Charleston is America’s most undervalued city, according to a new report. The Most Undervalued Cities report measures home values against things like crime, high school and college graduation rates, walkability, weather, and unemployment to come up with a city’s livability score. These measurements place Charleston at the top of that list, meaning that home values in the city are extremely affordable compared to what they should cost.
According to the model developed by SmartAsset, home prices in the Charleston area should be worth $294.40 per square foot. Actual home prices are around $106.75 per square foot, for a savings of $187.65 per square foot.
In addition to its great weather and relatively low crime, SmartAsset cites Charleston’s culinary scene as being a reason for its high ranking. Even when considering only quantity, Charleston ranks as one of the country’s best cities for food lovers. Charleston has 194 dining and entertainment establishments per 100,000 people, for one of the highest rates in the study.
Of course, that leaves out quality of food. Charleston’s gastronomic traditions are long and deep, with everything from classic Southern soul food to lobster linguine on the menu. The city is also one of the most pedestrian-friendly in the nation. Visitors to and residents of Charleston can take in much of the city’s charm on foot—especially in the downtown and Daniel Island areas. Charleston has also been expanding its bike paths and lanes to make the city more pedal-friendly.
This is not the first time that Charleston has been recognized for being a great place to live. The city has been called out many times as being one of the best cities for millennials in the country. In addition to its already-mentioned vast entertainment scene, Charleston has a myriad of active life options including parks and beaches as well as a young population.
The rest of the list includes Augusta, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; Overland Park, KS; Baltimore, MD; Plano, TX; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Fort Collins, CO; and Providence, RI.
Most of these cities share similar attributes—they are mid-sized, with a growing, young, and educated population. They are viewed as good places to live and work for families and young adults alike.
Some of the cities on the list likely benefit from their proximity to larger, more expensive metro areas. Cities in this category likely include Baltimore and Newark. People who work in nearby Washington, DC, and New York City could likely find a better deal on a home in these cities.
Philadelphia stands out from among the top ten as being a larger city that is still relatively affordable. It owes its ranking to its large number of entertainment establishments and its walkability. Philadelphia actually ranked sixth overall in its score for most walkable city.
Some things that this study highlights are the fact that big cities and urban centers are overvalued. Residents in places like New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco do not get as much out of their housing dollars as people in the most undervalued cities do. This is because these cities are experiencing a housing crunch—in short, there are more people who want to live there than there are housing units for them to live in. As a result, these markets demand high prices per square foot.
Many of these large cities do offer very high quality of life, but at a steep cost. In places like Los Angeles and Miami, a relatively large percentage of residents end up spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs (link: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/the-most-and-least-severely-housing-cost-burdened-cities). As a result, these people may not be able to take advantage of the entertainment and great weather, since they are at near-constant risk of losing their housing. People facing housing burdens like this were in all income brackets—from households earning $10,000 or less to more than $150,000 a year.
In Charleston, individuals can have a very similar lifestyle for a much less expensive price tag. Since housing is relatively affordable, a smaller percentage of the population is in such a precarious situation, and a higher percentage of residents can take advantage of what the city has to offer.
If money were no object and an investor wanted to maximize quality of life without regard to paying the cost of the house, the Bay Area is a good place to go. In addition to having the highest actual cost per square foot of house in the study, San Francisco ranked at the top of SmartAsset’s projected value per square foot. Berkeley and Oakland were second and third on that list.
SmartAsset’s report makes it easy to compare the quality of life in different cities and see which have the most value. Essentially, this study quantifies things that are difficult to compare to come out with a list of cities that offer the most “bang for your buck.” While Charleston and the other cities at the top of the Most Undervalued list may not necessarily offer the objectively “best” lifestyle, they do offer an excellent quality of life for much less money than someone might pay in these urban markets.
As mentioned, Charleston consistently ranks near the top of lists of best places to live, best places for entrepreneurs, and best places to raise a family. The city offers an exciting, up-and-coming atmosphere combined with a sense of traditional charm. For now, though, despite all the publicity, the city also remains one of the country’s most affordable options for those who want the lifestyle of an urban-dweller for a fraction of the cost of other choices.
It remains to be seen whether Charleston can retain its unique blend of Southern charm and big-city spirit as more people discover what residents have known all along.