Priced out of the Bay Area? Here are 5 Emerging Tech Hubs Where Software Engineers Can Afford to Buy a Home

by Real estate financingMission+
14 minutes read

Charlotte and Buffalo boast 4% job growth for engineers, who need to spend less than 20% of their income on housing.

It’s no secret there are plenty of jobs for software engineers in tech hubs like San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But even with job growth of roughly 3.5 percent year over year and the high earnings that tend to come along with those jobs, sky-high housing costs make those areas unaffordable for typical software engineers. The typical home in the San Francisco metro sold for more than $1.4 million in July, out of reach for someone earning $186,300, the median income for a software engineer in the Bay Area. 

So, what’s an engineer to do? One thing to consider is moving to a different part of the country, one where job growth for software engineers is just as strong as it is in the Bay Area and purchasing a home is affordable on the typical income for the region. Moving to a different city or state, or at least seriously considering it, is relatively common: In the second quarter of 2019, 21 percent of Bay Area Redfin users searched for a home outside their metro area. 

“Because homeownership in expensive places like San Francisco is no longer a realistic consideration even for many people in high-paying fields, smaller inland cities are becoming increasingly attractive to young, educated people looking to build a career and live comfortably,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “Grand Rapids and Columbus don’t offer as many job opportunities or salaries as high as you’d find in San Francisco, but because housing and other costs are so much lower, software engineers and other skilled professionals can achieve a higher quality of life in the Midwestern cities. Many tech companies are following the talent and opening headquarters or satellite offices in those placesor offering the option for employees to work remotelywhich is contributing to growth in job opportunities for people seeking affordable housing and slower-paced lifestyles.”

We worked with LinkedIn, which provided data on job growth and median total compensation, to curate a list of places with emerging tech scenes. To determine whether a metro is affordable on a typical software engineer’s income for that area, we used the rule that homes are affordable if they cost less than 30 percent of gross income. 

Based on those parameters, software engineers may want to consider a move to Charlotte, North Carolina or Buffalo, New York rather than Silicon Valley. Both metros saw 4.1 percent year-over-year job growth from January 2018 to January 2019 for people in the field, and the typical software engineer would only need to spend 18.9 percent and 13.3 percent of their annual income, respectively, on housing. Some other places to consider are Grand Rapids, Michigan, Colorado Springs and Columbus, Ohio, areas with 3-percent-plus job growth where the typical software engineer would need to spend 20 percent or less of their income on housing. One unexpected finding: Seattle, where home prices have more than doubled over the last seven years partly due to its growth as a tech hub, is still affordable for people in the field. The typical Seattle software engineer would need to spend 20 percent of their earnings to buy a home in the metro, comparable to the share in Colorado Springs. 

Metros with strong job growth and affordable housing for software engineers 

Seattle and San Francisco included for comparison

YoY job growth for software engineers (LinkedIn data) Median income for software engineer (LinkedIn data) Median home-sale price Monthly housing payment for median-priced home (mortgage plus taxes) What percentage of a software engineer’s income is necessary to afford median-priced home? Share of homes for sale affordable on a software engineer’s income
Charlotte, NC 4.1% $80,000 $269,000 $1,257 18.9% 62.9%
Buffalo, NY 4.1% $71,500 $170,000 $795 13.3% 76.3%
Grand Rapids, MI 3.7% $70,000 $217,000 $1,014 17.4% 64.7%
Colorado Springs, CO 3.4% $87,000 $320,000* $1,496 20.6% 52.6%
Columbus, OH 3.1% $76,500 $229,000 $1,070 16.8% 60.7%
Seattle, WA 5.4% $157,600 $565,000 $2,641 20% 62.1%
San Francisco Bay Area, CA** 3.5% $186,300 $1,420,000 $6,637 42.8% 21.5%

*Median home-sale price for El Paso County, Colorado, where Colorado Springs is located

**Job growth and income data is for the Bay Area as a whole; home-sale price data is for the San Francisco metro area only

Those five metros are affordable for software engineers and offer plenty of job opportunities in the tech industry, and they’re also desirable places to live for other reasons. We’ve put together examples of homes affordable on typical software engineer earnings for each area, along with LinkedIn job listings and information from local Redfin agents about why people are flocking to their towns—or why they should be. 


Charlotte, North Carolina

House in Charlotte

This 3-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom townhouse in Charlotte comes with 1,532 square feet of living space, and living in the community gives residents access to a pool, clubhouse, fitness center and plenty of outdoor space. The home is priced well within a software engineer’s budget at $268,000.

“There’s an emphasis on work-life balance in Charlotte—even people with stressful jobs really take time to stop, relax and take a breath. The area is great because you can be at the lake or great hiking spots in less than an hour, and there are delicious restaurants for foodies,” said local Redfin agent Hala Matar, who moved from Seattle to Charlotte in 2018. “Plus, 90 percent of the people I work with are able to afford a home in the area. I just helped a couple move here from a Seattle suburb because the husband is an engineer for a tech company that opened an office in Charlotte. They sold their home in Issaquah, Washington and used the proceeds to buy a 5,400-square-foot home here in cash.”

