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The Real Estate Rankings Of Amazon’s 19 U.S. HQ2 Finalists

When Amazon released its request for proposals for a second headquarters, the tech giant outlined several key preferences that would factor heavily into its decision: proximity to densely populated city centers, access to a strong labor force that could eventually fill 50,000 jobs and a strong quality of life.

The e-commerce leader made it abundantly clear that access to tech talent and ensuring its second home is a good cultural fit for future workers are top priorities. But a healthy and affordable housing market may be almost as important to Amazon.

The Real Estate Rankings Of Amazon’s 19 U.S. HQ2 Finalists

“We think the residential real estate market particularly is an important piece of the decision-making for Amazon because it impacts their future employees who will be living in these markets, buying homes or renting,” Attom Data Solutions Senior Vice President Daren Blomquist told Bisnow. “The emphasis we put in the analysis, something we see as a very important factor in the housing market today, [is] affordability. I think in some ways, whether conscious or unconscious, the selection of these [20 finalists] tips Amazon’s hands."

To assess the health and affordability of the housing market in the 19 U.S. cities in the HQ2 running, Attom Data Solutions analyzed six key real estate factors and ranked the 19 contenders accordingly: Q4 2017 median home price, five-year home price appreciation, price-to-income ratio, average school score, crime rates compared to the national average and effective property tax rate. 

A portion of Amazon’s South Lake Union headquarters in Seattle
A portion of Amazon’s South Lake Union headquarters in Seattle.

While the U.S. Census Bureau reports median home price in the U.S. as of December was $343K, the median home price in Seattle — which has experienced a huge leap in real estate costs due to the influx of Amazon's high-paid workers — was $585K at the end of Q4, according to Attom Data. 

“It’s striking that 16 out of the 19 markets have median home prices that are lower than the city of Seattle,” Blomquist said in a statement. “The only exceptions are Boston, Los Angeles and New York, indicating that Amazon is interested in markets that have relatively affordable housing for employees. At the end of the day two of the most important factors for the decision will be finding a market with an ample supply of workers with the skills Amazon is looking for along with an ample supply of relatively affordable housing for those workers to live in.”

Below is a breakdown of the 10 highest-ranked HQ2 finalists, according to their real estate and housing market affordability.

The Real Estate Rankings Of Amazon’s 19 U.S. HQ2 Finalists
Attom Data Solutions' Amazon HQ2 Finalists Real Estate Market Rankings

No. 1 — Raleigh, North Carolina

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $235K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 26%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 3.69

Though Raleigh is considered somewhat of a dark horse in the HQ2 running, several factors that contribute to the overall health of its housing market are working in its favor. Raleigh topped Attom Data’s real estate rankings list thanks to its affordable housing prices, which stood at a median price of $235K as of Q4, and a five-year home price appreciation of 26% — not the lowest of the contenders but still conservative compared to Dallas and Austin’s housing prices, which have appreciated 246% and 114% in the past five years, respectively. Raleigh is among the smaller cities to make the HQ2 shortlist with a population of less than 500,000 residents, compared to New York City’s more than 8.5 million residents and Los Angeles’ 3.9 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Part of the city’s strength lies in its cluster of universities based there and employers' access to tech talent.

No. 2 — Montgomery County, Maryland

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $400K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 8%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 3.59

One of two finalists near Washington, D.C., Montgomery Country snagged the second leading real estate ranking for its strong housing market. The suburban area provides close access to D.C. and Northern Virginia through the Metro and offers young professionals more manageable housing costs than several of its competitors in more densely populated markets. Montgomery Country’s median home price in Q4 was $400K, compared to D.C.’s $520K and New York’s $1.4M, and home prices in the region have only appreciated 8% in the past five years compared to East Coast rivals New York, Boston and Atlanta, which experienced a five-year home price appreciation of 41%, 50% and 69%, respectively. 

No. 3 — Atlanta

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $220K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 69%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 3.68

Very cheap housing costs — $220K median as of Q4 — and a solid price-to-income ratio put the city in the top three in terms of residential market rankings. Atlanta didn’t exceed No. 3 because its low housing costs were offset by poor school rankings that fell below the state average and very high crime rates that were more than three times the national average. As for its HQ2 allure, the city boasts a robust labor pool and several well-known higher education campuses that could provide strong tech talent, including Georgia Tech and Georgia State University. 

