TIME real estate

These Are the Cities With the Largest Homes

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Getty Images

Not so surprisingly, the cities with the largest homes are on the whole more sparsely populated than major urban cities in the U.S.

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

American families tend to spend about a third of their annual income on housing. Yet, depending on their location and the level of the family’s income, home sizes can vary widely. Based on data from property listings website Realtor.com, the largest homes in the U.S. are located in the Provo-Orem, Utah metropolitan statistical area, with a median home containing nearly 2,000 square feet.

Areas with the largest median home sizes also had among the nation’s higher estimated median home prices. Homes in seven of the 10 urban areas had median prices of more than $200,000 as of November 2014. A typical home in Boulder, Colorado cost $380,000, the 14th highest estimated median home price among all large metro areas.

While it is not particularly surprising that larger homes cost more, in many spacious homes were also pricier by square foot. In seven of the 10 cities the median price per square foot of property was in the top half of all metro areas reviewed, at over $105.

Relatively high incomes are required to afford these larger homes. All of the areas with the largest homes had median household incomes well above the national figure of $52,250 in 2013. Residents of Boulder were particularly wealthy, with a median household income of more than $71,000 last year.

While large urban areas tend to be relatively densely populated, the areas with the largest homes are on the whole more sparsely populated. The population density was well below the average across all metro areas of 6,321 people per square mile in all of these areas. Raleigh, North Carolina had just over 1,850 residents per square mile, one of the lower densities nationwide. By contrast, the areas surrounding Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City all had well over 10,000 people per square mile.

To identify the cities with the largest houses, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed median home square footage in the 200 largest core-based statistical area (CBSA) from Realtor.com. CBSAs are larger than most other geographies organized by the Census Bureau, and they often include several metropolitan areas. Median household income and educational attainment rates came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Figures on population density are from the 2010 Census. Metropolitan area names and boundaries may have changed slightly since the data was collected. Unemployment rates came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are for October 2014.

These are the cities with the largest homes.

10. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas
> Median square feet: 1,828
> Median estimated price: $150,000 (88th lowest)
> Median household income: $57,398 (62nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

The living space of a typical house in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was 1,828 square feet, the 10th largest median home size in the nation. Most metro areas with the most spacious homes are relatively sparsely populated — perhaps freeing space for larger construction projects. Less 4,000 people lived in a square mile in Dallas in 2010, among the lower population densities. By contrast, the average metro area had 6,321 people per square mile. High incomes also likely explain the area’s large homes. A typical area household earned $57,398 last year, versus the national median household income of $52,250. This figure was also third highest among the 25 metro areas in Texas.

9. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
> Median square feet: 1,837
> Median estimated price: $207,000 (57th highest)
> Median household income: $61,750 (32nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.0%

As in several other areas in Texas, Austin area residents seem to prefer larger homes compared to most Americans. A typical house in the region contained 1,837 square feet of living space. The median price of $207,000, however, was on the high end. The area is home to some of the state’s wealthiest and most well-educated residents. A typical household brought in $61,750 last year, the second-highest figure in for a metro area the state. Also, 41.5% of adults had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, one of the highest rates nationwide and the highest rate in Texas. The unemployment rate was also well below the national unemployment rate, at just 4.0%.

8. Fort Collins, CO
> Median square feet: 1,851
> Median estimated price: $272,000 (29th highest)
> Median household income: $59,052 (50th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.0%

The large homes in Fort Collins reflect the area’s prosperity. Just 3.0% of the area’s workforce was unemployed in October, far below the national rate. Area residents were also well-educated, with 43.3% having attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013. The strong economy and well-educated populace helped raise incomes in the area, which in turn may have afforded residents the luxury of larger homes. A median home was quite spacious, with more than 1,850 square feet. Fort Collins’s was relatively sparsely populated, at just 2,712 residents per square mile in 2010. By comparison the average metro area had 6,321 people per square mile.

