If COVID-19 has taught us anything—other than that life was pretty darn sweet before the onset of a health pandemic—it’s that cramped apartment living or small, starter homes can be rough going when you’re sharing your space with a significant other and a growing family. Especially when you are with them all the time.
Suddenly, extra square footage and plenty of outdoor space to provide a little sanctuary seem way more important than how many steps you are from your commuter train, or favorite downtown bar. It’s no wonder there’s been a surge in folks fleeing the cities for the suburbs and trading up from starter homes to larger abodes. But prices and competition in many suburbs have heated to boiling points. Buyers are looking for homes in areas where their dollars will stretch the furthest.
So where should buyers on a budget look to make their urban escape? The realtor.com® economics team located the suburbs in the 10 largest metropolitan areas that offer some of the more affordable square footage for larger homes. (Metros include the main city and surrounding smaller cities, towns, urban areas, and suburbs.) These places are also within commuting distance of the big cities for that (magical) day when the coronavirus is under control and folks are able to safely begin returning to their offices.
These are by no means the cheapest burbs—some of the places are downright pricey. But they are communities where folks will spend a whole lot less for a home than they would for a large abode in the cities.
“Home buyers these days are looking for more space—for right now, in the midst of a pandemic when we’re spending an incredible amount of time at home, but also in the postpandemic future, when life returns to normal,” says realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “They are also mindful of expenses given a still-healing economy and elevated unemployment rate, so affordability is top of mind.”
To come up with our rankings, we looked at the median listing prices of single-family homes with at least 1,800 square feet in suburban communities within the 10 largest metropolitan areas. These communities had to be within 25 miles of the downtown centers of the nearby big cities (to ensure a reasonable commute). The burb with the lowest price per square foot topped the list.
We focused on suburbs where the cost of similar-size homes was within 20% of the median list price in the nearby city. Only one community per city was included in our rankings.
Ready to find out where cash-constrained buyers can stretch their dollars?
Urban metro: Philadelphia
Median listing price: $282,000
Savings per square foot: 20% (suburban, $118; urban, $148)
There’s a lot to like about Sicklerville, just 30 minutes southeast of Philadelphia. The neighborhood, which spans parts of Gloucester and Winslow, offers easy access to nature. There’s canoeing in the New Brooklyn County Park as well as fishing, hunting, and bird watching at the Winslow Fish and Wildlife Management Area.
Buyers can score a massive spread for a steal, including this 3,910-square-foot, four-bedroom with a home office listed for $364,900. Those with deeper pockets can opt for this 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home on more than 5 acres for $450,000.
“We are finding, not just Philadelphia, but people from New York City are coming down,” says Joseph Rivera, a sales associate at BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors Moorestown. “You’re getting more for your money, and you’re not right on top of one another.”
Urban metro: Dallas
Median listing price: $352,000
Savings per square foot: 23% (suburban, $124; urban, $161)
There’s a reason Cedar Hill is called “the city in a park.” Located just 16 miles southwest of downtown Dallas, along the eastern shore of Joe Pool Lake and Cedar Hill State Park, the suburb has—count ’em—32 parks and 36 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers.
New residents won’t have to go without big-city amenities here, though. The community is known for its restaurants, stores, and museums.
What’s best about this area, however, is the affordability of nice homes. Buyers can find large homes with plenty of outdoor space, including this newly renovated, 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom with a large patio near Kingswood Park for $348,000.
Urban metro: Chicago
Median listing price: $379,000
Savings per square foot: 24% (suburban, $139; urban, $184)
Palos Hills is only 13 miles outside of Chicago’s city center, but it feels worlds away. Bordered by nature preserves, the suburb draws families with its highly rated schools. This commuter-friendly community also has plenty of restaurants, cafes, and parks to keep everyone busy.
Buyers can find nice-size homes on large lots, including this $389,000 four-bedroom, located right near horse riding trails and nature preserves. Those seeking the hottest amenity of 2020—a pool—can check out this five-bedroom with both a family room and rec room for $414,900.
Urban metro: Atlanta
Median listing price: $440,000
Savings per square foot: 21% (suburban, $143; urban, $181)
Marietta has long been one of Atlanta’s most popular suburbs. Its historic downtown boasts tree-covered squares dotted with shops and restaurants. Visitors come from all over the metro for Marietta’s art strolls featuring local craftspeople, parades and festivals, and farmers markets. Plus, it’s just 25 minutes from Atlanta.
Determined buyers can still find big abodes starting in the $200,000s. This three-bedroom, modern Cape Cod with a large back deck is listed at $254,000. For $100,000 more, you could get into this four-bedroom with a study so nice, it seems a cinch to nail a 10/10 on room rater.
Urban metro: Houston
Median listing price: $447,000
Savings per square foot: 36% (suburban, $126; urban, $198)
This upscale neighborhood, just a 20-minute drive from the center of Houston, is diverse and growing. This suburb reflects the state’s changing demographics. It has been reliably Republican since the mid-1960s, when rising GOP star George H.W. Bush won the area’s congressional seat. In 2018, Democrat Lizzie Fletcher flipped it when she was elected to serve in the House of Representatives.
