Villa buildings at Shanghai Pudong,China

As we move into 2020, some homebuyers are concerned about the future of the economy. (Getty Images)

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a home in 2020 or find the perfect rental, it helps to know what you’re up against. In many markets, homebuyers continue to find themselves frustrated, as the relatively few properties coming on the market aren't meeting demand. The likelihood of continued low interest rates make it possible for more individuals to become homeowners for the first time, but fear of a recession and a desire for financial security makes many consumers hesitant to purchase a house.

Here’s what to expect from the housing market in 2020.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

Buying


At the start of 2019, rising interest rates caused many homebuyers to halt their plans for a purchase, as they were unwilling to take on a financial burden they couldn’t afford. To ensure buyers remained active, mortgage lenders lowered their interest rates, which have, on average, been below 4% since May for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages, according to Freddie Mac. They're expected to remain low throughout 2020.

Still, some homebuyers are concerned about the future of the economy and their ability to make mortgage payments. Economists largely predict that a recession is still a ways out and not expected until 2021 or later, according to real estate information company Zillow’s July 2019 survey of more than 100 real estate and economic experts. However, a segment of the would-be homebuyer market remains skittish.

“Saying the word ‘recession’ is like saying ‘Beetlejuice’ three times. The more people talk about trade wars and recession, the more people back off (homebuying),” says Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist for First American Financial Corporation, which provides title insurance and risk solutions for real estate transactions.

But concerns about the economy shouldn’t inhibit the housing market significantly, or at least not for long. Daryl Fairweather, chief economist for national real estate brokerage Redfin, says the low mortgage rates and the chance to buy a home now as opposed to later will be enough encouragement for homebuyers. “Once they see prices picking up, they’re going to get this fear of missing out,” she says.

The cities and metro areas where the population is growing fast due to new residents moving in are where you’re likely to see home prices increase the most. These markets, which Fairweather notes are more likely to be mid-tier cities in the Midwest or South, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, that are just a short flight from larger cities like the District of Columbia or Atlanta.

The influx of new residents certainly drives up property values as demand increases over the long term, but that means the buyers on the market are more likely to be transplants than lifelong locals. “Any time we see a big increase in migration, prices go up and locals may feel it become unaffordable for them,” Fairweather says.

The newest generation in the housing narrative, Generation Z, a group often defined as made up of those born between 1996 and 2010, is largely not ready to purchase a home yet. But expect some 18- to 22 year-olds, the oldest Gen Zers, to be a small portion of the market in 2020. Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker NRT, says the Gen Z individuals who are looking to buy now are early adopters, and they’re more likely house hunting in small or midsize Midwestern cities where the cost of living is low.

“That segment (of the generation) is able to purchase, and the inventory is there for them to purchase,” Gorman says.

Selling

Home sellers will likely benefit from the number of buyers encouraged by low interest rates, and home prices are expected to continue to trend upward. But don’t expect any home price explosions on a large scale.

“I don’t expect home price appreciation to be much of the story in 2020, but we’ll see a continuation of what we’ve been seeing,” Gorman says. He adds that home prices should grow and keep sellers and homeowners who are hoping for a rise in their property values happy. But prices should not grow so quickly that markets risk a price correction or buyers hit their price ceiling.

There aren’t expected to be many sellers in 2020, however. National real estate brokerage Re/Max reports that in October 2019, the inventory for homes for sale was 9% lower than the same month in 2018 across 54 metro areas. The low inventory trend, at least compared to the number of consumers looking to buy, is expected to continue through 2020. Many homeowners locked in low mortgage rates over the past decade, so many don’t feel the need to move; they’ve built equity in their homes and continue to have a low, fixed-rate mortgages with no need to refinance.

Plus, the baby boomer population appears to be focused on aging in place rather than downsizing or moving to different accommodations in retirement, Kushi says. Combined with the low mortgage rates they already have on their homes, seniors aren't feeling much incentive to move.



[See: 25 Great Small Towns to Live in the U.S.]

New Construction and Development

With a large and growing number of homebuyers and a relatively small pool of home sellers, the only saving grace is new construction, which has been notoriously underproducing since the recession. Although new construction appears to be increasing, it still won't be able to meet housing demand.

