The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of millions of Americans and forced many to reevaluate how they want to live their lives—and where they want to do it.
Every year, Livability.com publishes its list of the 100 best places to live in the U.S., but this year, the landscape has totally changed. With home prices reaching new heights in many parts of the country and many big-city amenities shut down, many home buyers are looking for places where they can get a large house for an affordable price.
These home buyers want to be in areas with strong economies that can weather the recession, lots of outdoor attractions that won’t close down due to COVID-19, and plenty of cultural amenities for when life gets back to normal. And if they’re among the lucky white-collar workers who can telecommute, they can pretty much move anywhere with a good internet connection.
So where are the best places to live that combine affordability, a strong economy, and loads of cultural and outdoor amenities? The top place to live in America this year is … drum roll, please: Fort Collins, CO, according to Livability’s 2020 Top 100 Best Places to Live list. The outdoorsy city on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, about an hour north of Denver, is known for its craft breweries and a burgeoning tech sector.
To come up with its rankings, Livability looked at more than 40 factors in over 1,000 small to midsize cities. They included things like home prices, the health of an area’s economy, the education levels of its residents, as well as local health care, transportation, and infrastructure. Only places with populations of 20,000 to 1 million were considered.
“Things that were a given before, such as ‘I have to live in a certain city because of my job’ or ‘Paying an exorbitant amount of rent is worth it to live in a big, expensive city,’ are coming into question,” says Winona Dimeo-Ediger, editor of Livability.com.
“People have always been interested in these smaller cities, but that wasn’t an option that was available to them,” she says. “Because of the pandemic, [they became] a very real option [thanks to] remote work.”
In Fort Collins, the median home list price within the city limits isn’t cheap, at about $470,000 in September, according to realtor.com® data. But the city is still more affordable than Denver, which has a $540,000 price tag. And it boasts a lower unemployment rate than much of the rest of the country—5.6% in August, compared with 8.4% nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s not a huge city, but we have great accessibility to Denver, to all of the things the mountains have to offer, like skiing,” says local real estate agent Andria Porter, of Keller Williams Realty Northern Colorado. “We have a lot of bodies for boating, kayaking, paddleboarding.”
Her clients are a mix of locals as well as retirees and folks transferring jobs from places like Texas, California, New York, and Washington. And they’re motivated to find the right home.
Buyers can find three- to four-bedroom, single-family homes with a yard within city limits for a little north of $450,000, she says. For the same amount of money, some buyers are heading to the suburbs such as Timnath and Windsor, where they can score newly built homes with the latest finishes.
“The market is surprisingly hot,” says Porter. “We still see multiple-offer situations.”
Many of the rest of the places on the list similarly had median home prices that were higher than the national median of $350,000. However, they’re often cheaper alternatives to larger, nearby cities. They also tend to offer lots of outdoor attractions, like hiking and cycling trails, as well as stronger job markets.
“These are smaller cities that can provide people the room to grow,” says Dimeo-Ediger. “People can enjoy a different lifestyle.”
Livability’s top 10 places to live in 2020:
- Fort Collins, CO, with a median home list price of $470,000*
- Ann Arbor, MI, with a median home list price of $473,000
- Madison, WI, with a median home list price of $330,000
- Portland, ME, with a median home list price of $508,000
- Rochester, NY, with a median home list price of $147,000
- Asheville, NC, with a median home list price of $508,000
- Overland Park, KS, with a median home list price of $550,000
- Fargo, ND, with a median home list price of $268,000
- Durham, NC, with a median home list price of $369,000
- Sioux Falls, SD, with a median home list price of $250,000
* Median home list prices at the city level in September from realtor.com