Homes in These 25 Waterfront Cities Are a Total Steal

·17 min read
traveler1116 / Getty Images/iStockphoto
traveler1116 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re like many Americans, then you probably get a thrill out of watching majestic sunsets or sunrises, hearing the soothing sound of the ocean and feeling the sand between your toes. So, why not live by the ocean? The primary problem is simple: Beachfront property is often too expensive. Or is it? It turns out, the U.S. is full of cities that can make your dream of living near water come true.

Related: 20 Gorgeous Beach Towns You Can Afford To Live In

GOBankingRates looked at 110 of the top ocean and lakefront cities in the U.S. and the median annual household income, home values, property tax rates and mortgage costs in each. You won’t find high-dollar celebrity enclaves like Malibu on the list, but you will find a wide range of waterfront cities that are still affordable.

Last updated: April 15, 2021

Barren Trees on Devil's Lake in North Dakota, USA make for a rather eerie sight.
Barren Trees on Devil's Lake in North Dakota, USA make for a rather eerie sight.

25. Devils Lake, North Dakota

  • Median annual income: $43,750

  • Typical home value: $170,206

  • State median property tax rate: 1.42%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $767

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 21%

Located just 80 miles from the Canadian border, Devils Lake is a year-round fishing mecca and home of North Dakota’s oldest continuous waterfowl hunting business. Residents have easy access to U.S. Highway 2 and an Amtrak train with daily service. If you’re not the outdoorsy type, no problem — a waterfront resort-style casino, museums and a variety of shops and restaurants provide plenty of opportunities for indoor recreation.

See: The Cost of Living Is Quickly Rising in These 20 US Cities

Long exposure photo of Marshall's Falls located in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Long exposure photo of Marshall's Falls located in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

24. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

  • Median annual income: $49,625

  • Typical home value: $185,411

  • State median property tax rate: 1.35%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $824

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 20%

East Stroudsburg, home of East Stroudsburg University, is located in the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania. Its location along the Interstate 80 corridor, within commuting distance of New York City, makes it a popular destination for New York and New Jersey residents looking for a quieter, less expensive place to call home. Water-based recreation centers around the Delaware River. Smithfield Beach, located on the outskirts of East Stroudsburg, is one of several developed park areas within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Brodhead Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River, is popular for fly fishing.

Check Out: 35 Surprising Cities With Low Costs of Living

Port Clinton Lighthouse with a blue sky
Port Clinton Lighthouse with a blue sky

23. Port Clinton, Ohio

  • Median annual income: $44,040

  • Typical home value: $170,928

  • State median property tax rate: 1.36%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $761

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 21%

Port Clinton’s location along the shoreline of Lake Erie makes it a perfect location for anyone who dreams of living on or near the water. A public beach, plus parks and picnic areas, give residents lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors on and off the lake. If the lake itself isn’t reason enough to make a move, residents also enjoy affordable housing, a highly regarded school district and easy access Erie Ottawa International Airport.

Waterfall near downtown Rochester, New York, USA.
Waterfall near downtown Rochester, New York, USA.

22. Rochester, New York

  • Median annual income: $33,399

  • Typical home value: $132,747

  • State median property tax rate: 1.23%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $577

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 21%

Rochester is located at the confluence of the the Genesee River and Lake Ontario, making water activities a major draw. So is the fact that it’s an affordable city where homeowners pay barely a fifth of their income toward their mortgages. As a larger city — America’s 79th biggest, according to Visit Rochester — it offers a wealth of employment, transportation, educational and recreational resources. Referred to as the “Flour City” or “Flower City,” Rochester has one more thing going for it: the shortest commute in America, according to the Visit Rochester website.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA downtown city skyline on Lake Michigan at twilight.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA downtown city skyline on Lake Michigan at twilight.

21. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  • Median annual income: $40,036

  • Typical home value: $137,336

  • State median property tax rate: 1.76%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $658

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 20%

Brewing giants such as Pabst Blue Ribbon have called Milwaukee home for 180 years, earning it the nickname “Brew City.” But Milwaukee has a lot more to offer than brew pubs and brewery tours. With more 1,400 acres of “third coast” Lake Michigan beachfront plus three rivers to enjoy, Milwaukee residents get an affordable coastal lifestyle without sacrificing the convenience of city living.

Green Bay Wisconsin
Green Bay Wisconsin

20. Green Bay, Wisconsin

  • Median annual income: $47,797

  • Typical home value: $154,811

  • State median property tax rate: 1.76%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $741

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 19%

Lake Michigan’s Green Bay has (obviously) played an integral role in the city of Green Bay’s history. Since its first European settlement in the 1600s, Green Bay has grown into a major shipping center. It’s also home to the iconic Green Bay Packers, making it the smallest city to host an NFL team and the only one still owned by a public rather than private entity. In addition to the business and recreational benefits of living in a waterfront city, affordability makes Green Bay a desirable place to live.

