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These 10 cities are the most competitive places to buy a home

Thinking about buying a home?
For sale sign in front of a house.

If you’re on the hunt for a new home, you might be worn down by how competitive it can be. Purchasing a home can feel stressful, exhausting and cutthroat. Housing supply is low in many parts of the country and at the same time demand for housing is increasing.

But it turns out it’s always not the city itself, but rather the buyers who can pose the biggest threat to prospective homeowners.

LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, just released its ranking of the 100 most competitive homebuyer markets in the U.S. They based their results on 1.5 million purchase mortgage loan requests that were done through the LendingTree marketplace in the country’s 100 largest cities in 2017. They then ranked those cities based on three criteria that contribute to competition among buyers:

  1. Rate of homebuyers who put down a large payment percentage. Because people with more money saved for a down payment can get a better interest rate and borrow more money, both of which lead to a stronger offer.
  2. Rate of homebuyers who shop for their mortgage loan before shopping for the actual home. Because homebuyers who go into the shopping process with financing already in place are more appealing to sellers.
  3. Rate of homebuyers who have great credit scores (680+). A higher credit score equals more financing options and makes you more attractive to lenders.

10 cities with the most competitive homebuyers

A whopping six of the top 10 most competitive housing markets are in California. In the top two cities, San Francisco and San Jose, 60% of home shoppers applied for a mortgage before identifying a house and they came to the table with the highest average down payment of any region, at 19%. If competition wasn’t stiff enough, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Bay Area shoppers had credit scores above 680.

  1. San Francisco, Calif.
  2. San Jose, Calif.
  3. Denver, Colo.
  4. San Diego, Calif.
  5. Ventura, Calif.
  6. Los Angeles, Calif.
  7. Seattle, Wash.
  8. Honolulu, Hawaii
  9. Portland, Ore.
  10. Sacramento, Calif.

10 cities with the least competitive homebuyers

  1. Youngstown, Ohio
  2. McAllen, Texas
  3. Scranton, Pa.
  4. El Paso, Texas
  5. Dayton, Ohio
  6. Augusta, Ga.
  7. Birmingham, Ala.
  8. Winston-Salem, N.C.
  9. Little Rock, Ark.
  10. Harrisburg, Pa.

The key takeaway: If you live in a city with competitive homebuyers, it’s going to likely be more difficult to compete. But you can improve your odds by having an outstanding credit score, a higher down payment and getting pre-approved for a mortgage.

“Regardless of the level of competition in your area, being a well-prepared buyer increases your odds of securing that dream home,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree and author of the study.

If you live in one of the most competitive markets and lack any or all of these three criteria, don’t worry. You don’t have to pack up and move to Youngstown or McAllen just yet.

Here’s how you can improve your odds of landing your dream home:

1. Increase your credit score. The good news is you don’t technically need excellent credit to get a mortgage. There are many mortgage options for low credit homebuyers and some mortgages require only a 500 minimum score.

That being said, improving your credit score can unlock major savings on your home purchase. Your credit score can have a huge impact on the rates and fees you pay on a mortgage.

If you’re below 680, take 2018 to focus on increasing your score. Pay your bills on time every month; get credit card balances as close to zero as possible; and work toward paying off large debts — like student loans or medical bills — regularly and on time. Don’t close unused credit cards or open new ones.

2. Save for a higher down payment. If you’re able to put down more money upfront, you might have more financing options or nudge out some of your competition who might be unable to fork over that much cash upfront. A larger down payment also has future benefits, as you could save on interest and fees associated with your mortgage.

Strive to get as close to a 20% down payment as possible, especially if you’re shopping in the markets on the top of this list, where 20% down payments are common.

But do you really need to put 20% down? Not at all. There lots of mortgage programs where you can put down little-to-no down payment, but there are pros and cons to consider, such as paying for private mortgage insurance, which can add to the cost of your loan.

Both of the above steps can take months, if not years. If you’re looking to become competitive more quickly, try the third step:

3. Get pre-approved for a loan. Around 60% of homebuyers in the top 10 most competitive markets were already approved for a mortgage before shopping. Buyers with pre-approved financing can be just as competitive as those who make cash offers.

Having a mortgage ahead of time will help you figure out exactly what’s in your budget, but more importantly, it will make you stand out with sellers. It shows you’re qualified and have done your research. In addition, it will give you the time to field different mortgage offers to find the one that’s best for you.

MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.

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