Affordable Homeownership in California: Exploring the 5 Cheapest Cities to Buy a Home

Written by: Better Ask Me



Time to read 10 min

California is known for its high cost of living, particularly when it comes to housing. However, there are still pockets within the state where homeownership remains relatively affordable. In this article, we will delve into the five cheapest cities to own a home in California. From affordable housing prices to a range of amenities, these cities offer an opportunity for aspiring homeowners to enter the California real estate market without breaking the bank.

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5 cheapest cities to buy a home in California.

1. Bakersfield:

Population: As of 2021, Bakersfield's population is approximately 390,000 people. It's the ninth most populous city in California, with a blend of diverse cultures and a rich history.

Affordability: Bakersfield is known for being more affordable than many other parts of California. The cost of living can vary, but it's generally considered to be a more budget-friendly option compared to places like Los Angeles or San Francisco. On average, you might expect to spend around $2,500 to $3,000 per month on living expenses, excluding housing. Of course, individual circumstances will vary.

Housing Prices: The median home price in Bakersfield hovers around $300,000 to $350,000. Compared to other parts of the state, this is relatively affordable, making it an attractive option for families, retirees, and first-time homebuyers. Rent for a typical one-bedroom apartment might be in the range of $800 to $1,200 per month.

Distance from Large Metropolitan Areas: Bakersfield is strategically located, offering convenient access to major metropolitan areas. Los Angeles is approximately 110 miles to the south, a drive that can take around 2 hours, depending on traffic. San Francisco is about 280 miles away, a roughly 4.5-hour drive.

Crime Rates: Like any city, Bakersfield has its challenges with crime. As of the last data, the crime rates in Bakersfield are somewhat higher than the national average. Property crime tends to be more prevalent than violent crime. However, it's essential to keep in mind that crime can vary widely across different neighborhoods, so local research and consultation with law enforcement could provide a more nuanced understanding.

Bakersfield offers a unique blend of urban and rural living, with its roots in agriculture and oil industries. Its affordability and strategic location make it appealing to many people looking to escape the higher costs of living in other California cities. But, like any place, it has its pros and cons, so individual preferences and needs will play a significant role in how appealing Bakersfield may be.

The city is home to a vibrant music scene (particularly country music), and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains provide plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities. While it might not have the glitz and glamour of some of California's more famous cities, Bakersfield has a character all its own and may be an appealing place to live or visit for many people.

2. Fresno:

Fresno, located in central California's San Joaquin Valley, is a city known for its agricultural background and vibrant cultural scene. It's a hub for those seeking a combination of urban living and a touch of the countryside. Let's break down some of the key aspects of Fresno you asked about:


As of the latest census data, the population of Fresno is around 530,000 people. It's one of the largest cities in California, reflecting a diverse and growing community.


Fresno is considered to be more affordable than many other California cities, especially when compared to places like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The cost of living here might be roughly around $60,000 to $70,000 per year for a typical family, but this can vary widely based on lifestyle and needs.

Housing Prices

The housing market in Fresno tends to be more accessible to a broader range of income levels. As of my knowledge cut-off in 2021, the median home price was approximately $300,000. Of course, this price can fluctuate depending on the neighborhood and the type of property. Rentals can be found for anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per month for a standard apartment.

Distance from Large Metropolitan Areas

Fresno is situated at a considerable distance from the major metropolitan hubs in California. It's about 190 miles from San Francisco and approximately 220 miles from Los Angeles. These cities can be reached in 3-4 hours by car, depending on traffic.

Crime Rates

Like many urban areas, Fresno has its share of crime, but it's essential to recognize that crime rates can vary greatly across different neighborhoods. As of my last update, Fresno's crime rate was higher than the national average, but this doesn't paint the full picture of the city. Some areas may have higher crime rates, while others might be quite safe. It's always best to consult local crime statistics and talk to local residents or law enforcement to get a nuanced understanding of the safety in various parts of the city.


Fresno offers a blend of urban living with a touch of rural charm, thanks to its agricultural roots. Its affordability and more reasonable housing prices make it an attractive option for many Californians. The city's central location also means it's within reach of some of California's most bustling urban areas, but with that comes a more extended commute if you plan on frequent trips to those cities.

Its cultural diversity, growing arts scene, and nearby natural attractions like Yosemite National Park add to the appeal of Fresno. However, like any city, it has its challenges, including crime in some areas. Careful consideration of where you live and what lifestyle you seek can help you make the most of what Fresno has to offer.

3. Modesto:

Population: As of 2021, Modesto has a population of approximately 215,000 people. It's one of the largest cities in the Stanislaus County, and the population has been gradually growing over the years.

Affordability: Modesto is often considered a more affordable place to live compared to many other California cities. The cost of living may be around the national average or slightly higher. A family might expect to have an average household income around $60,000 to $70,000, though this can vary widely based on factors like occupation and education.

Housing Prices: The housing market in Modesto offers various options, from single-family homes to apartments. As of 2021, the median home price in Modesto was around $350,000. Rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment might fall in the range of $1,200 to $1,500 per month. These prices can be quite attractive, especially when compared to the skyrocketing costs in more metropolitan areas of the state.

