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Asheville Tops List of Affordable & Desirable Real Estate Markets



6/16/2008 - Asheville Tops List of Affordable & Desirable Real Estate Markets

Look for a strong economy, a college and low crime in your search for an area where you can afford to live.

Every week or so, I get an e-mail that runs like this:

"My husband and I are teachers in north San Diego County and we would like to live here for decades. However, our salaries are not enough to buy any of the houses we have seen. What advice can you give us?"

Swap "teachers" for any number of moderately-paid professions, and "north San Diego County" for any number of insanely overpriced real-estate markets, and you have a lot of people in the same uncomfortable boat.

For many, the options are these:

  • Continue to rent -- and despair;
  • Stretch your finances to the limit with an oversized, risky mortgage and suffer from ulcers for the next 10 years;
  • Look for somewhere else to live.

If you're ready to consider Door No. 3, read on for some options.

We asked Bert Sperling of Sperling's Best Places fame to help compile a list of places where homes are relatively cheap, the cost of living is affordable and the local economy is going strong.

Economies are important, since robust ones typically mean plenty of opportunities and growing incomes. Strong economies also tend to lead to better quality of life, Sperling said, by lowering crime and divorce rates, along with other ills.

But we were looking for something else -- that spark, that liveliness, that extra something that makes a city, however big or small, an interesting place to be. Because let's face it, there's still plenty of cheap real estate out there; the problem is that it's in places few people would want to live.

Our chosen cities range in size from the pretty small (Prescott, Ariz.) to the almost-big (Austin, Texas); no huge metropolis made the cut. All eight have a university presence, and three of the eight are also state capitals. Government and university jobs can help provide economic stability in good times and bad, while the college presence almost always enlivens a town.

"A college or university can boost any town from good to great," said Sperling, co-author of "Best Places to Raise Your Family: The Top 100 Affordable Communities in the U.S." "There's the vibrancy of the college scene, arts and lecture series, concerts (both touring and student-produced), guest professors, literary events, classes to audit, and not least, college sports, which some prefer to pro sports."

All our choices also have their drawbacks, just like anyplace else. What they have going for them, though, makes them worth checking out.

Asheville, N.C.

How Asheville compares

Asheville U.S. average


Median home price



Median household income



Cost-of-living index






Future job growth



Asheville has the interesting distinction, Sperling notes, of being named a "best place" by both Rolling Stone and Modern Maturity magazines. That's because it's popular with artists and musicians as well as with retirees who like the vibrant art scene, beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain scenery and the abundance of recreational activities. The 3,500-student University of North Carolina at Asheville offers cultural and intellectual stimulation.

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