7. Greeley, CO
> Median square feet: 1,854
> Median estimated price: $224,000 (44th highest)
> Median household income: $58,611 (54th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.6%

Greeley had just 2,212 residents per square mile in 2010, one of the lower densities reviewed. Being a less crowded community may have helped encourage residents to build larger homes. Area homes were not only large, but also relatively expensive. The median home price in Greeley as of this past November was $224,000, among the higher values for a large metro area. Greeley’s home prices have increased at a faster rate than homes across the nation over the last five years. Residents were also relatively wealthy in 2013, with a household median income of $58,611.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

MONEY buying a home

‘Boomerang’ Buyers Set to Surge Back Into Housing Market

Normandy Shores open house for sale, Miami Beach, Florida, 2014
Jeff Greenberg—Alamy The Miami area is one that could see an influx of 'boomerang' buyers—those who lost a home to foreclosure but are ready to get back in the market.

More than 7 million homeowners who suffered a foreclosure or short sale during the housing crisis are poised to become buyers again.

Over the next eight years, nearly 7.3 million Americans who lost their homes in the housing crash will become creditworthy enough to buy again, according to a new analysis.

RealtyTrac, a real estate information company and online marketplace for foreclosed properties, estimates that these “boomerang buyers”—those who suffered a foreclosure or short sale between 2007 and 2014—are rapidly approaching, or already past, the seven-year window “conservatively” needed to repair their credit.

This year, the firm expects, more than 550,000 of these buyers could be in a position to get back into the market. The number of newly creditworthy individuals will then top 1 million between 2016 and 2019 and gradually decline to about 455,000 in 2022.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 10.30.07

RealtyTrac notes that the return of these former homeowners could have a strong effect on housing markets with a particular appeal to the boomerang demographic: areas with “a high percentage of housing units lost to foreclosure but where current home prices are still affordable for median income earners” and a healthy population of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, “the two generations most likely to be boomerang buyers.”

Based on those criteria, the analysis targets metro areas surrounding Phoenix (with an estimated 348,329 potential boomerang buyers), Miami (322,141), and Detroit (304,501) as the most likely to see an uptick in return buyers.

Chris Pollinger, senior vice president of sales at First Team Real Estate, told RealtyTrac that previously foreclosed Americans shouldn’t rule out another try at homeownership. “The housing crisis certainly hit home the fact that homeownership is not for everyone, but those burned during the crisis should not immediately throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to their second chance,” Pollinger said.

Here are the top 10 areas that could see a boom in boomerang buyers:

RealtyTrac

 

MONEY Housing Market

Why More Home Buyers May Be Trading Up to Bigger Digs This Spring

fish jumping into bigger fishtank
Phil Ashley—Getty Images

A tight inventory of houses for sale has been stymying buyers who want to trade up. That could change soon.

Joe and Debbie Valerio, a couple in their 60s, put their Westport, Conn., home of more than 20 years on the market because it was getting too big for them.

When they found a nearby condo they loved, they pounced. That set off a chain reaction allowing Peter and Leah Baiocco, a couple in their 30s, the ability to trade up.

The Baioccos lived a few miles away, contemplating a future move to a bigger home once kids came along. With favorable economic conditions, they jumped at the chance to buy the Valerios’ $2.7 million house last April. After renting it out for nearly a year, the Baioccos’ starter house in Fairfield, Conn. is on the market for $739,000.

This seemingly simple sequence of events is still relatively rare in the U.S. housing recovery. Despite an improving economy and rock-bottom rates, inventory of available homes is inconsistent. Anything more than a trickle of listings sends prices down, causing sellers to pull their homes off the market.

Then prices go up again because competition gets fierce, and sellers re-emerge. As a result, a bustle of trade-up activity is expected for this spring’s selling season, before conditions change again.

“I think a lot of people have made a lot of money in the stock market the last few years. People who want to enjoy a luxury home, now is the time. Everyone has more cash available to them,” says Ken Barber, a real estate agent in Wellesley, Mass.

Other positive signs: new single-family housing starts are at a high since 2008, according to the Commerce Department’s latest report.

Also, fewer homeowners are renting out their homes to delay selling them, down to 35% in 2014 from 39% in 2013, according to Redfin, a real-estate brokerage.

And more consumers have positive equity. Last spring, 19% of homeowners in Redfin markets (such as Atlanta and Philadelphia) had low or negative equity. That was down to 11% in November. Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist, expects it to hit 8% by March 2015.

Even better for buyers, interest rates are near-historic lows below 4%. “The question of staying versus leaving is shifting. For people who were afraid to leave their mortgage because they thought it was the best they’re ever going to get, now there is another good mortgage around the corner,” Richardson says.