Birds Flying Over Pier Topsail Island Beach Jacksonville, NC.
Birds Flying Over Pier Topsail Island Beach Jacksonville, NC.

19. Jacksonville, North Carolina

  • Median annual income: $41,936

  • Typical home value: $154,957

  • State median property tax rate: 0.78%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $615

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 18%

Although Jacksonville, N.C. is perhaps best known as the home of Marine Corp base Camp Lejeune, there’s no forgetting the fact that this is a waterfront city, with all the recreational opportunities that implies. The New River and smaller waterways make fishing and paddling popular activities here, and you can get out in large vessels as well. You’ll also find sporting events such as USAA Grand Prix Series races as well as music, arts and a full schedule of festivals.

A sailboat anchored beside Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.
A sailboat anchored beside Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.

18. Hampton, Virginia

  • Median annual income: $54,550

  • Typical home value: $183,951

  • State median property tax rate: 0.74%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $724

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Hampton is a city of more than 130,000 residents located by the Chesapeake Bay in southeastern Virginia, near the confluence of the James and Elizabeth rivers, which means there’s plenty of water to enjoy. That Hampton is truly an affordable city is perhaps surprising considering its proximity to pricier East Coast resorts such as Williamsburg and Virginia Beach. Although Hampton’s home values are near the highest in these rankings, its earnings are also among the highest — and its taxes are among the lowest.

17. Corpus Christi, Texas

  • Median annual income: $55,709

  • Typical home value: $161,794

  • State median property tax rate: 1.81%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $781

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 17%

If you thought you had to move to California or the Deep South to live among palm trees, consider Corpus Christi. The city is tucked into the southern edge of Corpus Christi Bay, which is separated by the Gulf of Mexico by a string of barrier islands. In addition to offering the recreational and lifestyle benefits of a Gulf Coast city — and an affordable one at that — Corpus Christi has an impressive list of attractions. The Texas State Aquarium, USS Lexington and the South Texas Botanical Gardens are all located here.

View of Pensacola Beach and Gulf of Mexico.
View of Pensacola Beach and Gulf of Mexico.

16. Pensacola, Florida

  • Median annual income: $48,686

  • Typical home value: $160,389

  • State median property tax rate: 0.97%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $662

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Affordable housing leaves Pensacola residents with 84% of their income even after they make mortgage payments. A low property tax rate stretches that income even further, which means there’s plenty left over to enjoy shops, restaurants, attractions — and the waterfront. Although this is a small city population-wise at around 53,000 residents, Pensacola has diverse neighborhoods ranging from a vibrant downtown to historic and retail districts, plus coastal woodlands and beautiful beaches on Pensacola Bay.

View of Erie Pennsylvania from Dobbins Landing.
View of Erie Pennsylvania from Dobbins Landing.

15. Erie, Pennsylvania

  • Median annual income: $36,882

  • Typical home value: $122,256

  • State median property tax rate: 1.35%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $544

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 18%

A comparatively high tax rate and low income helped push Erie to 15th place in the rankings despite low home costs, but it’s still one of the most affordable waterfront cities in the country. Erie’s 9,910-square-mile namesake Great Lake is home to Presque Isle State Park, which is a National Natural Landmark. Tributaries, streams and ponds provide additional recreational opportunities and add to the area’s natural beauty. Erie is also a terrific city for history buffs, with sites like the U.S. Brig Niagara and the Erie African-American Heritage Trail.

beach scenes on west boulevard in pass christian and henderson point
beach scenes on west boulevard in pass christian and henderson point

14. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

  • Median annual income: $38,618

  • Typical home value: $141,009

  • State median property tax rate: 0.52%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $529

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Bay St. Louis has something for everyone, all wrapped up in an affordable package. Because this is Coastal Mississippi, life here is all about the water — swimming, fishing and boating in the Mississippi Sound. But Bay St. Louis is also prized for its livability — even after the damage it suffered during Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi Magazine named it “Best Place To Live in Mississippi” in 2020, and it was also voted one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel Bay St. Louis ties a handful of other Southern cities for lowest property tax rate, and it has one of the lowest monthly mortgage payments in the GOBankingRates ranking.

Read: The Cost To Retire In America’s Sunniest Cities

Biloxi, Mississippi, USA Lighthouse at dusk.
Biloxi, Mississippi, USA Lighthouse at dusk.

