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The Salary Needed To Live In The Top 10 Most Sought-After Cities In The U.S.

Hanna Kielar11-minute read

September 08, 2021

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A 2020 study1 found that four in 10 people want to buy a home simply to have more space in their new remote reality. With the demand for homes rising, the competition between buyers is likely to rise. There are many factors that come into play when you’re looking to buy a house. One of the first things that may come to an aspiring homebuyer’s mind is the income they’ll need.

While income is one important factor, it’s crucial to understand the others: debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, the down payment you can afford and your credit score. We looked at internal figures from Rocket Mortgage® to find the most sought-after cities in America.

These top 10 cities were selected because they had the highest number of loans closed. We also curated tips from financial experts to help make your homeownership dreams a reality. 

The Salary Needed To Own A Home In The Most-Sought-After Cities  

It’s important to note that these figures are averages and estimates. They’re intended to be used for educational purposes and are neither financial advice nor a guarantee of obtaining or not obtaining a loan. If you have a question about your financial position, please consult a Home Loan Expert or a financial advisor as there are different determining factors at play in the mortgage acquisition process.

Median list prices were obtained from the Rocket Homes real estate trends tool (data updated as of December 2020). The credit scores needed that are shown below are the average FICO® Score of approved mortgage applicants. See a breakdown of the top 5 cities below.

5.  San Antonio, TX

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is said to be the most visited city in Texas,2 with plenty of tourist attractions. Based on the number of loans closed, it looks like people are looking for a permanent stay. The median list price is $283,486, making it the most affordable city in this top 5. The average monthly income is $7,879 among approved applicants. 

  • Average salary (yearly): $94,550
  • Average loan requested: $217,918
  • Median list price: $283,486
  • Average credit score: 743

4.  Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, NC stats

Charlotte is the only city from the East Coast to make the top 5. The city’s average listing price has experienced +15.9%3 year-over-year growth at about $42,952 on the average listing. This opportunity for growth has driven up demand for Charlotte property, and the average monthly income needed was $8,910.

  • Average salary (yearly): $106,915
  • Average loan requested: $232,866
  • Median list price: $312,861
  • Average credit score: 742

3.  Houston, TX

Houston, Texas stats

It’s no surprise that there’s a high demand for housing in Houston. It’s estimated that Houston’s population reached 7.1 million4 in 2020, holding onto its spot as the fourth most populous city in the U.S. Due to this high demand, it helps your chances to have a credit score in the 740s and to be able to show proof of $10,200 in monthly income (of course, depending on other factors in your application).   

  • Average salary (yearly): $122,401
  • Average loan requested: $235,103
  • Median list price: $305,841
  • Average credit score: 746

2.  Phoenix, AZ

Much like its weather, the Phoenix real estate market is heating up. Phoenix is the fifth most populous city in the U.S. (behind Houston) and second on our list. Demand has driven prices up 14.9% since 2019 ($40,150 on average). In addition to having a good average credit score of 747, the average applicants brought in $8,285 monthly.

 

  • Average salary (yearly): $99,417
  • Average loan requested: $248,644
  • Median list price: $310,200
  • Average credit score: 747

1.  Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas, NV stats

Want to gamble on the Las Vegas real estate market? Apparently, so do a lot of people. Las Vegas came in at No. 1 with 14% more closed loans than Phoenix and 80% more than San Diego which came in at number 10.

The average monthly income of applicants who secured loans was $8,409. Applicants also had the highest credit score out of the top 5 on this list, an “excellent” average of 751. So rather than roll the dice at a casino, it might be better for your credit to save for a house using more conventional methods.

  • Average salary (yearly): $100,913
  • Average loan requested: $253,869
  • Median list price: $330,254
  • Average credit score: 751

Below we have summarized data on the top 10 cities based on the number of loans closed.