Just 1,461 new, privately owned housing units were issued building permits nationwide in October 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a slight increase from the 1,281 units issued permits in October 2018. This follows a fairly consistent upward trend, with seasonal ups and downs, since 2011.

“Unfortunately, construction is largely happening in the higher-price tiers, and it’s not because (developers) don’t want to build on the lower end,” Kushi says. Labor shortages and regulatory constraints in many parts of the U.S. mean developers are focusing on properties that will offer the highest yield to offset higher building costs, hence more luxury housing.

New construction in the outer suburbs of major metro areas appears to promise more affordable options for many first-time homebuyers, though they may have to accept a longer commute for the sake of owning property. It's in these outer suburbs – filled with new construction or existing homes – that many millennial homebuyers are looking to purchase, Kushi notes.

[Read: How to Break Your Apartment Lease]

Renting

Expect trends in rental rates to remain fairly reactionary to the homebuying market throughout the year, as people examine their financial situation to decide when is the best time to buy.

Real estate information and marketing site Homesnap predicts that renters who are hesitant or unable to buy a home in their local area will extend their rental agreements, remaining where they are to save as much as possible.

Rents are still expected to grow throughout the year. Zillow predicts that rents will grow faster from the start of the year through the spring, but will slow to 2% year-over-year growth by the end of 2020.

Expect to see rental rates rise faster in areas that are seeing significant population growth based on rising demand, like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Fort Myers, Florida. However, in parts of the U.S. where home prices will remain affordable, many of these new residents will opt to buy, so rent growth will probably be less significant.


The 25 Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. in 2019

Find an affordable place to call home.

Photo of colorful bars, clubs and businesses at the famous Sixth Street music and entertainment district of downtown Austin, Texas, USA, illuminated at night.

(Getty Images)

Your ability to be financially comfortable is a key part of deciding where you want to live. Based on a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. residents on the importance of various factors in determining where to live, U.S. News weighted value at 25% – making it one of the key metrics used to calculate the Best Places to Live. To pinpoint the most affordable places on the list, we looked at what portion of the median annual household income goes toward the average cost to own or rent a home, plus the typical cost of utilities and taxes.

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

25. Charlotte, North Carolina

charlotte north carolina city skyline

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 20
Metro Population: 2,427,024
Median Annual Salary: $50,150
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.77%

Charlotte takes the No. 25 spot on the list, with residents spending just 21.77% of their household income on housing expenses. At $50,150, the median annual salary for Charlotte residents just about matches the national average of $50,620.

24. St. Louis

24. St. Louis

This is a photograph of the old courthouse in front of the St. Louis arch in the middle of the day.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 81
Metro Population: 2,804,998
Median Annual Salary: $49,180
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.53%

Missouri’s largest metro area offers more affordability compared with other places in the U.S. of the same size. For instance, Baltimore and Tampa, Florida, can’t match the 21.53% cost of living compared to household income that St. Louis offers.

23. Little Rock, Arkansas

23. Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 88
Metro Population: 730,346
Median Annual Salary: $43,780
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.52%

The capital of Arkansas is the 23rd-most affordable place to live on our list, with a blended annual household income, which includes household income for both renters and homeowners, of $55,911. After housing costs are covered, Little Rock residents typically keep more than 78% of their income to dedicate to other expenses.

22. Syracuse, New York

22. Syracuse, New York

Crouse College Bell Tower, Eggers Hall, Maxwell School, Tolley, Hall of LanguagesSyracuse, New YorkUpstate New YorkNew York State

(Tony Shi Photography/Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 54
Metro Population: 659,262
Median Annual Salary: $49,850
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.51%

This upstate New York metro area is a far more affordable living option compared to New York City, one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. Syracuse is also one of the few metro areas that's not located in Middle America in the 25 Best Affordable Places to Live list.

21. Minneapolis-St. Paul

21. Minneapolis-St. Paul

Last minute vacation in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Best Places 2019 Rank: 6
Metro Population: 3,526,149
Median Annual Salary: $56,030
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.5%

Minneapolis-St. Paul is the most populous metro area on the 25 Best Affordable Places to Live list. Not only are residents spending a smaller portion of their household income on housing – just 21.5% – they’re also bringing home more money. The median annual salary is $56,030.

20. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

20. Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky

Buildings in Lexington, Kentucky - old and new.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 29
Metro Population: 500,689
Median Annual Salary: $43,270
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.49%

Lexington-Fayette has deep roots in the equestrian and agriculture industries, with plenty of farmland just outside the city centers. This helps keep the metro area’s cost of living low, at just 21.49% of the household income.

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

19. Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina, USA downtown cityscape.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 10
Metro Population: 1,824,266
Median Annual Salary: $53,788
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.47%

Referred to as the Research Triangle on account of the plethora of research companies and major universities based in the area – including Duke University, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University – Raleigh and Durham enjoy a relatively low cost of living. Residents spend just 21.47% of their household income on living costs.

18. Tulsa, Oklahoma

18. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa downtown skyline with trees and the Arkansas river in the foreground.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 83
Metro Population: 977,869
Median Annual Salary: $45,260
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.45%

Residents of the Tulsa area spend just 21.45% of the median household income on the cost of living. The overall cost of owning a home in Tulsa is low as well: The median home price is just $149,000, according to Zillow, which is well below the national average of $227,025.

17. Greenville, South Carolina

17. Greenville, South Carolina

Drone aerial of the downtown Greenville South Carolina SC skyline at sunrise.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 872,463
Median Annual Salary: $43,230
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.44%

Ranking No. 22 on the overall Best Places to Live list, Greenville enjoys a low cost of living with residents spending just 21.44% of the median household income on housing. And a steadily growing number of people are able to benefit from this low cost of living: Greenville's population grew by 4.9% due to net migration between 2013 and 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

16. Kansas City, Missouri

16. Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, USA – Aug. 16th, 2015.  A view of The Power & Light District in Kansas City

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 49
Metro Population: 2,088,830
Median Annual Salary: $49,460
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.43%

This metro area that straddles both Missouri and Kansas is home to more than 2 million residents, but it still maintains greater affordability than most major metro areas. Kansas City residents dedicate just 21.43% of their household income to the cost of living.

15. Wichita, Kansas

15. Wichita, Kansas

Downtown Wichita skyline with a waterway and park in the foreground.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 79
Metro Population: 642,339
Median Annual Salary: $43,880
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.42%

While there are more than 600,000 residents in this Kansas metro area, Wichita maintains a small-town feel – with a low cost of living to match. Residents use just 25.88% of their household income to cover rent or mortgage payments, utilities and taxes.

14. Omaha, Nebraska

14. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska is one of the best fall family vacations

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 32
Metro Population: 914,190
Median Annual Salary: $47,660
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.29%

With a median annual salary of $47,660, Omaha takes the No. 14 spot. The largest metro area in Nebraska, which ranked a bit higher at No. 8 last year, has seen a slight increase in the cost of living. Still, residents spend just 21.29% of their household income on housing.

13. Youngstown, Ohio

13. Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown is a city in and the county seat of Mahoning County in the U.S. state of Ohio, with small portions extending into Trumbull County.

(Getty Stock Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 97
Metro Population: 548,821
Median Annual Salary: $41,360
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.18%

With a little more than a half-million residents, the Youngstown metro area has a cost of living that requires 21.18% of the median household income. The median home price for the metro area is low as well, at just $86,850, more than $140,000 below the national average.

12. Louisville, Kentucky

12. Louisville, Kentucky

View of Louisville at dusk from the Indiana side with Ohio river in foreground, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

(Bob Stefko/Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 64
Metro Population: 1,278,203
Median Annual Salary: $45,100
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.11%

As the No. 15 Best Affordable Place to Live in 2018, Louisville has climbed three spots to rank 12th on the list this year. With a median annual salary of $45,100, Louisville residents spend 21.11% of their household income on living expenses.

11. Buffalo, New York

11. Buffalo, New York

Downtown Buffalo skyline along the historic waterfront district. Buffalo is a city in the U.S. state of New York and the seat of Erie County located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie. Buffalo is known for its close proximity to Niagara Falls, good museums and cultural attractions

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 52
Metro Population: 1,136,670
Median Annual Salary: $48,180
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21.11%

Beating Louisville by a ten-thousandth of a percent for the portion of income that goes toward housing, Buffalo is the second upstate New York metro area to make the top 25. Residents in the Buffalo area benefit from a low cost of living, with just 21.11% of the median household income spent on living expenses.

