Homebuying on a Budget? Avoid These 15 Locations

When it’s all said and done, buying real estate is about the final price. You’ve done the research, so you know the best places for low property taxes. Maybe you know how to catch some tax breaks when buying a home. And you’re prepared, so those unexpected costs of owning property won’t come as a shock.

Still, a study by NerdWallet shows nearly half of Americans would change something about their homebuying process if they could do it again. One way to avoid regrets is to know what you can afford. If you’re in the market for real estate, you probably have a price in mind and a budget to follow. Visual Capitalist looked at real estate prices in counties throughout the United States and determined the most expensive markets based on price per square foot.

Here are 15 places where the price you’ll pay per square foot will blow your budget out of the water.

15. Portland, Oregon


Home prices are high in Portland. | iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Multnomah
  • Average price per square foot: $285

If you’re looking to enjoy Portland’s natural beauty, stellar craft beer scene, or the renowned Voodoo Doughnut, be prepared to pay for that luxury. Visual Capitalist’s 3D map of real estate prices notes in Multnomah County, where Portland is, you’re paying an average of $285 per square foot. At that rate, a $300,000 price tag gets you about 1,052 square feet, which is about 536 fewer square feet than the same price gets you statewide, according to information from GOBankingRates.

Next: Portland’s Pacific Northwest brethren makes the list.

14. Seattle

Seattle cityscape

Tech companies have driven up prices. | welcomia/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: King
  • Average price per square foot: $292

Seattle is well known for its coffee, music scene, and rainy weather (even if that last one is a tad overblown). It is also home to tech giant Amazon, and the real estate prices are starting to reflect something akin to the prices in Northern California’s Silicon Valley. If you can manage to pony up $300,000 to buy property at the average price, you’ll get roughly 1,027 square feet of space. If you’re willing to live outside of King County, the prices in bordering counties are substantially lower.

Next: The first entry from California

13. San Diego

San Diego

California comes with notoriously high prices. | iStock/Getty Images Plus

  • County: San Diego
  • Average price per square foot: $323

If you want easy access to San Diego’s amazing weather, fun nightlife of the Gaslamp Quarter, and the famous zoo, it will cost you. Like many of California’s coastal cities, San Diego properties don’t come cheap. Each square foot of real estate in San Diego costs more than $320 on average, so even if you can swing financing for a $300,000 home, you’re going to get something well under 1,000 square feet. WalletHub says San Diego is one of the happiest cities in the United States, so maybe you can put a price on happiness.

Next: Moving up the California coast

12. Los Angeles

Hollywood sign

The Hollywood Hills come with a Hollywood price tag. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Los Angeles
  • Average price per square foot: $370

The city of Los Angeles is the seat of the county of the same name. No surprise there, right? What might be surprising is it is so far up this list. The average rent in the city is quite high at $2,107 per month, according to Rent Cafe. If you’re buying your own place in the city and can afford a $300,000 price tag, you’ll get a little over 810 square feet based on the average for Los Angeles County.

If you choose to live in Orange County, southeast of the city, you’ll get even less space as real estate averages $396 price per square foot, according to the Visual Capitalist data. Head northwest from L.A. to Ventura County, and the market average is $314 per square foot. The $360 average for all three makes the Los Angeles area one of the most expensive markets in the country — but not nearly as much as some others on the list.

Next: Rocky Mountain-bound

11. Eagle, Colorado

Eagle, Colorado

The area has high-priced property. | Town of Eagle, CO via Facebook

  • County: Eagle
  • Average price per square foot: $372

This area shows up on the list for one major reason. You might not know much about Eagle County, where the town of Eagle is the county seat, but you probably have heard of Vail. The mountain playground for some of the country’s most rich and famous, Vail has the real estate prices to match and boosts Eagle County onto the list. Data from Zillow show the median home value in Vail is almost $1 million. Multimillionaire celebrities, including James Hetfield of Metallica, have no problem ponying up that kind of money. If you want to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, you’ll have to shell out, too.

Next: Southwest Colorado shows up on the list.

10. Telluride, Colorado


Telluride has been the home to many celebrities. | Telluride.com via Facebook

  • County: San Miguel
  • Average price per square foot: $384

Fewer than 8,000 people reside in San Miguel County, but you might have heard of a couple who lived there at one time or another. Do the names Tom Cruise, Jerry Seinfeld, and Oprah Winfrey ring any bells? They are just a few of the celebrities who have owned property in Telluride, the largest town in the county. That could be one big reason why real estate in the county costs an average of $384 per square foot.

Next: Maybe not the part of Florida you thought you’d see.

9. Key West, Florida

Pier at the beach in Key West

You have to pay extra for paradise. | ventdusud/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Monroe
  • Average price per square foot: $405

Monroe County includes all of the Florida Keys and the western part of Everglades National Park. Key West is the county seat and most famous city. Before Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Key West, Zillow notes a median home price of $628,800 as of Aug. 31. Data from Visual Capitalist shows homebuyers pay more than $400 per square foot of real estate on this island paradise.

