A Million Dollars Doesn’t Buy Much House in Boston

A Business Insider study found Boston was the second least affordable place to drop a million bucks on housing.


Real estate photo via Shutterstock

Boston has the dubious honor of being near the bottom of a new ranking: that of how much real estate $1,000,000 will buy you. The study conducted by Business Insider crunched data from housing list price data from real-estate brokerage Movoto.com and real-estate marketplace Zillow.com and found that Boston was the second most expensive city for buyers. $1 million will get you just 2,092 square feet here.

In San Francisco, a million gets you 1,502 square feet, making it the most expensive city in the study. You’ll probably be surprised to see New York behind Boston at 2,358 square feet per million bucks, but if you removed the boroughs and considered only Manhattan, the number plummets to 650 square feet. Yikes. In which cities does $1 million buy you a proverbial palace? Topping the list were Detroit, Cleveland, and Memphis. (It all calls to mind the Buzzfeed list “Six Castles that Cost Less than an Apartment in NYC.”)

The study basically finds another metric to tell us something we’ve long known: Boston is way more expensive for home owners than more modest cities, and not by a factor that accounts for our higher incomes. Trulia conducted a study last year comparing median incomes to housing prices and found that even taking into account differences, Boston (and San Francisco and New York) was one of the least affordable cities in America. Describing the study, The Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger wrote, “The gulf between those two numbers means that the most expensive U.S. cities aren’t just unaffordable for the average American middle-class family; they’re unaffordable to the relatively well-off middle class by local standards, too.”

Indeed, the hollowing out of a middle class in Boston city limits does seem like an inevitable result of statistics like this one. “If I had a million dollars,” The Barenaked Ladies once thought, “I’d be rich.” If by rich, they mean that they’d own a two-bedroom row house in the South End, then they’d be right.