By now, you've seen the footage on TV and witnessed the lone surviving homeowner surrounded by foreclosures. Unfortunately, many of those cheap, available homes are in places where finding a job and a good, solid school for the kids can be difficult. You probably know that Detroit, Buffalo, Toledo, Cleveland and often Tampa regularly top the list of cheapest cities. However, they're not your only options because not everyone looks at "cheapest" the same way.

When real estate maven Zillow's analysts examined the issue of affordability for first-time home buyers, they realized that, "Nationwide, 70 percent of homes for sale are affordable to the typical Millennial." They went further, however, and listed cities and the percentages of homes on the market that were Millennial-friendly in price – in the MZ, or Millennial Zone. We chose 5 good-sized cities across the country that offer plenty of affordable housing in places you'd probably be likely to find work and maybe even enjoy the lifestyle.

  1. Dayton, Ohio

    "Dayton Skyline" courtesy of MarkDonna at the English language Wikipedia
    With 86 percent of its real estate market in the MZ, the Dayton metropolitan area is home to over 840,000 people. It's a traditional manufacturing hub but, more important, is now the "Ohio Aerospace Hub." With defense, aerospace, healthcare and education the major industries, the city has increasingly been turning to technology. After all, thanks to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Miami Valley Research Park, Dayton has "one of the highest concentrations of aerospace/high-technology firms in the nation." Despite that, cost of living is rated 10 to 20 percent below the national average, and housing is inexpensive.

    Over the last year, "home sales decreased 96.8 percent," according to Trulia. Dayton has 1,756 homes for sale and "1,399 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process." The average home price on Zillow was $48,000, but the average on Trulia was $110,000. Look in the Belmont neighborhood, and for less than $60,000, you can find a clean, refurbished bungalow with hardwood floors, a fireplace, all new appliances and updated baths. Go to the $110,000 price point, and you can find historical 2 stories with charming woodwork right down to the old wooden banisters with finials. Slip over to Huber Heights, and you'll find 4-bedroom, 3-bath homes with a 2-car garage for under $150,000. If you have kids, the schools are good, too. Property taxes, however, may be a trade-off at 1.071 percent, but it's considerably lower than Ohio's average of 1.52 percent.

  2. Des Moines, Iowa

    Courtesy of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau
    A full 85 percent of Des Moines' real estate market is in the MZ, set for the young worker just starting a career. If you're in the business of finance or insurance, this is your city, with 81 insurance companies headquartered here and a population around 600,000. The area is also strong in logistics, biosciences, advanced manufacturing and data centers. Iowa has established itself as Cultivation Corridor, intent on making technical and scientific advancements in agribusiness, and Des Moines is an important part of that initiative. 

    The most recent average home listing price for Des Moines was $124,061. Sales actually increased, but Trulia lists 1,138 homes for sale and "500 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process." A Tudor-style 3-bedroom, 2-bath, neat-as-a-pin cottage with fireplace and hardwood floors in Beaverdale right by Witmer Park probably could be had for under $145,000. Spring for $180,000, and you can take a look at a 2-and-a-half story craftsman with central air, beautiful woodwork and floors, fireplace, 2-car detached garage and a front porch to die for in the Drake neighborhood. Property taxes run 1.742 percent, a bit higher than some but still well below many city rates, and cost of living is still about 10 percent below the national average.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    "Street in Shadyside Pittsburgh PA". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

For a livable city with lots of culture and several professional sports teams, Pittsburgh earned an 82 percent for available homes in the MZ. No longer Steel City, the Burgh has become a healthcare, bioscience, technology, education, and finance and banking center. Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are fixtures within the hilly landscape, and University of Pittsburgh and its Medical Center are the city's 2 largest employers. According to, "the Pittsburgh area is home to 150 laboratories and over 7,500 scientists and engineers." Still, Pittsburgh gets accolades for remaining a livable city, with a cost of living 15 percent below the national average and housing often 50 percent less. In 2014, the National Bureau of Economic Research named the city as one of the top 2 for "intergenerational economic mobility or the American Dream." 