Those trading up in 2015 should hit a sweet spot of selling near the top but not buying at the top, says Margaret Wilcox, an agent from agent in Glastonbury, Conn., for William Raveis.

Wilcox says a client couple recently traded up from a $500,000 house to a $1 million home. They did not get quite the price they wanted for the sale of their old home, but they got a discount of nearly $300,000 on their new purchase, Wilcox says.

There are a few red flags for buyers and sellers. Seller confidence is still low, with just 35% of sellers thinking now was a good time to sell, versus 48% the previous year, according to Redfin.

Keith Jurow, a housing market analyst who writes the Capital Preservation Real Estate Report, is something of a doomsayer and thinks talk of a housing recovery “is phony and only an illusion,” he says.

Given the number of mortgages originated between 2004 and 2010, he feels that too many of the people who would like to trade up still have little or no equity in their homes and are not prepared to do a sale below their purchase price.

“Unless you bring more cash to the table, you can’t trade up,” Jurow says.

Also, foreboding makes some people want to act now. They do not want to be the family that missed their chance, adds Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans. “People won’t delay forever,” he says.

The Valerios and the Baioccos have only happy thoughts about their real estate choices. They love their new homes.

“In our mind, it’s the house we’re going to be in forever,” says Peter Baiocco.

TIME real estate

These Are the Safest States in America

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Getty Images

The list was compiled based on crime data, median household income, poverty rates, and educational attainment rates

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

The number of violent crimes dropped across the United States by 4.4% in 2013 compared to the year before, according to estimates released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the last decade, the number of violent crimes declined by nearly 15%.

In a previous interview with 24/7 Wall St., John Roman, senior fellow at public policy research organization The Urban Institute said, “A 4.4% reduction in violent crime is astonishing. If you saw a similar increase in GDP, or a similar decrease in unemployment, it would be huge national news.”

The national improvement in crime levels has not been uniform across all states, nor were the resulting crime rates. While some states were relatively more dangerous despite the improvement, others were considerably safer than most states. In Vermont, the violent crime rate dropped by more than 19% in 2013 from 2012 — the largest reduction in the country. The state was also the safest, with 115 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people.

Nationwide, 368 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 people in 2013. Such crimes include murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery. In six of America’s 10 safest states, there were less than 200 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents. Based on violent crime rates published by the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, these are America’s safest states.

Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter were especially uncommon in the nation’s safest states. Half of the 10 states reported less than two such crimes per 100,000 people last year, and the murder rates in all of the safest states were below the national rate of 4.5 incidents per 100,000 people. Similarly, aggravated assault rates did not exceed the national rate of 229 incidents per 100,000 Americans in any of the safest states. In three states — Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont — less than 100 assaults were reported per 100,000 state residents last year.

Not only were residents of these states relatively sheltered from violence, but other sorts of crimes were also less common. For example, nine of the 10 safest states reported less property crimes per 100,000 residents than the national rate of 2,730 property crimes per 100,000 Americans. Motor vehicle crimes in particular were especially uncommon. There were less than 100 vehicle thefts reported per 100,000 state residents in five of the 10 states, versus 221.3 such thefts per 100,000 people nationwide.

While explanations for the level of safety in a particular area are by no means concrete, socioeconomic indicators are powerful predictors of crime. Just as in large U.S. cities, income plays a major role at the state level in predicting crime levels. A typical household earned more than the national median household income of $52,250 in six of the 10 states last year. Kentucky households were the exception among the safest states, with a median income of less than $44,000.

People living in the nation’s safest states were also far less likely than other Americans to live in poverty. The poverty rate in all but two of the 10 states was lower than the national rate of 15.8% last year. New Hampshire, the sixth safest state, led the nation with just 8.7% of residents living below the poverty line in 2013.

Educational attainment rates are yet another factor contributing to violent crime. Lower levels of education result in lower incomes later in life, which in turn can contribute to higher crime rates. In addition, as Roman explained in a previous discussion at the city level, poor education is part of several structural disadvantages that make crime very difficult to address. According to Roman, addressing these underlying economic and social issues is critical to reducing crime. Unsurprisingly, residents in the safest states tended to be more highly educated. More than 90% of adults in seven of the 10 states had completed at least high school last year, versus the national rate of 86.6%. And while less than 30% of Americans had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, more than one-third of residents in four of the nation’s safest states had done so.

