Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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The Most Affordable Cities in America

Billionaire Warren Buffett has made Omaha, Neb., synonymous with savvy stock investing, but the city is also highly attractive for those seeking an affordable lifestyle. In fact, the Midwestern metro ranks No. 1 on our Best Bargain Cities list.

What do we mean by a bargain? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as an "advantageous deal." On that score Omaha qualifies, thanks to a list-leading combination of affordable real estate and a healthy ratio of income to living costs.

To compile our bargain city list, we started with the 50 largest U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and then compiled a mix of data aimed at handicapping the overall affordability of living in each.

We looked at the current median asking price of homes on the market in each city, using data from Altos Research, a San Francisco-based real estate research firm. We got the median salaries of workers with bachelor's degrees or higher from PayScale.com and compared it to a cost-of-living index from Moody's Economy.com (the cost-of-living index factors in transportation, insurance, food, utilities and other factors). Finally, we factored in the latest unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to reflect the relative strength of local economies.

The result is a list of the top 15 urban affordability hot spots.

Omaha Stakes

As the home of major corporations like Union Pacific, ConAgra Foods and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Omaha boasts inexpensive real estate, a low cost of living and an unemployment rate little more than half the national average.

Omaha's job market will actually grow by 1.6% in 2011, according to Moody's Economy. In fact, the Nebraskan hub will be a "city that thrives in 2011," adds online real estate database Trulia.com.

"Its home prices have stayed steady through the recession, owing to the fact that they never saw the inflation of the bubble era," explains Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for Trulia.com. "In Omaha, it seems to be steady as she goes."

The Midwest dominated our bargain city list. Other heartland metropolises offering good deals include Indianapolis, Ind. (No.4); Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. (No. 7); Oklahoma's namesake city (No. 9) and Tulsa (No. 15); and Ohio's three largest metros, Cincinnati (No. 5), Cleveland (No.8) and Columbus (No. 13).
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