Thinking of Paying for a Home in Full? Here’s How Long It’d Take to Save Up in the 50 Biggest US Cities

The PropertyClub Team
Oct 3rd 2019
The cost of housing in the biggest cities in the U.S. has reached sky-high levels in recent years, and owning your own home has become an unattainable dream for most people. Home prices in cities like New York City and San Francisco are so high that most of us can’t even afford monthly mortgage payments, let alone purchasing a home with all cash.

If you’re thinking, well, I’m not ready to tie myself down to a bank and spend all my hard-earned money on monthly mortgage payments, then you’re probably in for a big disappointment. You might think it’s a smart move to save up money each month for a few years to pay for a home in full and not worry about banks and loans and defaults. But in many U.S. cities, that won’t be a viable option, as it would take decades to save up the necessary amount. 

Let’s look at the numbers. The average price of a single-family home in San Francisco costs $1,440,900 in 2019, according to Zillow data, while one-bedroom apartments sell for $883,700. This means that to buy a single-family home in the Golden City, you need to earn $308,763 per year to keep your mortgage from taking more than 30% of your income. Not a lot of people make that kind of money, so you might be wondering, how long would it take to save up for an all-cash payment? We must warn you; the numbers paint a grim picture.

We looked at average home prices in the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. and calculated how long it would take to save up for a single-family home or a one-bedroom apartment. Our formula assumed homebuyers would be putting aside no more than 30% of the national median income each month. The differences are pretty striking; in some cities, it would take decades to be able to pay for a home in full, while in smaller cities, you could become a homeowner unburdened by mortgage payments in just a few years. Check out the list of cities and data in the interactive visual below:

If you were to save up 30% of the national median income each month to buy a single-family home in San Francisco in full, it would take you 81 years to come up with that amount, based on the most recent national wage data from 2017.

Other California cities are catching up fast to San Francisco in terms of housing costs. You’d need to save up for 62 years to be able to buy a single-family home in San Jose, and 43 years in Los Angeles. Talk about delayed gratification.

One-bedroom apartments aren’t exactly cheap either; it takes 56 years to buy one in full in San Francisco, 30 years in Los Angeles, and 24 years in Seattle. By comparison, being able to make an all-cash payment on a one-bedroom in NYC would take 14 years, which is not exactly a short time, but it’s slightly more attainable if you start saving up early. 

For many people, however, saving up 30% of their monthly income for decades is simply not worth it, and they choose to rent or opt for coliving and spend that money on traveling or other hobbies. But if you really want to own your own home, without cutting out all other expenses from your life, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re not tied down to a specific location or set on living in a popular and expensive place like New York City, where luxury living is the norm, then you might want to consider relocating. 

The American dream of owning a home is still within reach in a few major U.S. cities, including Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and Wichita, Kan., whereby saving up 30% of your income, you’d be able to afford to buy a single-family home in just three years.

You might also consider moving to satellite cities, or smaller cities neighboring big urban centers, like Aurora, Colorado, where you can save up and buy a one-bedroom apartment in full in just eight years. It might be worth commuting to Denver every day to be able to own your own place and never have to worry about mortgage payments or rent.

In the end, it all boils down to preferences; if you’re not keen on living in a super-crowded, super-expensive, super-popular city like San Francisco, L.A., or New York City, then your chances of becoming a homeowner are much higher. If, however, your job requires you to live in a particular area or you’re simply attached to where you live, then you might want to rethink that homeownership dream and organize your budget a little bit differently. 

Methodology

We used Zillow housing data as a source to see the amount you need to earn to be able to afford to buy a single-family home or a one-bedroom apartment in the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. We added a 5% annual interest to a 30-year mortgage with no down payment and calculated the monthly rent for the price of the house at the end of the mortgage. We calculated how much you’d need to earn each year by not spending more than 30% on house costs, based on Census findings. The formula we used includes PITI (principal, interest, property tax, and homeowner’s insurance) based on a recent HSH study.

We calculated how long it would take to save for a full house payment based on initial home price data from Zillow. The formula is based on national average wage data from the Social Security Administration, and it presents the number of years it would take to save for a full payoff by saving 30% of your annual income. The latest national average wage index available is for 2017.

The 50 cities are sorted in descending order according to population numbers.