Inman Interactive: Explore where US housing costs are highest

This interactive map compares the costs for a typical homeowner in each county in the nation, beyond the principal and interest on their loan.

This post is the first in a series of Inman data visualizations exploring the U.S. housing market using the government’s American Community Survey.

As agents often tell first-time buyers, the true cost of homeownership includes more than just the monthly mortgage payment.

Property taxes, home insurance premiums, utility bills and other fees can add up quickly. These costs can also rise over time.

That’s partly why the U.S. government conducts large-scale surveys each year that track a more comprehensive idea of what it costs to own a home in neighborhoods across the country. 

We’re going to use this dataset from the American Community Survey to compare every U.S. county’s median monthly housing costs for units with a mortgage. In this interactive map, counties with more expensive housing are shaded darker than are lower-cost counties.

There are a few caveats about the data that we’ll cover further down. But first, take some time to check out the map above. 

One of the first things that stands out is how much more expensive it is to live near the California coast or in the Northeast than it would to reside almost anywhere else in the country. This is a well known fact, but it’s still stark to see it laid out this plainly.

For units with a mortgage, median monthly costs ranged from $645 a month in the nation’s most affordable county to $3,649 on the upper end. 

You can also make out darker patches throughout the U.S. These often represent urban centers and their surrounding suburbs. Housing costs are higher here than you tend to see in rural areas.

It’s also interesting to examine darker-shaded counties whose costs aren’t easily explained by the urban-rural divide. 

Homes with a mortgage in Wyoming’s Teton County, for instance, cost residents nearly two-and-a-half times what you’d pay to live a couple counties over in Idaho. (Properties in Teton County are close to several scenic destinations, which include the iconic Teton mountain range and a chunk of Yellowstone National Park.)

Now for those caveats we promised.

The first and most important caveat is that these county-level estimates don’t account for income. In areas with higher housing costs, employers also tend to offer higher salaries. This isn’t true everywhere, though, and it may become less of a factor for some homeowners as remote work grows in popularity.

Second, because this data is based on speaking with a random sample of the population, it also comes with a certain margin of error. The vast majority of cost estimates in this map will be within $100 of the true monthly cost at the time of the survey. Some estimates for individual counties may be off by more than that, though.

To keep this margin of error as low as possible for each county, we focused specifically on a range of annual surveys conducted between 2015 and 2019. This means the monthly costs above don’t reflect what happened during the pandemic, or in the months leading up it. In many regions, it’s safe to say housing costs are higher today than what we see in this map.

Finally, it’s important to note that many people bought their homes years or even decades before they responded to these surveys. In other words, their costs won’t necessarily reflect what a new homebuyer could expect to pay if they closed now at today’s record market prices

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