10. Cincinnati

10. Cincinnati

Cincinnati at sunrise watching cars cross the bridge.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 39
Metro Population: 2,156,723
Median Annual Salary: $48,890
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 21%

Cincinnati residents spend slightly less than Buffalonians on housing costs. The typical cost of living is 21% of the median household income.

9. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

9. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 109
Metro Population: 828,741
Median Annual Salary: $44,500
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.79%

It may be ranked No. 109 on the overall Best Places to Live list, but Baton Rouge ranks high when it comes to affordability. Baton Rouge residents spend just 20.79% of their income on housing costs.

8. Lafayette, Louisiana

8. Lafayette, Louisiana

Lafayette is a city in and the parish seat of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 96
Metro Population: 487,633
Median Annual Salary: $39,940
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.76%

The second Louisiana metro area on the Best Affordable Places to Live list, Lafayette has a cost of living of just 20.76% of the median household income. The low cost of living helps balance out the area's lower median annual salary, which at $39,940 is more than $10,000 below the national average.

7. Indianapolis

7. Indianapolis

Image of the Indianapolis skyline with busy traffic and dramatic sky.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 38
Metro Population: 1,989,032
Median Annual Salary: $48,030
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.72%

Indianapolis is one of two Indiana metro area to crack the top 10 of the Best Affordable Places to Live list. Indianapolis residents spend just 20.72% of their household income on rent, mortgage payments, utilities and taxes.

6. Grand Rapids, Michigan

6. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids Michigan skyline along the banks of the Grand river.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 13
Metro Population: 1,039,182
Median Annual Salary: $44,770
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.68%

Money goes further in Grand Rapids than most parts of the U.S. While the median annual salary is below the national average of $50,620, metro area residents spend just 20.68% of the median household income on living expenses.

5. Pittsburgh

5. Pittsburgh

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 50
Metro Population: 2,348,143
Median Annual Salary: $48,580
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.51%

Located in the western part of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh enjoys a more affordable cost of living than Philadelphia to the east. Residents of the Steel City and its surrounding area spend just 20.51% of their household income on rent or mortgage payments and utilities.

4. Fayetteville, Arkansas

4. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Two rowers on foggy Lake Fayetteville at sunrise out for morning exercise silhouetted against the sunrise reflection

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 514,166
Median Annual Salary: $45,830
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.44%

Fayetteville continues to grow in population – having increased by 6.94% between 2013 and 2017 due to net migration alone – but the area maintains a low cost of living. Residents spend just one-fifth of their household income on housing costs.

3. Des Moines, Iowa

3. Des Moines, Iowa

A photo of Pioneer Statue with Downtown Des Moines in the background.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 5
Metro Population: 623,113
Median Annual Salary: $50,600
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 20.11%

Des Moines has long been known for its low cost of living. After taking the top spot in the Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. ranking in 2016 and 2017, the capital of Iowa holds onto its No. 3 spot from last year. Des Moines residents spend just 20.11% of the median annual household income on living costs.

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

2. Fort Wayne, Indiana

FortWayne, Indiana

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 40
Metro Population: 429,060
Median Annual Salary: $43,590
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 19.57%

Residents of Fort Wayne, one of the least-populated metro areas in the Best Places to Live ranking with under 500,000 residents, benefit from spending less on housing. The cost of living in Fort Wayne is just 19.57% of the median household income.

1. Huntsville, Alabama

1. Huntsville, Alabama

Downtown Huntsville, Alabama on a sunny day.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 11
Metro Population: 444,908
Median Annual Salary: $53,600
Income Spent on Living Expenses: 19.3%

Huntsville is the most affordable place to live out of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. for the second year in a row. An above-average median annual salary and low cost of living mean Huntsville residents are keeping more money in their pockets to devote to other things. Just 19.3% of the median household income in Huntsville goes toward housing costs.

The Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. include:

The Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. include:

USA, Florida, Stuart, Aerial view of suburbs

(Getty Images)

  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Des Moines, Iowa
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Pittsburgh
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Indianapolis
  • Lafayette, Louisiana
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Cincinnati
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Youngstown, Ohio
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Greenville, South Carolina
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina
  • Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul
  • Syracuse, New York
  • Little Rock, Arkansas
  • St. Louis
  • Charlotte, North Carolina

Read More

Updated on Dec. 13, 2019: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Tags: real estate, housing market, home prices, new home sales, existing home sales, pending home sales, housing, renting


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.

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