Buying a home these days is a high-stakes, need-to-have/nice-to-have equation. You need a home within an hour’s drive of work; it would be niceto have one that’s in walkable distance. You need a full-size kitchen with room for your five-person brood; it would be nice to have a chef’s kitchen with La Cornue Grand Palais range, Meneghini Arredamenti fridge, and, heck, a Mugnaini wood-fired pizza oven. You need at least 2.5 bathrooms; it would be nice to have a master en suite spa with a touchscreen-controlled smart bidet. Dream the dream, my friends!
So what’s the neediest of all need-to-haves? You need to find a safe place to live where you can still afford a great home. And wouldn’t it be nice if there were even fun stuff to do after work and on weekends? Yes, indeed.
Realtor.com set out to find these seductive strongholds where you can have it all. And we’re not talking about the boonies: We zeroed in on metropolitan areas, which include cities and the surrounding suburbs. (Note: Cities often have higher crime rates than their less-populated surroundings.)
Research—and common sense—indicates that when crime goes up, property values go down. Meanwhile, home buyers will pay more to live in locations with lower rates of violent crime, according to a 2015 Auburn University study. It doesn’t hurt that these areas typically also have top public schools.
“When homeowners think about the biggest investment of their life, top of mind is how safe an area would be to live in and raise a family,” says Rick Palacios Jr., director of research at John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
They also want to make sure that their investment appreciates over time, which it typically won’t do as much in areas with growing crime. “High crime rates unnerve potential home buyers,” he says. Um, yeah.
The good news: Crime has declined sharply since the early ’90s. Violent offenses, which include homicide, assault, and robbery, plummeted 49% from 1993 to 2017, according to FBI data. This explains why some of our safest places were once known for riots and rampant car thefts before they rebounded. (The downside: Gentrification is leading to some longtime residents being priced out.)
The places that made our affordable safe harbor ranking are a mix of smaller metros that never really struggled with high crime, and cities once riddled with problems that have successfully pulled off a turnaround. Our list is concentrated on resurgent Midwest, Southern, and Rust Belt cities. No Western metros were included because home prices are simply too high.
We analyzed crime data provided by NeighborhoodScout, a website that tracks community data, focusing on America’s 150 largest metros. We eliminated those with high rates of violent or property crime, and with home prices above the (roughly) $300,000 national median. Next, we zeroed in on cities with great extracurriculars—running the gamut from nightlife, to kayaking, to great indie bookstores—as tracked on Yelp.com.**
Safety, affordability, and fun! Yep, they can coexist. Let’s take a tour.