Distance from Large Metropolitan Areas: Modesto's location offers a blend of urban amenities and a more relaxed pace. It's situated about 92 miles east of San Francisco and approximately 68 miles south of Sacramento. This proximity to major cities provides opportunities for work, entertainment, and cultural experiences, while still maintaining a somewhat smaller-town feel.

Crime Rates: When it comes to crime, Modesto has faced challenges with both property and violent crime. The rates have historically been above the national average. However, it's essential to note that crime can vary significantly across different neighborhoods, and some areas of Modesto are considered safer than others. Efforts have been made at the community and law enforcement levels to reduce crime, but it remains a concern for some residents.

In conclusion, Modesto offers a blend of urban and rural living, with its agricultural roots and growing urban amenities. Its location near major metropolitan areas like San Francisco and Sacramento adds to its appeal, especially for those seeking more affordable housing options. However, potential residents may want to consider factors such as crime rates when choosing where to live within the city.

If you're considering a move to Modesto or simply interested in knowing more about the city, it's always good to consult local real estate agents, city guides, or community resources to get the most current and detailed information tailored to your specific needs and interests.

4. San Bernardino:

San Bernardino, located in Southern California, is an intriguing city with a mix of urban and suburban characteristics. It has a rich history, diverse culture, and is known for its proximity to both the mountains and metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. Let's dive into some of the details you asked about:


As of 2021, San Bernardino had a population of around 215,000 residents. The city's population has been relatively stable, with modest growth reflecting broader trends in the region.


When it comes to affordability, San Bernardino is considered more budget-friendly compared to many other California cities, especially those closer to the coast. The cost of living here is relatively moderate, particularly when considering factors like housing and transportation.

Housing Prices

Speaking of housing, the median home price in San Bernardino has generally been in the range of $350,000 to $400,000. This is substantially lower than in neighboring areas like Los Angeles or Orange County. Rental prices are also relatively moderate, with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment being around $1,000 to $1,200 per month.

Distance from Large Metropolitan Areas

San Bernardino is strategically located, with good accessibility to several large metropolitan areas. Los Angeles is roughly 60 miles to the west, a drive that typically takes about an hour without traffic. Other nearby cities include Riverside, which is about 10 miles to the south, and Anaheim, around 50 miles to the southwest.

Crime Rates

Crime rates in San Bernardino have been a concern, and the city has struggled with higher rates of both violent and property crime compared to national averages. Efforts have been made to reduce crime, and there have been fluctuating trends over the years. It's always wise for residents and potential residents to consult local crime statistics and talk to local authorities to understand the specific crime landscape in the neighborhoods they are considering.


San Bernardino offers a unique blend of urban amenities and suburban charm, with affordability being one of its attractive features. Its proximity to major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles makes it appealing for those who work in the city but prefer a quieter residential area. However, the local crime rates are something to be aware of and require due consideration when thinking about relocating or investing in property here.

Whether you're considering San Bernardino for living, business, or simply exploring, it provides a glimpse of Southern California life that is diverse and rich in character. Like many places, it has its challenges and strengths, and understanding these can help you make the most of what the city has to offer.

5. Lancaster:

Lancaster is a fascinating city located in the Antelope Valley region of Southern California. It's known for its desert landscapes, aerospace industry, and vibrant arts scene. Let me break down some of the key aspects you asked about:


As of 2021, the population of Lancaster was approximately 160,000 residents. It's one of the larger cities in the region, and its population has seen steady growth over the years.


When compared to other cities in California, Lancaster generally offers a more affordable cost of living. The median household income is around $50,000, which is slightly lower than the state average. Basics like groceries, healthcare, and transportation may be relatively affordable, but these numbers can change over time.

Housing Prices

The housing market in Lancaster offers something for various budgets. The median home price in the city was around $330,000 as of 2021. It's important to note that these numbers can fluctuate based on the economy and local real estate market.

Distance from Large Metropolitan Areas

Lancaster's location offers a unique blend of urban and rural living. It's situated about 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This proximity gives residents access to big-city amenities while maintaining a more suburban feel.

Crime Rates

Like many cities, Lancaster has its share of crime, and the rates can vary by neighborhood. Overall, the city's crime rate might be considered moderate compared to national averages. As of my knowledge cut-off, violent crime rates were somewhat higher than the national average, while property crimes were closer to the average. Local law enforcement and community groups have been working to improve safety and lower crime rates.


Lancaster presents a unique living experience with its desert climate, close-knit community, and proximity to Los Angeles. The more affordable cost of living and varied housing options may appeal to those looking to escape the higher prices of more central locations. However, potential residents should consider local crime rates and consult current data to make an informed decision.

Living in Lancaster might be ideal for those who want to be near a large metropolitan area but prefer a less hectic, more affordable lifestyle. Its rich history, community events, and natural beauty add to its appeal, making it a noteworthy option for anyone considering a move to Southern California.

Please note that the information provided is based on data available up until September 2021, and I recommend verifying current statistics with up-to-date sources, especially if you're considering a move or investment in the area.

While California's real estate market can be notoriously expensive, these five cities provide affordable alternatives for individuals and families looking to own a home in the state. Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, San Bernardino, and Lancaster offer housing markets with lower median home prices and a range of amenities, making homeownership a possibility for those on a tighter budget. Explore these cities and discover the opportunity to own a home in California without compromising your financial goals.

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