13. Biloxi, Mississippi

  • Median annual income: $44,972

  • Typical home value: $152,893

  • State median property tax rate: 0.52%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $574

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 15%

Biloxi is one of the nation’s oldest communities, having been founded in 1699, and sits on a shoreline that shares 62 miles of “Secret Coast” with other coastal Mississippi cities. It largely has recovered from major damage suffered during Hurricane Katrina, though some reconstruction projects are still underway. This is one waterfront city where people can live on a modest budget, with only 15% of residents’ annual income going toward mortgage payments. The Gulf Islands National Seashore, casinos and arts and history venues are all within easy reach.

Arkansas
Arkansas

12. Mountain Home, Arkansas

  • Median annual income: $39,130

  • Typical home value: $138,008

  • State median property tax rate: 0.52%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $518

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Mountain Home has the best of both worlds for outdoors enthusiasts. There’s plenty of water around — including the White River, North Fork River, Norfolk Lake and Bull Shoals Lake — and it’s also tucked into the beautiful Ozark Mountains. This is a small town of just over 12,500 people, but between Mountain Home and surrounding towns, there’s no shortage of culture, dining options, shopping and special events. And, of course, nearly endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

Biloxi beach at sunset looking west from intersection of Hwy 90 and I110.
Biloxi beach at sunset looking west from intersection of Hwy 90 and I110.

11. Ocean Springs, Mississippi

  • Median annual income: $56,599

  • Typical home value: $171,343

  • State median property tax rate: 0.52%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $643

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 14%

Ocean Springs is the third of four Mississippi waterfront cities in this ranking. It has one of higher median incomes and home values on this list, but it also ties for lowest property tax rate and is near the bottom for percentage of salary paid toward mortgage. Those factors make this Gulf Coast cottage community a real bargain. On top of that, Ocean Springs boasts an easily accessible downtown, thriving arts community and plenty of shopping and dining.

Gulfport Mississippi beach, dramtic golden sunrise, pier, shrimp boat, on the Gulf of Mexico.
Gulfport Mississippi beach, dramtic golden sunrise, pier, shrimp boat, on the Gulf of Mexico.

10. Gulfport, Mississippi

  • Median annual income: $37,811

  • Typical home value: $130,014

  • State median property tax rate: 0.52%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $488

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 15%

Gulfport is the final Mississippi waterfront city on this list, and that ranking is well deserved. It has one of the smallest mortgage payments on the list, and the low home value — coupled with a rock-bottom property tax rate –means homeownership is a realistic option for just about anyone. That’s impressive (and unusual) for a small city surrounded by all the amenities of a major beach resort — plus big-city perks like an international airport.

USA, Texas, Brownsville.
USA, Texas, Brownsville.

9. Brownsville, Texas

  • Median annual income: $36,499

  • Typical home value: $105,546

  • State median property tax rate: 1.81%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $510

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 17%

Brownsville is less than 30 minutes from Gulf of Mexico beaches, including Texas’ last undeveloped beach. Whereas other Texas cities on this list are essentially resort cities, Brownsville has a different vibe. Its Mexican sister city, Matamoros, is just a couple of miles away, and the friendship between the two is celebrated throughout the year with festivals and other events. Brownsville also has a cultural district anchored by a zoo, plus historical sites, a fine art museum — and some of the most affordable housing you’ll find in these rankings.

Eiffel Tower Replica in Paris TN
Eiffel Tower Replica in Paris TN

8. Paris, Tennessee

  • Median annual income: $33,743

  • Typical home value: $114,331

  • State median property tax rate: 0.68%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $445

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Paris, France might be out of reach, but Paris, Tenn. has recreated one of its most famous attractions — the Eiffel Tower — with a scaled-down version modeled after the original. This community is home to Paris Landing State Park on the western shore of Kentucky Lake, where you can get back to nature and maybe even spot a eagle. A large antique mall, historical sites and winery are some of the other perks of living is this very affordable waterfront city.

Buffalo is the second largest city in the state of New York and the 81st most populous city in the United States.
Buffalo is the second largest city in the state of New York and the 81st most populous city in the United States.

7. Buffalo, New York

  • Median annual income: $35,893

  • Typical home value: $110,106

  • State median property tax rate: 1.23%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $479

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 16%

Buffalo is the second-largest city in New York and the biggest in the western part of the state. Although Buffalo experienced a decline with the exodus of manufacturing jobs, recent revitalization efforts have paid off. The city now has a thriving cultural scene and, of course, its No. 1 attraction: Niagara Falls. The Erie Canal and Niagara River offer four seasons of waterfront activities and events. Best of all, it’s a very affordable city.

Lower section of Toccoa Falls
Lower section of Toccoa Falls

6. Toccoa, Georgia

  • Median annual income: $35,465

  • Typical home value: $110,563

  • State median property tax rate: 0.83%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $444

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 15%

Toccoa is the only Georgia city to make the rankings, and it’s one of only a handful located in the mountains — in this case, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although you won’t find any huge bodies of water in Toccoa, it is home to the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River — the 186-foot Toccoa Falls. Toccoa is the most affordable of all the Southern cities included in this ranking and the sixth-most affordable city overall. But it has a lot to offer, with an award-winning downtown, plenty of local color and access to the Tugaloo Corridor, where you can go canoeing, kayaking and hiking.

