story by Kim Souza
Benton County is one of the fastest growing areas in the Natural State in part because of job creation, quality of life and strong public school systems. But a recent study by consumer advocacy site NerdWallet shows that Bella Vista and Centerton in Benton County top the rest of the state as the best places for homeownership.
Only one city in the Fort Smith region, Greenwood, cracked the top 10 list. Other Fort Smith metro cities ranked in the NerdWallet study were Van Buren (16), Mena (18), Alma (26), and Fort Smith (37)
NerdWallet crunched the numbers for all 62 Arkansas communities with more than 5,000 residents to find the best cities for homeownership in the state. Here’s what the best cities had in common:
• Home values were less than $200,000 in all but two places;
• In half the places homeowners spent less than 25% of monthly income on housing; and
• 18 of the 20 cities gained population between 2010 and 2012.
The criteria in this study looked at three main questions: Are homes affordable?; Can you afford to live there?; Is the city growing?
BELLA VISTA APPEAL
Bella Vista ranked No. 1 with an 89.3% home ownership rate, the highest in the study. The cost of home ownership in Bella Vista as a percentage of household income was 23.4%, the lowest in the study. The city population grew 6.7% between 2010 and 2012. Despite the growth, median home prices at $152,300 were 8% less expensive than in neighboring Bentonville, based on the 2010 U.S. Census data 5-year estimates.
Bella Vista is part of the Bentonville School system, also the highest ranking large school in the state according to standardized test scores. The city is diverse, having began as a retirement resort in the 1960s. The homes feature wooded lots, six lakes and seven golf courses, with several parks and indoor as well as outdoor swimming facilities. Bentonville, by the way, was ranked 11th on the list.
Paul Bynum, analyst with MountData.com, reports that there were 874 homes sold in Bella Vista during 2013, unit sales in the city rose 16% from 2012 and total sales volume was $127.498 million, up 19% from the prior year. The city also boasted the shortest days on market across the two-county are at 49 days. In this active market median home prices rose 5% from 2012 to $130,700, which is well below the Census estimates.
Helen Dankser, an agent with Crye-Leike in Bella Vista, said she wrote nine new sales contracts in April. The Bella Vista sales office for Crye-Leike saw a record month in April, with sales up 29% from a year ago. Dansker said buyers of all ages are attracted to Bella Vista because of the amenities, good schools and opportunity for secluded lots – located within a very short distance to the main highway or one of the country clubs or lakes.
Bella Vista has one of the higher median household income levels at $5,118 per month, just a few dollars shy of Bentonville — the highest median income in the two county area at $5,140 per month. Bryant, Maumelle and White Hall each have higher median monthly household income estimates than Bentonville, according to the Census estimates.
Centerton, also part of the Bentonville School system, came in second for the best place to own a home in Arkansas. Centerton’s population exploded 13% between 2010 and 2012.
The median home price was an affordable $140,000 according to the Census projections, which was 15.6% less expensive than neighboring Bentonville. Major street widening of Arkansas 102 has made accessibility to and from Centerton much easier in the past year.
The study gave Centerton an overall score for homeownership of 73.7, good enough for second place in the state. The home ownership rate is 67.9%, less than Bella Vista, but more than the 57.3% in Bentonville and the 55.9% in Siloam Springs.
Median household income in Centerton is an estimated $4,842 per month. The cost of homeownership in Centerton averages about 25.1% of household income. This was a little higher than the 23.4% average cost in Bella Vista, but cheaper than the 27% average cost estimated in Bentonville.
Centerton is the site for the second Bentonville High School and Wal-Mart is in the midst of building a supercenter and a neighborhood market in Centerton creating about 400 jobs in this small community. Mercy also recently broke ground a new medical clinic in Centerton.
Other Northwest Arkansas cities making the list included Siloam Springs (17), Rogers (19), Lowell (20), Farmington (27), Springdale (40), and Fayetteville (62).
Link here for the ranking of all 62 Arkansas cities compared.