To identify the safest states in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates from the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report. Property crime rates also came from the FBI’s report. The data were broken into eight types of crime. Violent crime was comprised of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; and, property crime was comprised of burglary, arson, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. In addition to crime data, we also reviewed median household income, poverty rates, and educational attainment rates from the 2013 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

These are the safest states in America.

10. Montana
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 240.7
> Population: 1,015,165
> Total 2013 murders: 22 (tied-6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.5% (19th highest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.7% (3rd highest)

There were nearly 241 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Montana in 2013, a third lower than the national rate. While the violent crime rate fell 5.1% nationwide between 2012 and 2013, it fell more than 13% in Montana. Low crime rates may be attributable to high levels of education. Nearly 93% of Montana residents had at least a high school diploma as of 2013, the third highest rate in the country. Despite the state’s relatively well-educated population, Montana struggled with poverty last year. The state’s poverty rate was 16.5% in 2013, one of only two of the safest states with a poverty rate above the national rate of 15.8%. This was likely due in part to the state’s large Native American population, which tends to be more impoverished.

Read more: States Where People Live Longest

9. Minnesota
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 223.2
> Population: 5,420,380
> Total 2013 murders: 114 (20th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (7th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 92.4% (4th highest)

Minnesota households had a median income of $60,702 in 2013, more than $8,000 higher than the national benchmark. Additionally, state residents were quite educated, as 33.5% of adults aged 25 and older had obtained a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, well above the 29.6% of adults nationwide. The strong socioeconomic environment likely contributed to the low violent crime rate of only 223.2 incidents reported per 100,000 residents in 2013. Overall, the state’s violent crime rate fell 3.3% despite incidents of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter increasing more than 14% between 2012 and 2013.

8. Utah
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 209.2
> Population: 2,900,872
> Total 2013 murders: 49 (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.7% (14th lowest)
> Pct. of adults with high school diploma: 91.5% (tied-9th highest)

Only 12.7% of Utah residents lived below the poverty line in 2013, more than 3 percentage points below the national rate. As in several other relatively safe states, Utah had one of the smallest income gaps between rich and poor in the country — relatively few residents lived on less than $10,000 a year and more than $200,000 a year. Despite low poverty rates and a relatively balanced income distribution, Utah was one of only a handful of states where the violent crime rate rose between 2012 and 2013, driven largely by a 10.7% increase in reported robberies.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

MONEY Ask the Expert

Free Fixes for Cracked Paint and Other Winter House Woes

For Sale sign illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: We paid a small fortune to have our great room painted last summer—and now that it’s winter, the paint has cracked at nearly every seam in the woodwork! Did we get a bad paint job? Can we demand free touchups?

A: This is an extremely common problem, especially with new woodwork and especially in climates where there’s a wide temperature swing from summer to winter. Your house was painted during the warm weather, when high ambient temperatures (and, depending on where you live, humidity too) make wood expand. Come winter, temperatures and humidity levels drop, wood shrinks, and each piece of trim separates a tiny bit from its neighbor, cracking the paint.

If the cracking is happening along all of the seams, your painter didn’t properly prepare the wood before painting, says Debbie Zimmer, of the Paint Quality Institute, a research arm of Dow Chemical. All of the seams between wood pieces should have been filled with paintable acrylic or siliconized acrylic caulk prior to the job. Unlike paint or other wood fillers, this rubbery material flexes with the wood, stretching and compressing as the boards shrink and swell and preventing the paint from cracking.

But even properly caulked projects will sometimes crack here and there. Most painters offer a two-year warranty on their work—and count on repeat business from good clients—so you should absolutely call your painter and ask him to come back and address the problem. It’s a quick fix for him, Zimmer, says and he should not charge you for the work if it’s within his warranty period. It’s quite possible some cracking will occur again in the second winter, and you can absolutely call him back again for another free touchup.

Don’t delay, because you could miss out on the warranty—and because those cracks will all but disappear when the weather warms up, making it harder to make your case and harder to identify every crack that needs caulk. Still, even if you miss out on the warranty, this job should cost only $200 or $300. Or, if you have experience with caulk and paint, you can fix it yourself: Fill all gaps with top-of-the-line paintable caulk, wipe away excess with a wet rag, allow it to cure for the time recommended on the tube, and then brush on paint. If you’re using leftover paint, first bring it to the paint shop or home center where it was purchased for a free shake to ensure that it’s well mixed.

