LOS ANGELES - Californians rave about year-round sunshine, temperate climate and easy access to surfing, snowboarding and everything in between. But when it comes to getting the most out of their homebuying dollar, they've got nothing on homeowners in the Midwest, a new study suggests.
Eight out of the top 10 most expensive housing markets in the U.S. are in California, while eight Midwestern cities are among the 10 most affordable markets, according to the Coldwell Banker Home Price Comparison Index released Tuesday.
The study compared the average value of 2,200-square-foot houses with four bedrooms, two and a half baths, a family room and a two-car garage across 315 U.S. markets.
The results underscore the vast disparity in how much homeowners in different markets pay essentially for the same amount of living space.
The sharpest contrast was found between La Jolla, Calif., and Sioux City, Iowa — the most expensive and most affordable cities, respectively, tracked in the study.
In La Jolla, an upscale seaside suburb of San Diego, the average price of homes tracked by the study was about $1.8 million. In contrast, the average price of a similarly-sized home in Sioux City was $133,459 — about 13 times more expensive.
"Areas where there's water and nice climate and ocean and mountains, people are going to pay more for that," said Jim Gillespie, chief executive of Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Parsippany, N.J. "That's just where people want to live."
Typically, homes located near the coast or in resort areas appreciate more.
Overall, the average sales price of the homes that met the survey criteria was $403,738, a drop of 4.4 percent from 2007.
That reflects the decline in the U.S. housing market since the housing boom fizzled.
Fewer buyers and rising mortgage defaults have left many markets saddled with a large supply of foreclosed properties and other heavily discounted unsold homes, fueling home price declines.
The price drops have been most severe in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida — states that saw a rapid surge in prices during the housing boom, but have since borne the brunt of the foreclosure crisis.
Home values in the Midwest, meanwhile, have also taken a beating, in large part because of rising unemployment in states like Ohio and Michigan.
Even though home price declines have been steeper in California than in the Midwest, the difference in the price of similar-sized homes in coastal markets versus heartland cities remains vast.
"With the price run-ups (in California), those homes have depreciated more, but they're still worth more than they were five or six years ago," Gillespie noted.
Philip Deslippe knows what it's like to go from a pricey coastal market in California to an infinitely more affordable city in the Midwest.
The graduate student and his wife moved earlier this year from Los Angeles, where they lived in a rent-stabilized apartment for $900 a month, to Iowa City, Iowa.
Now the couple owns a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home and pay a mortgage that's just under what they paid for their L.A. apartment.
Things he and his wife were longing to do, like "settling down, having a home, raising a family — I don't think any of these things would be possible in Los Angeles, considering the cost of a home," said Deslippe, 30, who turned down acceptance letters from universities in Boston and Washington, D.C., in part, because of home prices. "I knew that housing would be much cheaper here in Iowa City."
No city in the study, which also tracked some international markets, was more expensive than Dubai, located in the Middle Eastern nation of United Arab Emirates.
A 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home in Dubai averaged $2.5 million, or a third more expensive than a similar property in La Jolla.
In 15 markets outside the U.S., the average home price averaged more than $1 million.
Quito, Ecuador, was the most affordable housing market outside the U.S. The average home price in the South American nation is $96,750.
About half of the U.S. housing markets surveyed had an average home price less than $300,000. In all, 13 U.S. markets in the study had an average home price of at least $1 million.
Among U.S. markets, Greenwich, Conn., and Beverly Hills, Calif., were ranked the second and third most-expensive markets, respectively, with average home prices just under $1.8 million.
The other California markets that rounded out the top 10 by price are Palo Alto, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Francisco and San Mateo.
Boston was ranked ninth at an average home price of $1.5 million.
After Sioux City, the most affordable domestic markets were Jackson, Mich., with an average home price of $134,325, and Akron, Ohio, at $135,780.
Canton, Ohio, Grayling, Mich., Minot, N.D., Arlington, Texas, Muncie, Ind., Killeen, Texas, and Eau Claire, Wis., rounded out the bottom 10 most affordable markets.