No. 4 — Denver

Denver Skyline

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $346,500

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 73%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 5.86

Denver ranked No. 4 on Attom Data’s list due to a combination of factors: moderately priced homes that did not exceed a median price of $347K in Q4, a decent price-to-income ratio of 5.86 (meaning it would take owners more than five-and-a-half years to pay off their home) and fairly low crime rates. Denver has seen a large spike in housing costs, with home prices having appreciated 73% in the past five years. Denver has been highlighted for its many similarities to Seattle, Amazon’s current hometown, and the city was selected by the New York Times as its leading contender in the HQ2 wars. 

No. 5 — Pittsburgh

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $150K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 36%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 2.55

Pittsburgh was a favorite among Moody’s Analytics and Paddy Power to win HQ2. The city is blessed with a diverse talent pool and a burgeoning tech market, with tech news site Geek Wire having opened a second headquarters in the city to follow and report on its latest tech developments. Pittsburgh has inexpensive housing prices, low price-to-income ratio and decently scored school systems, though its effective property tax rate and its crime rate are on the high end of the national spectrum. 

No. 6 — Austin, Texas

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $361K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 114%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 4.93

Housing costs have jumped dramatically in Austin since the Great Recession. The city’s median home price as of Q4 was $361K, having appreciated 114% over a five-year period. This makes Austin the seventh-most-expensive HQ2 finalist in terms of median home prices, with a price-to-income ratio of 4.93. Austin was considered a leader in the HQ2 race early on, with Moody’s Analytics projecting the city’s business-friendly environment, decent public transportation and overall strong quality of life would appeal greatly to Amazon.

No. 7 — Nashville, Tennessee

The Real Estate Rankings Of Amazon’s 19 U.S. HQ2 Finalists
Nashville skyline

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $275K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 67%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 5.16

Music City and one of the nation's top markets for corporate investment, Nashville came in seventh on Attom Data’s residential real estate rankings thanks to its moderate median home price of $275K, its being the ninth-most-expensive market on the list, and its below-average effective property tax rate. However, Nashville’s rising housing costs — which appreciated 67% in the past five years — coupled with a high price-to-income ratio, below average school scores and above-average crime rates — took it out of the lead. Still working in the market’s favor is its growing population and easy access to major U.S. cities though Nashville International Airport, which is undergoing a $1.2B expansion.  

No. 8 — Columbus, Ohio

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $138K 

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 52%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 2.89

Columbus has the second-lowest median home price of all of the U.S. HQ2 contenders, just $8K above Indiana’s $130K median home price (the lowest of all 19 U.S. candidates). That affordability put Columbus within the top 10 markets in terms of housing market strength, though below-average school scores and a high crime rate compared to the national average did not work in its favor. Columbus is one of the smallest metro areas still in the running, with the census recording a population of 860,090 as of 2016. Its educational institutions and long list of incentives — including a promise to establish a transit fund for infrastructure improvements on Amazon’s potential HQ2 site — continue to give it a competitive edge. 

No. 9 — Northern Virginia

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $395K

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 14%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 3.83

A perceived front-runner in the HQ2 race, Northern Virginia has been a favorite among gamblers since Amazon dropped its list of 20 finalists. Though more of a suburban location than the other cities to make the cut, the region has two major national and international airports, a massive concentration of data centers and earlier this year local municipalities in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia reached an agreement to put forth $500M in annual funding to upgrade and modernize the Metro. As for its real estate rankings, Northern Virginia received high marks for its above-state-average school scores and a very low crime rate compared to the national average. The city’s ranking was tempered by an above-average median home price of $395K, though its five-year home price appreciation was extremely low compared to its competitors.

No. 10 — Dallas

Q4 2017 Median Home Price: $284,600

Five-Year Home Price Appreciation: 246%

Price-To-Income Ratio: 5.21

Though Dallas was labeled the likely HQ2 winner by the Wall Street Journal thanks in part to its low cost of living and low business operations costs, the city’s housing market is not as cheap as it once was. The pace at which Dallas' housing costs have skyrocketed is somewhat shocking. In the last five years home prices in Dallas have appreciated by 246% according to Attom Data — the highest five-year home price appreciation of all 19 U.S. finalists, and income has not been keeping pace. Despite its rising housing costs, Dallas has a strong tech labor force working in its favor and a tax structure that sets it apart from the competition.

View the real estate rankings of the nine remaining finalists here.