Rank

City

Credit Score

Average Salary (Yearly)

Average Loan Requested

Median List Price

1

Las Vegas, NV

751

$100,912

$253,869

$330,254

2

Phoenix, AZ

747

$99,417

$248,644

$310,200

3

Houston, TX

746

$122,400

$235,103

$305,841

4

Charlotte, NC

742

$106,914

$232,866

$312,861

5

San Antonio, TX

743

$94,550

$217,918

$283,486

6

Tucson, AZ

753

$84,958

$207,601

$270,064

7

Miami, FL

742

$120,555

$279,317

$479,150

8

Denver, CO

755

$112,740

$313,358

$407,642

9

Chicago, IL

748

$126,256

$257,695

$328,746

10

San Diego, CA

766

$139,282

$403,327

$691,928

11 Tips From Financial Experts To Become A Homeowner   

The down payment buyers paid to purchase a home in the cities listed above ranged from 20% – 40%. Even if you aren’t looking to live in one of the most expensive cities, it’s understandable if these figures sound daunting. No matter the real estate market you’re looking at, you still want to be set up for financial success.

To help you move toward achieving homeownership (and other financial goals you may have), we asked finance experts for their best advice. See a summarized version of these tips in a visual by clicking the button below:

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1. Improve Your Debt-To-Income (DTI) Ratio

Adem Selita, CEO and co-founder of The Debt Relief Company5, stresses the importance of “making sure you get your DTI ratio as low as possible. The easiest way to do this is by paying off your smaller balance loans and obligations that may be negatively impacting your monthly expenses and therefore your DTI. The accounts that will most likely be the culprit in this scenario are credit card accounts, personal loans, student loans, auto loans, etc.”

He continues, “if you have any of the above accounts and they are relatively close to being paid off, take some extra cash to pay these down completely. You will lower your DTI and as an added benefit you will also boost your credit score by doing so.”

Additionally, Glenn Griggs II, student debt counselor at Griggs Financials6, tells us to “keep all credit card balances under 30% of the card maximum. If you have student loans you can put them in forbearance to reduce their impact on your debt to income ratio to only 1% of the total balance.”

2. Raise Your Credit Score

Ben Reynolds, CEO and founder of Sure Dividend7, explains that “if you have a low credit score, it signifies to lenders that you’re a risk in paying the monthly mortgage bill ... Be responsible for paying your bills on time. Maintaining on-time payments and working on paying off high-interest rate bills can help you build your credit back up.”

James Surrey, founder and chief editor at Review Home Warranties8, tells us to try to “increase your credit limit on more than one credit card. This is provided that you don't have a recurring history of late payments. Having a large limit in relation to transactions and bill amount made on the card is an easy and fast way to raise the credit score by several points.”

3. Make Consistent Payments

Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer9, says “a history of unreliable payments tends to be the No. 1 issue I've seen [when someone gets denied for a loan]. If you're consistent in payments for the most part — even if you've struggled a little in the past — you stand a much better chance.”

In order to make payments on time, every time, Alene Laney, real estate investor and personal finance expert at Pennies to Paradise10, recommends that you “automate everything. Put your bills on autopay and automate your savings. You’ll have a perfect credit score and a pile of cash to prepare yourself for the costs of buying and owning a home.”

To add to that point, Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group11, reminds us that technology isn’t always perfect — you should keep tabs on your “autopayments [as sometimes they aren’t] set up correctly. You will see that just as many problems exist with technology mishaps as they do with human error.”

4. Save Often And Save Creatively

Jenifer Sapel, the founder of Utor Wealth12, also suggests that “if you are looking to be a homeowner soon, do these two things: first, talk to a lender to get an idea of what loans, rates and payments look like. Secondly, start paying your mortgage now, before you have one, into a separate account designated to home savings.

For example, if you pay $1500/month in rent but expect your mortgage (taxes and insurance) to be $2500/month, put the difference into a home savings account now so that you get a feel for the change in expenses you will be making.

5. Ask Yourself The Important Questions

Selita (5) explains, “before [you spend] all the time to buy and ultimately purchase the home, ask yourself where you see yourself in 5 years. 10 years. Do you like the neighborhood, city, environment, etc.? Do you think you may move locations due to your employment at any time in the future? Do you have established roots in the community and family close by?”

Mason Miranda, a credit industry specialist at Credit Card Insider13, adds to the list of questions above with the following prompts:

  • How much money do you have saved up? Will you have anything left after the entire home buying process?
  • How much mortgage can you afford?
  • Does the location offer housing that you would enjoy within your budget?
  • What are your spending habits and do you need to change them to afford a house?
  • Do you have a budget in place to help keep track of spending and making mortgage payments?
  • What do your credit reports and credit scores look like? Will they let you be approved and get a low interest rate on your mortgage?