LinkedIn job listings: Software engineer openings in Charlotte


Buffalo, New York

“I was born and raised in Buffalo and chose to stay here to remain close to family, and I’ve found that it’s a great place to raise a family,” said Lisa Driscoll, director of employee relations at PostProcess Technologies, a tech company in the area. “Buffalo has close-knit communities and you can get anywhere in 20 minutes—the commute isn’t stressful at all. Plus, housing is affordable in many of the area’s beautiful suburbs, which also offer highly rated schools.”

Buffalo has been one of the nations’ hottest housing markets this year. In January, Buffalo was tied with Grand Rapids as the fastest housing market in the country, with the typical home on the market for 28 days before going under contract. The typical home that sold in August was on the market for just 15 days before going under contract. Buffalo was also the third most competitive market in the U.S. in August, with 46.6 percent of homes selling above list price. 

LinkedIn job listings: Software engineer openings in Buffalo


Grand Rapids, MI

House in Grand Rapids

This 5-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom home is located on a private wooded lot with a large deck and expansive lawn. The home features a large game room, spacious living room with picture windows and a game room downstairs. Priced at $359,000, it is affordable on a software engineer’s earnings.

“Weather aside, Grand Rapids is a great place to live for many reasons: Affordable housing, lots of job opportunities, highly rated schools and no major traffic,” said local Redfin agent Shellie Silva. “Plus, it’s a bustling city with festivals, art, dining and breweries, all while exemplifying that small-town charm. And Grand Rapids is a relatively small area with no major traffic, so matter where you live and work, you can get anywhere within 20 to 30 minutes.”

LinkedIn job listings: Software engineer openings in Grand Rapids


Colorado Springs, CO

House in Colorado Springs

This 1,952-square-foot home with views of Pikes Peak, priced at $310,000, is affordable for the typical software engineer in the metro. Featuring three bedrooms and four bathrooms, the home also comes with a finished basement and big yard with easy access to shopping, dining and entertainment. 

“Colorado Springs offers most of the benefits—minus the nightlife—of living in Denver without the high cost of living. In many ways the area has even more benefits than other places with a lot of tech jobs,” said local Redfin agent Kevin Kudrna. “Not only are homes more affordable than those in many other tech hubs, but the town is close to nature, located at the base of the Rocky Mountains. The west side of Colorado Springs is close to the mountains and hiking trails, and residents of the east side can live on acres of land in the midst of meadows or forests. Plus, we get more than 300 days of sunshine per year.” 

LinkedIn job listings: Software engineer openings in Colorado Springs


Columbus, OH

House in Columbus

Located on a wooded cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood, this 4-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home is well under budget for a software engineer earning the median income in Columbus. It’s priced at $225,000. The 2,296-square-foot house comes complete with hardwood floors, quartz countertops, preserved woodwork and an updated master bathroom. 

“While Columbus has always been a university town with an emphasis on education, in the last decade it’s seen a mini tech boom that’s brought in a lot of businesses and jobs in engineering, logistics, banking, healthcare and other industries. Plus, a lot of big corporations have opened offices in Columbus, which have brought in a lot of software engineering jobs,” said local Redfin agent Joseph King. “Affordable housing, along with an educated workforce, are big reasons why companies decide to open offices in Columbus, and relatively low home prices also serve as a recruiting tool. Companies and employees stay because the area has become open-minded and culturally diverse, and the downtown area is in the process of a revitalization thanks in part to an arts movement.” 

LinkedIn job listings: Software engineer openings in Columbus


To come up with the metros included in this report, we used a selection of the country’s emerging metro areas with burgeoning tech scenes. To be included in this report, metros must have greater than 3 percent year-over-year job growth for software engineers in January 2019, per LinkedIn data, and median earnings sufficiently high to afford a median-priced home in the area. The total income reported is made up of base compensation, stock options, bonuses and RSUs. 

Housing affordability in each metro is based on Redfin data from sales in July 2019. We calculated the total monthly housing payment based on a mortgage interest rate of 3.82% and a property tax rate of 1.125%, then multiplied the monthly housing payment by 12 months to determine the annual housing payment. To determine whether a software engineer’s salary is sufficiently high to afford a median-priced home in a certain metro area, we used the rule that homes are affordable only if they cost less than 30 percent of gross income. 

The share of homes for sale affordable on a software engineer’s salary in each metro is based on data from Redfin’s housing affordability dashboard, which allows users to quickly understand how affordable homes are in a given area and compare affordability among different parts of the U.S. To calculate affordability, the dashboard takes into account household income, down payment percentage, mortgage interest rate, mortgage length and property type. For this report, we used a 20% down payment, 30-year mortgage and 3.82% mortgage rate. You can check out the housing affordability calculator in the Redfin Data Center


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