5 Cities Where You Need The Biggest Salary To Buy a House (And 5 Where You Don’t)

In the battle of salary versus square footage, which cities come out on top?

House hunting
Updated July 11, 2024
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A new Zillow study shows a huge jump since 2020 in the gap between what most people make and what they'd need to comfortably afford a home.

In some cities, forget comfort — you might need help to make your mortgage payment.

Ready to see where you stand? We're diving into the five most expensive (and five most affordable) U.S. cities to buy a house.

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5. Seattle, Washington

CascadeCreatives/Adobe seattle washington skyline

With a median home sale price of about $845,000, Seattle's booming tech industry has propelled its housing market to new heights. Seattle is the HQ for e-commerce giant Amazon, making the city a hot spot for those in the tech job market.

Prospective homebuyers in Seattle face steep income requirements, reflecting the city's status as one of the most expensive places to live in the Pacific Northwest. You'll need an average annual income of about $213,984 to comfortably afford a home.

4. San Diego, California

Gloria Moeller/Adobe san diego skyline from coronado island

With a median home sale price of about $940,000, San Diego is known for its stunning beaches and pleasant climate. San Diego is a highly desirable Southern California destination for homebuyers.

It’s also one of the most expensive housing markets on the West Coast and the country, necessitating a considerable income to purchase property. You’ll need an average annual income of about $273,613 to comfortably afford a home.

3. Los Angeles, California

BEKIR/Adobe west hollywood

With a median home sale price of about $970,000, Los Angeles is renowned for its glamorous lifestyle, but it comes with a hefty price tag when it comes to housing. 

Aspiring homeowners in LA face significant financial hurdles, as home prices in Los Angeles County reached a new all-time high as of October 2023. 

You’ll need an average annual income of about $279,250 to comfortably afford a home.

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2. San Francisco, California

JFL Photography/Adobe san francisco cable cars

With a median home sale price of about $1.37 million, one of the most notorious tech hubs has very exorbitant housing prices. The demand for housing in San Francisco far outweighs the available supply, driving up the income needed to purchase a home.

California Governor Gavin Newsome stated that San Francisco must build at least 10,000 new homes each year (including 5,800 that are affordable) to meet demand. You’ll need an average annual income of about $339,864 to comfortably afford a home.

1. San Jose, California

Uladzik Kryhin/Adobe downtown san jose in california

With a median home sale price of about $1.29 million, San Jose tops the list as the most expensive city to buy a house and it’s also one of the most competitive housing markets in the U.S. 

The high cost of living and the strong job market in the tech industry, particularly for new grads, contribute to the staggering income requirement. You’ll need an average annual income of about $454,296 to comfortably afford a home.

Now let’s look at the cities where you need the least income to purchase a home.

5. Birmingham, Alabama

Kevin Ruck/Adobe Birmingham Alabama

With a median home sale price of about $170,000, Birmingham offers very affordable homeownership opportunities. The city's lower cost of living and steady job market make it an attractive option for first-time homebuyers seeking affordability.

In fact, there are about five jobs available for every unemployed individual. To comfortably afford a home, you’ll need an average annual income of about $74,338.

4. New Orleans, Louisiana

Kovcs/Adobe beautiful view of New Orleans, Louisiana,Skyline at sunset

With a median home sale price of about $325,000, New Orleans boasts a rich cultural heritage and is home to the famous French Quarter. The city offers a unique blend of affordability in the housing market.

While the median home price here is far lower than in many other cities, the median income is $45,594. You’ll need an average annual income of about $74,048 to comfortably afford a home.

3. Cleveland, Ohio

Jason/Adobe big moon rising over skyline

With a median home sale price of about $109,750, Cleveland's revitalized downtown area and various neighborhoods offer many housing options for residents. 

Cleveland presents an attractive opportunity for homeownership, supported by its extremely affordable cost of living. You’ll need an average annual income of about $70,810 to comfortably afford a home.

2. Memphis, Tennessee

Kevin Ruck/Adobe Memphis

With a median home sale price of about $184,450, Memphis combines Southern hospitality with affordable housing options, making it an appealing destination for prospective homebuyers.

Memphis is one of the top 10 cities for technology jobs with one of the lowest living costs anywhere in the U.S. You’ll need an average annual income of about $69,976 to comfortably afford a home.

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1. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mindaugas Dulinskas/Adobe PNC Baseball Park in Pittsburgh

With a median home sale price of about $250,000, Pittsburgh’s relatively affordable housing market and burgeoning tech sector make it an enticing location for homebuyers. 

The city’s local tech sector now contributes $13.3 billion in economic impact. That’s up from $12.2 billion reported in 2022. You’ll need an average annual income of about $58,232 to comfortably afford a home.

Inflation is high

Feng Yu/Adobe definition of inflation

The surge in inflationary pressures across the economy has exacerbated housing affordability challenges, leading to rising home prices and increased income requirements for prospective homebuyers. 

As the cost of living continues to escalate, homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for many individuals and families.

The demand for homes is outpacing supply

2ragon/Adobe door with golden house key

The imbalance between housing demand and supply has created a competitive market environment, driving up home prices and exacerbating affordability issues. 

With limited inventory available, prospective homebuyers face stiff competition and heightened financial requirements to secure properties in desirable locations.

Mortgage interest rates remain stubbornly high

Pormezz/Adobe man opening empty wallet

Despite efforts to stimulate economic recovery, mortgage interest rates have remained stubbornly high, further exacerbating housing affordability challenges. 

The elevated cost of borrowing reduces prospective homebuyers' purchasing power, making homeownership less attainable for individuals and families across the country.

Bottom line

Darren Baker/Adobe house for sale sign

No matter if you're moving for a new job, planning for retirement, or looking to invest, it's important to consider how much money you make, how much houses cost where you want to live, and the overall economy. 

In areas where houses are expensive, you might need to find ways to make extra money on top of your regular job. 

By looking at different states and seeing which ones have affordable housing options, you can choose a place that fits your budget.

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Author Details

Adam Palasciano

Adam Palasciano is a personal finance-obsessed and money-savvy individual who loves to hash out content on all things saving money. He specializes in writing millennial-friendly personal finance content, covering topics ranging from trending financial news, debt, credit cards, cryptocurrency, and more.