, Colo.

Whereas the average cost of a home in Denver is about $400,000 and rising, you can snag a single-family home in Pueblo for an average of $192,800. Pueblo is generally affordable for most families and first-time buyers who are ready to take the real estate plunge, with an HOI of 80.7. In other words, most average income buyers can feasibly put a down payment on a home in Pueblo and invest in the community long-term. And this fun, growing community is definitely a good one to invest in.


Population: 297,397

First-time home buyers have plenty of reasons to get excited about investing in the Queen City. From the acres of urban green space along the downtown riverfront to the distinctive neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine and Mount Adams to their eclectic blend of Midwestern and Southern food (spaghetti over chili anyone?), Cincinnati has a lot to offer first-time buyers.

Also on MarketWatch: Here’s exactly where you should retire — based on what’s important to you

Cincinnati, like all the other cities on our list, is also friendly to first-time buyers because of the real-estate prices. According to the NAHB, Cincinnati’s HOI is 84, meaning that 84% of the homes sold in the city are affordable to the average family (with a median price of homes sold at a mere $162,000).

It’s also no surprise that affordability combined with a good quality of life has earned Cincy coveted spots on Livability’s rankings for Best Cities for Recent College Grads and Best Affordable Places to Live, as well as our Top 100 Best Places to Live 2019 list. 

Oklahoma City, Okla.

Population: 610,672

If you’re looking to buy a house in a healthy real-estate market in a bustling, modern city, you should seriously consider shopping for real estate in Oklahoma City. While you may think of OKC as a sleepy cow town, you may be surprised to find out that it’s full of top-notch restaurants, trendy, walkable neighborhoods like the Paseo, Midtown and Deep Deuce and has an incredibly quirky and large arts scene.  

Also see: The 5 best —and affordable —places to live in California

Besides all of the art, food and sports (it’s true, you may have to convert to an OKC Thunder fan), first-time home buyers will also get to enjoy an amazingly affordable market. The median price of homes sold in Oklahoma City is just $148,900 and the HOI is 80.7. And should you decide to buy in the Oklahoma City market, you’ll be glad to know you’re making a solid investment. Sales and price growth is predicted to go up about 3% over the next year, and if you decide to sell, it won’t take you long – most homes are on the market for just 62 days in Oklahoma City according to Zillow (the national average is about 65 days).


Population: 305,928

If you’re interested in buying a home in one of Steel City’s 90 neighborhoods, you’ll not only find a wide selection of architecture — from Victorian to arts and crafts to new construction—but you’ll also be pleasantly surprised that stylish design can come at such an affordable price, with the median price of homes sold currently at $171,100. In fact, nearly all of Pittsburgh’s real-estate transactions are affordable for the average family. Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Index, or HOI is 82.9. In other words, most of the city’s homes are reasonably priced to a family that earns the local median income.

And as if Pittsburgh didn’t have enough to lure a first-time home buyer (with 29 colleges and universities plus a booming tech sector with Uber

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 , Google

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 , Facebook

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 , and Duolingo offices), the city also offers a program for first-time home buyers called First Front Door, which helps qualified buyers with closing costs and down payment. As long as you are a first-time home buyer and are at or below 80% of the area median income, you can get $3 in assistance for every $1 you contribute toward your home — up to $5,000.

Beyond homeownership, Pittsburgh was named one of Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live in America this year for a multitude of reasons. Pittsburgh is a great community to belong to, with three major-league sports teams to cheer for, a thriving arts scene, a beautifully restored downtown, and just enough of that Rust Belt grittiness that Pittsburghers proudly love.

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