And next time you hire a painter, make sure to confirm—and perhaps even note on the contract—that he will caulk all seams and joints as part of his prep process.

MONEY mortgages

Half of Home Buyers Make This $21,000 Mistake

rows of model houses
Jonathan Kitchen—Getty Images

47% of buyers aren't comparison shopping for a mortgage, and it's costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

When it comes to purchasing a home, most buyers generally don’t have trouble comparison shopping. According to a recent study, 22% of house hunters even described themselves “addicted” to online listings. But while home buyers love shopping for homes, they aren’t doing the same with mortgages. And it’s costing them tens of thousands of dollars.

A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that 47% of home buyers seriously considered only a single lender or broker before deciding where to apply for a mortgage. And 77% of buyers only applied with one lender or broker instead of applying with multiple lenders and selecting the best offer.

Granted, shopping for a mortgage isn’t nearly as fun as shopping for a house, but rushing this part of the process can cost consumers an enormous amount of money. The bureau’s research showed that a borrower looking for a conventional 30-year fixed rate loan could be offered rates that differ by more than half a percent. According to BankRate’s mortgage payment calculator, the difference between a 4% and 4.5% interest rate for a conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 is slightly more than $21,000 over the lifetime of a loan. Put another way, comparison shopping for a mortgage can save you enough money to buy a second car.

Why don’t most buyers make the effort? Aside from the obvious—comparing financial instruments isn’t exactly a day at the beach—the CFPB found that being informed has a lot to do with consumer behavior. Borrowers who felt confident about their knowledge of available interest rates were nearly twice as likely to comparison shop as those who were unfamiliar with the interest rates they could expect to receive.

To solve that problem, the bureau has created a website to educate prospective buyers on the home purchasing process. Among other tools, it offers a page that lets consumers check interest rates for their particular situation using their location, credit score, down payment, and other factors.

For more answers to your mortgage questions, check out our Money 101 on home-buying:
What mortgage is right for me?
How do I get the best rate on a mortgage?
What will my closing costs be?

MONEY real estate

Obama Cuts Mortgage Insurance Premiums to Help Low-Income Home Buyers

aerial view of subdivision
David Sucsy

The changes will save borrowers an average of nearly $1,000 a year.

The White House announced on Wednesday plans to reduce government mortgage insurance premiums in an effort to make homeownership more affordable for low-income buyers. President Obama is scheduled to talk about the policy in a speech Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona.

In the announcement, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said the Federal Housing Administration would slash insurance fees by more than a third, from 1.35% of the loan amount down to .85 percent. The FHA had a 30% share of the mortgage insurance market in the third quarter of 2014, according to Bloomberg.

Mortgage insurance, required of FHA borrowers, is meant to protect the lenders in case of default by allowing them to recoup some of their losses.

Over the next three years, the FHA projects the rate drop will allow 2 million borrowers to save an average of $900 a year when they purchase or refinance a home. The agency also estimates these savings will encourage 250,000 first-time buyers to enter the market.

The move marks a trend of recent policy changes meant to help low-income Americans get into the housing market. In December, mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that certain first-time buyers could now qualify for a loan with a down payment of just 3 percent of the home’s value.

Taken together, today’s announcement and lower down payment requirements should make the housing market far friendlier for the economically disadvantaged. However, David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association, told CNBC that the effect of the new policy may not spur an especially large increase in home buying.

“I think the marginal impact on sales will be small because potential buyers make the decision to purchase based on trigger events, such as a new job, marriage, kids, etc,” Stevens told the network. “Changes in affordability only impact how much home they can buy.”

While Democrats have been supportive of policies that aid low-income and new homebuyers, Republicans are concerned that lower insurance premiums could put the government at risk if borrowers once again default in large numbers. The FHA has previously required billions in taxpayer assistance, and while the agency is no longer losing money, its capital requirements will not meet the legal limit until 2016.

Find more answers to your home-buying questions in Money 101:
What mortgage is right for me?
How to I get the best rate on a mortgage?
What are the steps in a home purchase?

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