It's Cheap to Buy a House in Pittsburgh, But Not a New One

Jul 22, 2013

A national survey shows the median home in the Pittsburgh region in 2011 was valued at $69,000, compared to $110,000 nationally. However, the study found the median price for a new home in the Pittsburgh region is slightly higher than the national median.
Credit Flickr user Casey Konstantín

It’s an often-repeated fact that Pittsburgh homes are cheaper to buy than those in the rest of the country, but a new study shows that does not hold true for new construction.

Every other year, the U.S Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conduct a national survey measuring home prices, conditions, maintenance costs, and other relevant data. The survey also takes an in-depth look at 25 to 30 individual metro-areas on an ever-changing basis. 

Pittsburgh was among the 29 cities surveyed in 2011, and the results released this month show the median home in the Pittsburgh region was valued at $69,000, compared to $110,000 nationally.

However, the study finds the median price paid for a home built in the last four years settles in at $250,000 in the Pittsburgh region, which is slightly higher than the national median of $235,000.

HUD Director of Housing and Demographic Analysis, Shawn Bucholtz, said the median price is used “because the average can get skewed by very low or very high numbers where as the median does not.”

The report also tries to tease out the real condition of a home by asking a series of questions. 

“In 2011, just a little bit under 17 percent of the housing units in Pittsburgh reported having a leak from their windows, their basement or their roof,” Bucholtz said. “Compare that to the national number of just a little bit under 11 (percent).”

In Pittsburgh, 4.5 percent reported having had mold in their homes in 2011, compared to 3.5 percent nationally.

Bucholtz traces many of the numbers back to the age of the region’s housing stock.

“The median year built of your housing units was 1955," Bucholtz said. "When you compare that to the national median number of 1974, it’s reasonable to expect that housing quality related variable might show a different picture than the national one."

It also costs less to own and operate a home in the Pittsburgh area. The survey found the median monthly housing costs for owner-occupied homes in the Pittsburgh region was measured at just less than $800.  The national median is just more than $1,000. That number includes costs such as mortgage, taxes and utilities.

The American Housing Survey dives deep into a long list of specifics about the nation’s housing stock. Of homes in the Pittsburgh region, 11.9 percent use electric heat and 76.7 percent rely on natural gas.  Nationally those numbers come in at 35.3 percent and 50.4 percent respectively.

Fifty-seven percent of homes in the Pittsburgh region had working carbon monoxide detectors in 2011, compared to 46 percent nationally, and the region was right on the average of 72 percent when it came to having central air conditioning.

HUD and the Census Bureau have been doing the survey since 1973. Bucholtz said one of the most interesting statistics to watch over time is the value of remodeling projects. He noted that 2011 national numbers saw a large drop in that number compared to 2007 and 2009. 

“That really has a lot to do with a drop in the housing market and a decrease in equity that home owners have,” Bucholtz said.

Crews are in the field this summer collecting data in 25 cities for the 2013 study. Pittsburgh is not among the metro areas being surveyed.