Everyone has a different definition when it comes to living in the ideal city, town, or village. According to the 2020 census, approximately 60% of the US population does not live in a big city. Cities with a population of over 50,000 represent 4% of all incorporated places and house the other 40%.
However, the town and country lifestyle, often depicted as simple and idyllic, doesn’t mean it costs less to live there compared to the glitz and glamour of the big city. It can be quite the opposite. In no other place is this more relevant than in ski towns.
Lending Tree recently published a report analyzing micropolitan areas with populations between 10,000 – 50,000 to find the 50 with the most expensive median home values. It may come as no surprise that the list is dominated by ski towns known as popular vacation spots.
What were the results?
Number one on the list is Vineyard Haven, MA, on Martha’s Vineyard, the tiny island off the coast of New England, where presidents and celebrities are known to vacation. After that, the following six are bona fide ski towns.
Jackson, WY, comes in second, with Breckenridge, CO, third and Steamboat Springs, CO, a close fourth. After that, Hailey, ID, near Sun Valley, then Gardnerville Ranchos, NV, Tahoe, and Hood River, OR, by Mt Hood, round out the top seven.
It is not just in raw dollars that makes these markets so expensive. When you compare the median home price to the median income in the towns, it tells a similar story. Vineyard Haven is still number one, where the median home price is $857,600 while the median income is only $77,392. This gives a home-value-to-income ratio of 11.08, meaning the median home value is over 11 times the average income. Second is Jackson at 7.69 times the average income, then Hailey at 6.94.
These numbers were based on data from 2021. More recent data from 2022 shows Jackson becoming even more expensive, with the median home value at $836,300 and median household income at $83,289. This makes home values over ten times the household income. Keep in mind these are the median home prices. Earlier this year, Jackson broke a record for the average single-family home price of nearly $5 million.
What’s the reason?
This is often because buyers who earn money elsewhere and only live in a town part-time can afford to outspend an area’s full-time residents. In mountain resort towns across the country, this crisis is causing employee shortages, crippling local businesses, and threatening the soul of a ski town’s true identity and culture.
Surprisingly, some of the more affordable towns in the study were also in Wyoming and not too far from Jackson. About two and half hours south are Evanston and Rock Springs, where home prices were just over 2.5 times the median income. Los Alamos, NM, with a ratio of 2.77, was also one of the most affordable.
Limited real estate, restricted developable land, a rise in short-term rentals, and a lack of employee housing only perpetuate the rising real estate prices. This data proves that affordability in authentic mountain towns is worsening, but there are still affordable options if you can be more flexible.