A bench near to Storm Lake,Iowa ,USA on October 2,2017 - Image.
A bench near to Storm Lake,Iowa ,USA on October 2,2017 - Image.

5. Storm Lake, Iowa

  • Median annual income: $49,044

  • Typical home value: $121,177

  • State median property tax rate: 1.29%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $533

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 13%

Storm Lake is one of a handful of Midwest cities on this list. It combines a fairly high median income with low home prices and mortgage payments to give residents get a lot of bang for their bucks. In addition to enjoying lake recreation such as boating, skiing and fishing, residents here have plenty of cultural and historical activities to choose from both in the town itself and at Buena Vista University.

Oswego Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse at Lake Ontario, Oswego, New York State, USA.
Oswego Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse at Lake Ontario, Oswego, New York State, USA.

4. Oswego, New York

  • Median annual income: $39,585

  • Typical home value: $91,142

  • State median property tax rate: 1.23%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $396

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 12%

If you love to be outdoors during the winter as much as you do during the summer, Oswego could be the perfect waterfront city for you. Located on Lake Ontario’s eastern shore, Oswego boasts a small-town, nautical vibe and a wealth of historical, cultural and outdoor attractions. It’s also one of the most affordable waterfront cities in the U.S., tying Toledo, Ohio and Jamestown, N.Y. for lowest percentage of income paid toward mortgage.

Cleveland Ohio skyline at dusk
Cleveland Ohio skyline at dusk

3. Cleveland, Ohio

  • Median annual income: $29,008

  • Typical home value: $69,924

  • State median property tax rate: 1.36%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $311

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 13%

Cleveland has taken its share of hits over the years — including passing Detroit as the country’s poorest big city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey — but it also stands as one of the Midwest’s most important cultural and economic hubs. Cleveland has a lot to offer anyone willing to overlook some of its bumps and bruises in favor of affordable living on or near Lake Erie. Restoration projects are revitalizing downtown, and you’ll have access to numerous events, outdoor activities, arts and music venues, a growing restaurant scene — and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Travel + Leisure magazine even named Cleveland “The Coolest Place You Never Thought To Visit.”

jamestown audubon society - Image.
jamestown audubon society - Image.

2. Jamestown, New York

  • Median annual income: $31,595

  • Typical home value: $74,700

  • State median property tax rate: 1.23%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $325

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 12%

Of the four New York cities that made the GOBankingRates affordable waterfront cities rankings, Jamestown tops the list. This is a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously — how could it, when one of its claims to fame is being the birthplace of beloved TV character Lucy Ricardo (not to mention Lucille Ball herself)? Its location on the Chadakoin River near Chautauqua Lake means outdoor recreational activities abound. Other points of interest include the National Comedy Center, Reg Lenna Center for the Arts and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History.

Maumee River and Toledo Ohio skyline.
Maumee River and Toledo Ohio skyline.

1. Toledo, Ohio

  • Median annual income: $37,100

  • Typical home value: $79,874

  • State median property tax rate: 1.36%

  • Monthly mortgage payment: $356

  • Percentage of annual income paid toward mortgage: 12%

Toledo has earned the distinction of being the most affordable waterfront city ranked by GOBankingRates. Mortgage payments are among the lowest of any city listed, and Toledo ties for lowest percentage of income paid toward mortgage. What sets this Maumee River city apart from its two closest competitors is that its median income is significantly higher. With booming riverfront development, a strong arts scene and many other urban amenities, Toledo has a lot to offer for a very affordable price.

More From GOBankingRates

John Csiszar contributed to the reporting for this article.

Methodology: In order to find 25 waterfront cities where houses are a total steal, GOBankingRates first referenced multiple sources to compile a list of 110 popular waterfront cities. Then, GOBankingRates found the (1) median annual household income in each city according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 5-year estimates and (2) 2020 average home value in each city according to Zillow’s housing data through August 2020. Then, using Zillow’s mortgage calculator and assuming a 20% down payment, 2.88% 30-year fixed rate mortgage (the national average rate as of Oct. 10, 2020 according to Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis) and the median property tax rate in the appropriate state according to Tax-rates.org, GOBankingRates found (3) the estimated monthly mortgage payment made on a typical home in each city. This allowed GOBankingRates to calculate (4) the annual total of mortgage payments for a typical house as a percent of the city’s median annual household income. All cities were then scored on factors (2) and (4) and ranked against each other on their combined score. All data was collected on and is up to date as of Oct. 5, 2020.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Homes in These 25 Waterfront Cities Are a Total Steal

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