If you had to choose the next city you will live in now – this second – what would it be?

Chances are, Fayetteville, Arkansas, didn't come to mind.

Despite being smaller in size and less visited by the masses, metro areas like Fayetteville, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Boise, Idaho, are some of the best places to live by our calculations – receiving third, fifth and sixth place, respectively, in the U.S. News Best Places to Live rankings.

These spots may not hold the international recognition of cities like New York and Los Angeles, but with a lower cost of living, steady job markets and rising populations due to an influx of new residents from other parts of the country, places like Fayetteville are gaining many of the bigger-city amenities that people often seek in their next hometown.

But what do these cities have that major metro areas don’t? Real estate experts from some of our top-ranking places to live weigh in on why people love their towns.

They’re between big and small. While the Fayetteville area’s population of 483,396 may seem tiny compared with Houston’s more than 6 million residents, it’s no one-horse town. The University of Arkansas maintains a steady population of academics and students, and three Fortune 500 companies call the area home: Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services. In fact, Fayetteville is the fastest-growing city in Arkansas, according to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data.

People relocating to the area, whether for work or school, are often looking for culture and amenities, says Anthony Clark, owner of Clark Partners Realty in Fayetteville.

“Those folks usually come from larger metropolitan areas, so walkability is very important to them. Being close to the university, having a diverse housing stock as well as a diverse population is [also] very important to them,” Clark says.

Colorado Springs’ proximity to Denver and the mountains for skiing make it a destination for many retirees and seasonal tourists, according to Jennifer Boylan, broker owner of Springs Homes in Colorado Springs.

“It’s close enough to Denver, so they can still go do all the stuff they used to do in their big cities, but it’s more affordable here, and quite honestly it’s much prettier,” Boylan says.

Colorado Springs’ prime location near Denver, with the Rocky Mountains as its backdrop, hasn’t gone unnoticed: The city was voted one of the most desirable places to live in a Google Consumer Survey of people across the country, conducted by U.S. News.

Despite being high on the desirability list, Colorado Springs has remained fairly small (population of 669,070) compared to Denver (population of 2,651,392), though there is a growing blend of businesses between the two areas. "Denver restaurants are starting to come to the north end of Colorado Springs,” Boylan says. She adds that commercial real estate is also heating up in the area, largely because it’s a cheaper housing alternative to costlier Denver.

They appeal to people from bigger cities. While the job market for any city influences who moves to the area, local real estate agents say a lot of people are moving to smaller metro areas as a personal preference.

Zac Jockumsen, managing partner for Catalyst Group at Keller Williams Realty Boise, says many transplants to the Boise area, with a population of 639,616 and median home sale price of $232,500, according to the Intermountain MLS (12-month average), come from California and are seeking a more affordable, small city that still has the culture and amenities of a larger area.

“When they do their research, [Boise] seems to come up on their radar, and they seem to enjoy it when they come and check it out,” Jockumsen says.

Fayetteville sees a similar group of new residents, Clark says. He adds many area college alumni return to Fayetteville after beginning their careers in other parts of the country.

“We see a lot of people who come to the University of Arkansas, move away for their first job and then eventually come back to the area because of the quality of life,” Clark says, noting the college recruits heavily from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. While many return to Texas after graduation, Clark sees some moving back to Fayetteville because they now prefer it.

They’re poised for growth. The benefit of having a smaller population off the beaten path is that many smaller metro areas have plenty of room for growth as need arises.

Clark, Boylan and Jockumsen all report their markets are seeing a lot of competition among homebuyers. “There’s buyers just waiting for homes to come on the market because there’s nothing available for what they’re looking for,” Jockumsen says.

But rising residential demand throughout the country calls for new development, and these smaller areas are no exception. For example, Fayetteville, which has a median home sale price of $177,200, according to Zillow (12-month average), is seeing new housing cater to a variety of price ranges, while major cities like San Francisco and the District of Columbia are seeing far more luxury developments than affordable housing options.

“In [Fayetteville's] outlying areas, there’s a lot of new construction development going on right now, and those are actually quite attractive prices ... [and] great opportunities for buyers who are OK with a short commute to the downtown area,” Clark says.

With a median home sale price of $221,725 per Zillow (12-month average), Colorado Springs is home to U.S. Army and Air Force bases, which Boylan says ensures not only a steady change of residents, but it “keeps the lower price range healthy." In comparison, the affordable housing market can suffer in larger cities where developers often focus on luxury housing.

Are These Cities the Best Places to Live for You?

Whether you’re relocating for work or simply looking for a new locale, consider lower-profile cities that still offer culture and amenities at a lower cost of living. Residents of Fayetteville, Colorado Springs and Boise spend less than 30 percent of the median annual household income on housing and utilities, according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

From Clark’s perspective, the combination of bigger city amenities, proximity to nature, and small-town costs and culture makes Fayetteville the best of both worlds: “Whether by happenstance or luck or really great planning, we happen to be in a position, currently, to really provide what everyone is wanting in their quality of life.”

Tags: real estate, moving, housing, housing market, home prices, Applying, population, new home sales, existing home sales


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.