A Tale of Two Cities

The median home value in the United States is approximately $250,000, and that figure continues to grow as the housing market booms. While housing costs vary depending on the market, there are many other factors that contribute to your standard and cost of living in the city where you live. Housing, education, taxes, grocery, transportation, and health care are all considered when talking about the overall picture of a city’s cost of living.

As Grand Rapidians, it can be easy to take for granted all the wonderful amenities that we have access to. In what other city can you be 30 minutes from a gorgeous freshwater beach, have a bustling downtown, AND get a beautiful home less than 10 minutes from the heart of downtown for $250,000?!

With short commutes, no traffic, a city ballet, orchestra, several theatres and concert venues, delicious restaurants, and world-class healthcare infrastructure, the standard of living is second to none for the cost. Not to mention, the city is home to the world-renowned international art competition—ArtPrize. Grand Rapids is consistently ranked a top city to raise a family in, and the options for education from preschool to university are ample. The affordability and strong housing market mean more than half of Grand Rapids residents own their homes, contributing to the pride Grand Rapidians take in their city, communities, and neighborhoods.

Here’s a look at what a $250,000 home looks like in different US markets and the overall cost of living there.

Grand Rapids, MI

$235,000: 4 beds, 2 baths — 1,848 sq ft.

Neighborhood: Alger Heights

Time to downtown: 9 minutes



Less than 30 miles from Lake Michigan and the second largest metropolitan area in Michigan, Grand Rapids has a lot to offer. Whether you are looking to settle down or just starting your college education, Grand Rapids is beloved by people in all stages of life. This explains why the housing market is booming, and the city keeps growing! With incredible access to health care, breweries galore, and great schools, Grand Rapidians get all a big city has to offer without the costly homes and long commutes. The cost of living in grand Rapids is 12.2% lower than the U.S. average, and the median home costs $186,941 (https://www.zillow.com/grand-rapids-mi/home-values/).


Ann Arbor, MI

$236,000: 2 beds, 2 bath — 1,120 sq ft.

Neghborhood: Northbury

Time to downtown: 12 minutes



Ann Arbor is a bustling, eclectic, and park filled city, and it has been voted the best mid-sized city in America multiple times because of the ample opportunities and amenities that the city has to offer. While Michigan is one of the most affordable states to buy a home in, Ann Arbor does not necessarily follow suit. The cost of living in the city is 17.5% higher than the U.S. average, and the median home cost is $399,384 (https://www.zillow.com/ann-arbor-mi/home-values/). Over half of Ann Arbor residents rent as opposed to own their homes, but the city strikes a great balance between urban and suburban feel with an energic and dynamic cultural scene.


Chicago, IL

$245,000: 1 bed, 1 bath — 800 sq ft.

Neighborhood: Streeterville

Time to downtown: 1 mile to the city center



Chicago is surprisingly affordable compared to the nation’s other big cities with a cost of living that is 6.9% higher than the US average. But if you want to be right in the heart of downtown, your dollar surely won’t go as far. The median home cost is $249,152, but if you need several bedrooms and bathrooms, you may need to look outside of the downtown area, so be prepared for a longer commute (https://www.zillow.com/chicago-il/home-values/). The average commute time for Chicagoans is 35 minutes, but Chicago is considered walkable and has good public transportation so being downtown certainly has it perks.


Austin, TX

$230,000: 2 beds, 2 bath — 876 sq ft.

Neighborhood: North Loop

Time to downtown: 10 minutes



As a tech hub, Austin keeps making headlines! The city’s population has grown 20% since 2010, drawing many young professionals to the bustling southern city. While it is more affordable than other tech focused cities, it’s quickly becoming expensive, and real estate is following suit. Austin’s cost of living is 19.3% higher than the national average, and the median home price is $401,999 (https://www.zillow.com/austin-tx/home-values/). The pleasant weather, amenities, and cultural vibrance of the area contribute to the city’s livability and recent population gain. Austin is considered moderately walkable and is quite car dependent.


Denver, CO

$247,000: 1 bed, 1 bath — 715 sq ft.

Neighborhood: Cheesman Park

Time to downtown: 9 minutes



With 300 sunny days a year and mountains surrounding the city, it’s no wonder Denver is so attractive for out of state transplants! What’s not attractive, however, is that Denver’s cost of living is 28.7% higher than the national average, and the median home cost is $465,466 (https://www.zillow.com/denver-co/home-values/). Home prices have been rising faster than wages in the area so many find themselves renting, and first-time home buyers may have trouble finding an entry point to the market. Regardless of the cost, many Denverites fall in love with the mountain views, vibrant art scene, and the ample outdoor adventure possibilities.


San Francisco, CA

$240,000: 1 bed, 1 bath — 506 sq ft.

Neighborhood: Silver Terrace

Time to downtown: 9 minutes



It’s no secret: San Francisco is an expensive city to live in—especially if you strive to own real estate there. The charming city’s cost of living is a whopping 169.3% over the national average, and the median home costs $1,447,191 (https://www.zillow.com/san-francisco-ca/home-values/). With pleasant weather, exciting culture, and the Silicon Valley nearby, it makes sense that the city is beloved by many, but as far as affordability goes, this city is at the bottom of the list. Although San Francisco is considered very walkable, the average commute time is 33 minutes—probably because many seek housing outside of the city in attempt to get more house for their money.


Seattle, WA

$230,000: 1 beds, 1 bath (studio) — 403 sq ft.

Neighborhood: Greenwood

Time to downtown: 13 minutes



Seattle may be a nature lover’s dream city, but with a cost of living 72% higher than the national average, it’s the 7th most expensive city in the US. So, your dollar won’t go as far whether you’re buying a home in the city or buying a cup of that famous Seattle coffee. As more and more tech companies call Seattle home, housing demand increases, and with a median home cost of $767,906, owning real estate may be out of reach for many (https://www.zillow.com/seattle-wa/home-values/). With so many amenities and being located between mountains and the sea, it’s no wonder Seattle real estate is such a hot commodity!


In what other city can you have a bustling downtown, AND get a beautiful home less than 10 minutes from the heart of downtown for $250,000?!