Massive Homes, Mini Prices: The 10 U.S. Cities With the Most Affordable Mansions
October 4, 2021
If life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are our inalienable rights, and homeownership the prevailing American dream, where on the spectrum of driving desires does owning a great big house fall? For most of us, mansion living seems to land squarely in the realm of unfulfilled, nose-pressed-against-the-glass fantasies. But wait! We’re here to tell you that it is possible to find affordable mansions—however oxymoronic the phrase might seem. You just need to know where to look.
So in an era when homebuyers are jonesing for more space, the data team at Realtor.com® set out to find the places where folks can find the greatest selection of massive mansions—for under $1 million!
Not that we didn’t have our work cut out for us. To put this in perspective, the national median list price for homes of 5,000-plus square feet was $1.58 million in August. Prices of those supersized homes have spiked 17% in the past year, as the COVID-19 pandemic turbocharged the demand for big homes, and people prioritized space over location.
The most affordable mansions were in the Midwest and South, where real estate is generally cheaper. Many are found in areas like the Rust Belt, former industrial powerhouses that have been struggling economically in recent years. But the stately homes of local titans, built to show off their wealth, still stand—and some of them can be found for a bargain.
“These are houses that are just going to take a special buyer,” says Elizabeth Finkelstein, co-host of the HGTV show “Cheap Old Houses” and an architectural historian. Translation: Don’t expect most to be move-in ready.
Nonetheless, many of these homes were beautifully designed, used the best materials, and were made to last.
“These are the best houses, with beautiful architecture, built by people who were thriving,” Finkelstein says.
There were a few surprises on our list, including cities in the Sun Belt. These are places where megamansions and expansive family compounds can be built for much less than what buyers would pay on the costly coasts. Most have seen a big influx of new residents over the past 20 years, so builders have been constructing massive developments and communities to keep up.
New homes tend to skew much larger than they did in the 1950s, when the typical single-family home was about 950 square feet. Last year, it was 2,261, according to U.S. Census data. But for our list, we set our sights higher. Much higher.
We looked for cities with the most affordable homes of 5,000-plus square feet on Realtor.com. Cities had to have had at least 50 mansion listings in August to be included. To achieve geographic diversity, we limited our list to just one city per state. To ensure a fair comparison, the final list was sorted by median price per square foot.
Got it? Let’s go find your gigantic, bargain-priced dream home!
Larger homes have become more popular since the COVID-18 pandemic. These are the places buyers can get mansions for affordable prices.
1. Indianapolis, IN
Median mansion price (5,000-plus square feet): $845,000
Median mansion price per square foot: $137
The capital of Indiana was once a hotbed for transportation industry bigwigs, natural gas–moneyed families, pharmaceutical pioneer Eli Lilly, and Madam C.J. Walker, the first woman to become a self-made millionaire in America. With all those wealthy residents, there were plenty of spacious homes built to accommodate their stature.
By the 1930s, though, the Great Depression roiled the economy, and people left to find work elsewhere. The city has never returned to its former glory.
“These houses [were built] by the people who ran these industries, and that’s where all the money came into the town,” Finkelstein says. “As industry started to leave, people left these places. … They’re kind of frozen in time.”
Old Northside, one of the most desirable neighborhoods, is within walking distance of the city’s revitalized downtown. It’s full of gorgeous Victorians and Tudors, including this recently renovated manse built in 1900 and listed for well under $1 million. Many of the large homes here sit on relatively small lots, but what these homes lack in outdoor space is made up by the expansive parlors and indoor entertaining areas.
The Herron-Morton Place neighborhood also has several large homes for sale. These days it’s a popular spot for corporate executives at Pfizer and Dow Chemicals when they move into town. For those coming from much more expensive areas on the coasts, the price per square foot can’t be beat.
2. Canton, GA
Median mansion price: $829,000
Median mansion price per square foot: $141
This suburb north of Atlanta has seen explosive growth over the past two decades with builders racing to put up large homes. That’s largely thanks to its convenient location between the big city and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Outdoor lovers can enjoy scenic views of the mountain foothills and the Etowah River while being within commuting distance to economic hubs Atlanta and Alpharetta.
Because of cheap land prices and tons of space, home construction companies have been building sprawling mansions on massive lots. Canton has tons of single-family developments with affordable mansions, including this 6,000-square-foot home in a country club development listed for $765,000.
3. Kansas City, MO
Median mansion price: $899,900
Median mansion price per square foot: $148
These days Kansas City may be best known for its jazz and finger-lickin’ barbecue, but it was once a big meatpacking city and major transportation hub linking the East and West in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1950s, though, advancements in technology made K.C.’s central location less important.
Wealthy residents at the time mostly lived in Northeast Kansas City, which is made up of several residential districts and the 300-acre Kessler Park. Many older homes are still standing, and sharp-eyed buyers can find Queen Annes, Italianate, and Craftsmans with original features.
It’s still a desirable neighborhood with all types of people trying to buy here, says Denise Hamilton, an independent real estate agent with Keller Williams KC North.
“Young couples are coming to this area because it’s very close to downtown and it has that real urban feel. Some people may be empty nesters that want a really unique house,” Hamilton says.
This stunning art deco mansion on the market for $535,000 was built in 1905 and designed by local architecture firm Root and Siemens. This home, which includes a pool in the basement, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
4. Lehi, UT
Median mansion price: $767,400
Median mansion price per square foot: $150
Located between Salt Lake City and Provo, UT, Lehi has seen its population balloon since 2010. Part of the reason for this rapid growth is its convenient location and the expansion of the region’s tech scene. White-collar tech workers have been flooding the area, which has become known as the Silicon Slopes. Notable employers here include Microsoft, eBay, and Adobe.