With plenty of parks, golf courses, and community events, including some great farmers markets, this idyllic town has that urban-suburban environment that buyers are looking for.
Attracted by the good schools, many families have been picking up large homes for their growing broods. Houses with extra space for a home office include this newly renovated three-bedroom with space above the garage listed at $219,000. Those seeking new construction may prefer this Mediterranean-style, four-bedroom priced at $469,000.
Urban metro: Boston
Median listing price: $670,000
Savings per square foot: 34% (suburban, $231; urban, $350)
Folks who leave Boston for Hanover may not want to return to the city when it fully reopens. The community has a bunch of redevelopment in the works, including an old mall being demolished to make way for a new shopping and entertainment center.
The South Shore town has shopping malls, sports fields, and parks filled with gorgeous trails and waterways, offering both summer and winter recreation. It’s hard to beat the amount of space one gets for the money just 30 minutes from Boston.
The $450,000 that will get you a small Cape Cod house in slightly-closer-to-town Weymouth can fetch you a four-bedroom Colonial with a wraparound porch in Hanover. And for a couple hundred thousand more, buyers can find palatial homes like this 2,600-square-foot, bow-roofed, four-bedroom Cape Cod on an acre of land listed at $655,000.
“There has been huge demand,” says Rosemary Mancuso, owner of the Rose Mancuso Team Keller Williams Realty. “With a lot of people working remotely, they want to stay in and around the city area but be able to get land.”
Urban metro: Miami
Median listing price: $679,000
Savings per square foot: 34% (suburban, $224; urban, $341)
Pine Island Ridge’s biggest selling point may be its convenient location. It’s a 35-minute drive to Miami and 20 minutes to downtown Fort Lauderdale. Right on the border of Plantation and Davie, the centrally located neighborhood is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the restaurants and stores on University Drive.
It’s also near local colleges, including Nova Southeastern University, Florida Atlantic University, and Broward College. Of course, being Florida, there are also plenty of golf courses nearby.
Dotted with lakes and nature trails of the Pine Island Ridge Natural Area and the Pine Island Ridge Trail, the neighborhood offers buyers great deals on large, waterfront homes, including this three-bedroom listed for $479,900 and this three-bedroom with a pool for $569,999.
Urban metro: New York City
Median listing price: $798,000
Savings per square foot: 34% (suburban, $242; urban, $366)
Fun fact: The Garden State got its nickname for a reason. The state is filled with tree-lined, suburban neighborhoods—including Clark.
Though this upscale town doesn’t have a train station of its own, it’s just a 41-minute drive to New York City and a few minutes’ drive to a station in a nearby town. It boasts good schools, beautiful homes, and plenty of places to dine, shop, and have fun at. Buyers here can find relatively affordable mansions with manicured lawns.
This 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom Colonial comes with two kitchens, a home office, gym, and rec room for $959,900. Those who don’t want to get lost in their abodes might prefer this easier-to-clean, 2,100-square-foot ranch nearby for $565,000.
Urban metro: Washington, DC
Median listing price: $844,000
Savings per square foot: 39% (suburban, $178; urban, $294)
Visiting the sister communities of Ashton and Sandy Spring, MD, is like traveling back in time. Settled by Quakers in 1720, Sandy Spring was at the center of a network of rural villages. The area still has that agrarian feel with large, grass-covered lots and plenty of outdoor amenities, including the Brookside Gardens and Lake Needwood.
An hour by car and an hour and a half by rail to Washington, DC, the area boasts large homes that are a bargain compared with those in the nation’s capital. Starting in the mid $400,000 range, buyers can find historic homes with plenty of outdoor space. Buyers seeking a reasonably large home for a reasonable chunk of change may be interested in this 4,100-square-foot, five-bedroom with a patio, gazebo, and three-car garage for $695,000.
Urban metro: Los Angeles
Median listing price: $1,155,000
Savings per square foot: 27% (suburban, $418; urban, $570)
Buyers in Los Angeles may get more space for their money than buyers in other pricey metros like New York City. But that certainly doesn’t mean the city is cheap. Southern Californians in search of a large home in a pretty neighborhood should consider northern Orange County’s Fullerton. Home to multiple universities, a vibrant art scene, and more than 50 city parks all within a 12-minute drive to Disneyland Park, it offers the biggest savings for home buyers out of all 10 metros. A 2,000-square-foot home here costs $300,000 less than it does 30 minutes away in L.A.
Buyers can fetch a nearly 2,700-square-foot, five-bedroom with a covered patio and pergola in Fullerton for $989,000. Those who want even more space can check out this $1,049,000, 3,000-square-foot home ; this six-bedroom home comes with two separate accessory dwelling units, which can be rented out.
“If you want to live in north Orange County and don’t have an $800,000 budget, you move to Fullerton because you get the same house for less money,” says Eric Lambert, agent and team lead with eXp Realty of California.