6. Use The 28% Rule As An Estimate

Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey14, advises that “you shouldn't buy more house than you can afford. Though affordability will differ from one person to another, you should take time to cost out the house before deciding to own one. The easiest way to get started is to calculate your monthly mortgage using the 28% rule. This rule dictates your mortgage payment should not exceed 28% of gross income each month.”

7. Know That Budgeting Is Complex

When contemplating how much home you can afford, Sapel (12) explains, “ultimately this is a lifestyle choice. If you think of your income as a pie, assume that income tax is going to account for 10 – 30% of the pie. The next largest expense is usually a mortgage.

“If you spend 30% of your before-tax income on a mortgage, now you have potentially 40% of your income left to spend on all other expenses. This includes everyday bills like health and auto insurance as well as discretionary expenses. My general rule of thumb is to keep your mortgage at or below 15% of your income.”

She continues, "this may be difficult for a first-time home buyer in which case, it's OK to go up to 20 or even 25% of your income, but then allow your income to grow and stay in the home long enough for your mortgage to settle in the healthy range of 15%. This way you end up paying your income taxes, then mortgage and still have 50% or more of your income for your other lifestyle choices."

8. Get Preapproved (Or Prequalified)

Andra Hopulele, senior real estate writer at Point215, says, “getting preapproved or prequalified for a mortgage gives you an idea of what you can afford. It's great to start with this because knowing that figure will help you budget and filter out the houses that fall outside your upper limit.”

9. Look At Your Home As Investment

Stacy Caprio, financial blogger at Deals Scoop16, suggests you “invest in a home as an investment property so it can be an asset returning money each month. [Make sure] rents cover all mortgage and associated monthly costs, along with a minimum 5 – 8% percent profit return each month.”

She elaborates, “this is a great way to make sure the home is not only an appreciating asset but also one where costs will be fully covered each month even if the housing market goes down substantially in value, so the homeowner is not relying only on appreciation to make their return.”

10. Compromise On A Starter Home

Laney (10) says, “an unusual move prospective homebuyers may want to consider is a move to a more affordable area. Homeowners typically create wealth that renters do not. If you spend a little time in a lower-cost area, you can get into a home and build your wealth sooner.”

To really land the right home, Hopulele (15) suggests that you “create a 'must-have' list and a 'wish' list. Your 'must-have' list should include things like safety, the appropriate number of rooms, the structural integrity of the home, real estate taxes, and the price of the home and monthly mortgage. The ‘wish’ list should include all the home features you feel are nice to have but are things you could live without.”

11. Build Emergency Funds

Tran (14) also commented on the need for emergency funds: “Americans spend $2,000 per year on home maintenance, so it is crucial to have a robust emergency fund. Unexpected costs such as a burst pipe, heating system repair, and roof repair may crop up. To always be on the safe side, save 1 – 4% of your home's value every year.”

Sapel (12) agrees and adds that you should, “expect something to break or need repair every year ... There are many rules of thumb here, from 1% of the home value to $1/square foot for repairs annually but if you are good about keeping a general emergency fund (I suggest 9 – 12 months [of expenses]), that should cover you financially.”

If you think homeownership is a goal you want to accomplish, remember to save strategically, invest with guidance and make a financial plan that you can stick to. As you save and invest, remember that it’s a process and that there are programs to help first-time home buyers, home buyers with disabilities and those who want to buy a house with no money down.

Ready to take that step towards homeownership or get some advice specific to your situation? Consider talking to one of our home buying experts.

Sources

  1.  Yahoo Money
  2.  The Culture Trip
  3.  Rocket Homes: Charlotte Real Estate Trends
  4.  Houston.org
  5.  Adem Selita, CEO and co-founder of The Debt Relief Company
  6.  Glenn Griggs II, student debt counselor at Griggs Financials
  7.  Ben Reynolds, CEO and founder of Sure Dividend
  8.  James Surrey, founder and chief editor at Review Home Warranties
  9.  Jake Hill, CEO of DebtHammer
  10.  Alene Laney, real estate investor and personal finance expert at Pennies to Paradise
  11.  Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group
  12.  Jenifer Sapel, founder of Utor Wealth
  13.  Mason Miranda, credit industry specialist at Credit Card Insider
  14.  Charles Tran, the founder of CreditDonkey
  15.  Andra Hopulele, senior real estate writer at Point2

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is an Associate Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage focused on personal finance, recruiting and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.

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