More workers mean more need for homes, and most large homes here are new construction. Massive homes are continuing to be built, including more than 100 going up in the Traverse Mountain area. The homes are aimed at attracting homebuyers looking for an outdoor but upscale lifestyle.
Savvy buyers can find a 5,000-square-foot home in the $1 million range, including this six-bed, 3.5-bath listed for $875,000.
5. Louisville, KY
Median mansion price: $969,900
Median mansion price per square foot: $159
Louisville was one of the places to be for the movers and shakers of the Victorian era. The city experienced a major boom in the early 1800s with the invention of the steamboat. Its location on the Ohio River along the Indiana border made it a major commercial hub at the time. Well-to-do residents lived in what’s now called historic Old Louisville, near downtown.
With the advent of cars and expanded rail travel, affluent residents moved farther out to the suburbs. By the 1930s, many homes in Old Louisville were turned into boarding houses. Now the neighborhood is popular with young professionals and college students attending the University of Louisville down the street. Filled with blocks of Victorian-era homes, Old Louisville is one of the largest preservation districts in the country.
Since the area began to see a decline in the early to mid-20th century, some of the sprawling century-old mansions require costly renovations. For those who want the history without putting in the work, this stunning five-bedroom, built in 1896, on Millionaires Row is listed for well under a million.
6. Katy, TX
Median mansion price: $899,000
Median mansion price per square foot: $162
Everything is bigger in Texas, including deals on affordable mansions. This former railroad town is a Houston suburb that has seen massive growth in recent years. Its population nearly doubled over the past decade as the city made a concerted effort to bring in new jobs. Big employers in the area include British oil company BP and a recently constructed Amazon distribution center.
To keep up with all of the new residents, new housing developments have gone up at a rapid pace over the past few years, and Katy offers a true suburban feel with plenty of master-planned communities. Spacious homes abound, perfect for families drawn by the area’s good schools, biking and walking trails, and plenty of shopping and dining. A custom-built brick mansion in a subdivision recently dropped in price to under $600,000.
7. Aurora, CO
Median mansion price: $899,900
Median mansion price per square foot: $163
This Denver suburb is part of one of the most affluent metropolitan areas in the country. Tech money that has flowed into Denver has filtered east, as buyers on a budget are choosing to live in Aurora. Young families who want to experience the outdoors and good school districts are increasingly moving here.
Subdivisions have popped up at a rapid pace over the past few years, including luxury developments. Big-name housing developers have focused on the Tallyn’s Reach neighborhood. The residential community, located in the southeastern part of the city, is nestled along a large forest and offers scenic views. Nearby, a four-bedroom mansion recently dropped in price and is now listed for $849,900.
8. Birmingham, AL
Median mansion price: $1.2 million
Median mansion price per square foot: $176
Located within driving distance of the beach and mountains—as well as Nashville, TN; Atlanta; and New Orleans—Birmingham was once an industrial railroad hub, with a focus on steel and mining. Nicknamed “The Magic City,” it was one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the South. But like many places that rely heavily on one industry, economic swings can have dramatic effects. Birmingham was the nation’s hardest-hit city during the Great Depression.
Steel is still a major industry here, but employers have diversified. Buyers looking for historical charm can check out the Highland Park neighborhood, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries still stand with contemporary condos thanks to its proximity to downtown. A recently renovated 1935 mansion with original pocket doors is listed for under $500,000.
9. Overland Park, KS
Median mansion price: $1 million
Median mansion price per square foot: $181
This Kansas City suburb is actually bigger in population than nearby KC. The area began development in the early 1900s and has continued to expand. While some commute to the city, Overland Park has its own thriving economic scene. Big employers include T-Mobile and Black & Veatch, the area’s largest engineering company that has been around for 100 years.
Because of its wide-open spaces and cheap land, homebuilders have been erecting massive homes for decades. It’s a popular place for families and was the hometown of everyone’s best friend Paul Rudd. Affordable mansions are widely available here, including this 1980s behemoth on the market for $430,000.
10. Tulsa, OK
Median mansion price: $1.2 million
Median mansion price per square foot: $182
Known as the “Oil Capital of the World” for much of the 20th century, Tulsa was home to many wealthy oil scions and their families. They needed to spend their money somehow, so celebrated art deco architects came to Tulsa and built houses there. In recent years, Tulsa’s population growth has stalled as people move to the suburbs and other big cities. It recently launched a remote worker program to entice new residents.
The historic Midtown neighborhood is filled with Colonial, traditional, and art deco homes built in the 1920s and 1930s. Over the years stately homes have been turned into wedding venues, apartments, and offices, but some can be restored to their former glory. Moore Manor, which was built in 1917, is on the market for $1.6 million. It was recently set up as a law office, but most of the original features of the home remain intact, including a grand entryway staircase
While it’s no longer quite as big as it once was, the oil industry still drills here so there are also plenty of newly built megamansions for buyers looking for the “wow” factor without the work. Recently buyers from places like California and Texas looking for lower costs of living have been buying up big homes here.
“Tulsa is very easy to live in, with its great restaurants and beautiful neighborhoods,” says Peter Walter, a broker, and owner of Walter & Associates, a longtime firm in the area. “People are surprised when they come here.”
Still, prices remain low since most locals can’t afford massive prices.
“Our city is doing well and it’s healthy, but there’s just a limit to what people here can spend,” Walter says.
Source: Massive Homes, Mini Prices: The 10 U.S. Cities With the Most Affordable Mansions Realtor.com (September 27, 2021) Elena Cox