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The True Cost of Living in America: Pittsburgh

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Great hipster places to live. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Rio De Janeiro. Toronto. And … Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh?

Get used to seeing the Steel City on a lot of best-places-to-live lists. Pittsburgh neighborhood Lawrenceville, until recently dulled by empty industrial buildings, made that surprise entry into a Business Insider list of the best hipster neighborhoods in the world recently. It’s just the latest accolade for the resurgent Rust Belt city.

Pittsburgh has a lot more going for it than skinny jeans and new restaurants, however. In Credit.com’s recent list of America’s most affordable cities, based on percent of residents who are housing poor, Pittsburgh ranked No. 1.

Life in Lawrenceville

Evan Hazlett is a believer. Hazlett is a globe-trotting, house-flipping, 20-something with boundless energy and the ability to live nearly anywhere. He choses Lawrenceville equally for the business prospects (there’s still plenty of buy low, sell high opportunities) and the friendliness.

“I travel a lot, but I love coming home,” Hazlett, 28, said. “I find Pittsburgh is the easiest place to walk into a bar and just strike up casual conversations with strangers.”

You’ll hear an amazing set of comparisons about Pittsburgh: It’s “Little Brooklyn.” “It’s Silicon Valley East.” It’s a bit of hyperbole, though Carnegie Mellon might be the world’s top cybersecurity school. There’s no exaggerating the real estate boom, however. Home prices tripled in Lawrenceville over the past 15 years, says Pittsburgh-based RealStats, from an average of $46,000 to $130,000 in 2014. The Post-Gazette said in November that 1,000 new apartment units are under construction in the neighborhood, most industrial conversions.

But while the secret is out on Pittsburgh — locals tell me it might be too late to get in on the home-flipping gold rush in Lawrenceville — the mix of good jobs and still-low-ish home prices make the city an attractive alternative to big East Coast cities like New York, Washington D.C. or Boston.

Evan Hazlett

“It’s definitely not too late to move to Pittsburgh. Word may be out that it’s an amazing place to be, but the truth is, it’s really only just getting started,” Hazlett said. “Every day, more businesses are opening or moving to town, more houses are being renovated, and more neighborhoods are shaking off the dust and redefining who they are. “

Hazlett is an entrepreneur, and he travels several months out of the year — often out of the country — but still sees Pittsburgh as a place of opportunity.

“Pittsburgh is a perfect place to start a family,” he said. “There are so many great neighborhoods around the city and you can really pick and choose to fit to your own style and budget. That being said, there are a pretty wide range of prices one might expect to pay for a 2- or 3-bedroom house, and the numbers can vary by well over 100% in just a few blocks. With those caveats in mind, I would say that you can get something you love that’s in a great spot for $175,000.”

Hazlett lives in a house that he intended to flip, but decided to keep, that’s worth about $350,000 right now, he said.

More recently, Pittsburgh city has become a great place to get a job. The city used to lose many of its smart college graduates to startup havens like San Francisco or even Washington D.C., but that’s less true now. Firms like Google and Apple have large offices in the city, and put out word last year that they are looking to expand. In 2015, Uber announced it would open a robotics research facility in the city with an eye towards building self-driving cars.

“I chose to stay in Pittsburgh because it’s just plain a great place to be,” Hazlett said. “To be able to watch an entire city grow and develop the way that Pittsburgh has in recent years — to be surrounded by so many incredible and abnormally friendly people. On a financial level, Pittsburgh is incredibly affordable. Dollar for dollar, there really is no competition for the life you can afford yourself here.”

Pittsburgh By the Numbers

Affordable Cities Ranking: First

Housing Poor Residents: 28.4%

Median Home Sales Price: $133,700, per Zillow

Median household income: $52,293 per Fact Finder

Remember, a good credit score can help make housing more affordable since one will generally qualify you for the best rates on a mortgage and landlords also look at a version of your credit report when you apply for an apartment. As such, it’s a good idea to check your credit before you start your housing hunt. You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year on AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

Do you live in Columbus, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, or Louisville? We’d love to hear from you for the rest of the series. Write to bob@credit.com.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

Inset Image courtesy of Evan Hazlett and Buzzy Photography; Main Image: AdamIsovitsch

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