Next: It costs a lot to go big in Boston.

8. Boston

Boston in the fall

You pay for that Boston real estate. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Suffolk
  • Average price per square foot: $415

Living in Boston proper will set you back quite a bit. The average price per square foot of real estate in Suffolk County, where Boston is by far the largest city, is $415. If you really want a Boston address, be prepared to pay for it. But if you can stand to live just outside the city limits, things get a lot more affordable. The counties of Essex ($225), Norfolk ($265), and Middlesex ($277) all have averages under $300.

Next: Still in Massachusetts

7. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Gingerbread Houses, Martha's Vineyard, Methodist Summer Camp Meeting Houses

Celebrities and presidents are known to pay a visit. | lightningboldt/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Dukes
  • Average price per square foot: $447

Like some other parts of the country we’ve already visited and a couple others to come, real estate prices here owe much to celebrity guests. Several presidents and A-list Hollywood stars enjoy visiting this Massachusetts island south of the mainland. More than 60% of the homes are classified as second homes, and expensive ones at that with an average price per square foot of nearly $450.

Next: Detour to Washington, D.C.

6. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., in spring

It takes a lot of money to live comfortably. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: N/A
  • Average price per square foot: $477

If you want to call the nation’s capital home, you’re going to have to dig deep into your bank account. If your budget is $300,000, you’ll be able to buy fewer than 628 square feet of real estate at the average price. Even if you can afford it, you’ll still be living in a city where it takes quite a bit of money to live comfortably. Yet there are affordable options in the area. Fairfax County ($282) in Virginia and Montgomery County ($257) in Maryland, both bordering Washington, check in with averages under $300.

Next: Paying to live in an island paradise

5. Honolulu

waikiki beach

You pay a lot to live in paradise. | Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

  • County: Honolulu
  • Average price per square foot: $490

If you want access to big city nightlife and Hawaiian island living, you’ll have to head to Honolulu. And if you’re looking for a place of your own, you’re going to have to pay quite a bit for each and every inch. At close to $500 per square foot, Honolulu has one of the highest averages in the country. The neighboring islands of Maui ($443) and Kaui ($426) offer some price relief but not much. If you can afford to buy real estate in Honolulu, you’ll reside where the cost of living is one of the highest in the United States.

Next: Back to Massachusetts one last time

4. Nantucket, Massachusetts


The median home value is close to $1.4 million. | Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images

  • County: Nantucket
  • Average price per square foot: $563

Once again, you can thank the 1% for Nantucket’s spot on the list. A favorite getaway for the Kardashian clan, among others, the island south of mainland Massachusetts commands some of the highest real estate prices per square foot in the U.S. So it should come as no surprise that the median home value on Nantucket is close to $1.4 million, according to data from Zillow.

Next: A layover in the mountains on the way to the coast

3. Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado

If you want to ski with the celebs, you’ll have to pay up. | tonda/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: Pitkin
  • Average price per square foot: $841

Aspen has long had an expensive real estate market, and that shows no signs of slowing down. Hobnobbing with the celebrities and billionaires who favor Aspen will take some big bucks. With an average price per square foot that is more than six times the national average of $139, a place in Aspen will quickly break your budget.

Next: Bayside property is a wallet buster.

2. San Francisco

Cable car in San Francisco County

All of those tech companies drive up prices. | batuhanozdel/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: San Francisco
  • Average price per square foot: $878

So you want to live in San Francisco. Who could blame you? The temperate climate, rich culture, and big city amenities make it a great place to live. The real estate prices reflect it. If you want to live in the city, you’ll have to spend $878 per square foot.

Even property adjacent to San Francisco will cost you. In San Mateo County south of San Francisco, expect to pay $757 per square foot. Further south in Santa Clara County, home to San Jose, it’s $612. Head north to Marin County, and the average is $574. Even across the bay in Alameda County, the $477 price per square foot is nearly 3.5 times the national average of $139. And to live comfortably in San Francisco, GOBankingRates estimates you will need to make more than $110,000 per year.

Next: Can you guess the location that’s No. 1?

1. New York City

Taxi and limousine driving along the Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan will cost you the most in the country per square foot. | LSP1982/iStock/Getty Images

  • County: New York
  • Average price per square foot: $1,397

If you truly want a New York, New York, address, you’re going to have to save for a while or be a top earner. Long one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, living in Manhattan will cost you nearly $1,400 per square foot, according to data from Visual Capitalist. That’s by far the most expensive in the country, though things become a bit more affordable if you can stand to be city-adjacent.

Kings County (home to Brooklyn) and Queens County have average square foot prices of $482 and $399, respectively. Things are even more affordable on Staten Island (where the average in Richmond County is $282) and Bronx County ($227).

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