    Zillow places the average median home value for Pittsburgh at $105,300 while Trulia cites average median sale price as under $154,000. Trulia lists 2,801 homes on the market and another "1,305 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process." In leafy, pleasantly walkable Mt. Lebanon, you can get a 2-story "storybook stone Tudor" – with stained-glass, beautiful woodwork and hardwood floors – completely upgraded and within T station walking distance for less than $160,000. In Greenfield, you could pick up a 4-bedroom, 3-bath Pittsburgh-brick house with beautiful original hardwood floors and woodwork, air-conditioning, stained-glass windows and a finished third floor for about $145,000. Property taxes run 2.164 percent, but the public school systems are strong, and the city offers many cultural and professional advantages in return.

  4. Indianapolis, Indiana

    "Panoram Indy" by Prabhakar Koduri licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
    In the Crossroads of America, 79 percent of the real estate is in the MZ. Indianapolis is intent on becoming the Silicon Valley of the West. Major industries include services, healthcare and life sciences, insurance, sports and tourism, and transportation and logistics. However, the city also has TechPoint, focusing on the high-tech end of its industries and using Hire Up Indy to recruit talent. Indiana University—Purdue University at Indiana is here, as are Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, Biomet and Calumet Specialty Partners. Best of all, cost of living has remained well beneath the national average.

    The formerly hot market has slowed, with real estate agents devoting more time to upgrades and home buying's finer points to move properties. According to Trulia, the average listing price was about $127,557, with 3-bedrooms more in the $126,000 range. Zillow shows listings for over 6,600 homes – pretty good odds when nearly 80 percent are first-home-affordable. If you want a bargain, a beautiful 3-bedroom, 3-bath refurbished Dutch colonial with fireplace, hardwood floors, garage, built-in bookcases and windows galore in the Irvington neighborhood is listed at $169,000. Many of the listings have price cuts, even in the popular neighborhoods. Property taxes aren't too bad either, at 1.080 percent, less than half the national average.

  5. Wichita, Kansas

    Image by spacefem licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

A significant 80 percent of real estate in Wichita is in the MZ. Known as the Air Capital of the World and set along the Arkansas River, Wichita is the largest city in Kansas, with a population of more than 388,000. Major industries include aerospace, manufacturing, healthcare and energy. However, the city also takes pride in the fact that it has "thousands of talented, creative entrepreneurs" who run "approximately 15,000 business establishments in the Wichita metro area, 97 percent of which are small-to medium-sized firms with less than 100 employees." Wichita State University is here, as are Cessna, Spirit Aero Systems, Hawker Beechcraft, Cargill Meat Solutions, Via Christi Health and Koch Industries, just to name a few.

    Trulia listed 2,093 homes for sale and "443 homes in the pre-foreclosure, auction, or bank-owned stages of the foreclosure process." The average listing price was $125,000, but even an older renovated 3-bedroom, 2-bath 2-story with wood floors and main-floor laundry in the highly desired College Hill neighborhood can be had for less than $150,000. Even closer to the park, you can find a refurbished 1920s 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath bungalow with fireplace and those hardwood floors for under $125,000. Slip over to Sleepy Hollow, and prices decrease even more. Property taxes in Sedgewick County are 1.312 percent, under the state's average rate, but rates within city limits are 1.86.

Taxes And Upshots

Before you wince at the tax percentages on some of these areas, realize that the national average for property taxes is 1.192 percent. In many of our most economically challenged cities, property taxes are far higher. Detroit is at 2.763 percent, Buffalo at 2.731, Toledo at 1.897 and Cleveland at 2.226. Even Tampa has a property tax of 1.177 percent, and while prices aren't nearly as high as they were, properties can still be pricey. Every city has its give and take, and it's all in what you value. No 2 people are ever the same, and no 2 cities are either.