A recent survey by WalletHub that ranked 300 US cities from best to worst for first time homebuyers put Oakland near the bottom. Oakland’s ranking of 295 put it well below San Francisco (232) and slightly below Berkeley (282) but better than Richmond, which came in dead last. Fremont ranked the highest of any Bay Area city, coming in better than average at 105.

WalletHub is a website that allows users to rate financial services. It has been “nicknamed the Yelp of personal finance,” according to Richie Bernardo, a financial writer for the service. He walked Oakland Local through the criteria used to determine the best and worst cities and looked at how Oakland fared on some specific benchmarks.

The survey looked at data points on everything from tax rates (“Tax rate is definitely one of the biggest expenses of owning a home,” notes Bernardo) to average square footage, to community factors like crime, parks and schools.

It will come as no surprise that Oakland ranks near the bottom of the list on crime (294 for violent crime and 284 for property crime). The price to rent ratio, which compares the cost to own a house to the cost to rent, placed Oakland 269 on the list, which means that it’s definitely cheaper to rent than to own. The city also got dinged for its comparatively small houses (1295 square feet on average, compared to the median 1588). “When median home values are close to $500k and the average square footage is only 1200, you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck,” says Bernardo.

The Town does have some bright spots: the survey ranked it the 52nd best city for finding a job, 53rd best for recreation and 79th in recovery from the recession. Oaklanders also carry little personal debt (excluding mortgage debt), ranking 43rd on that index.

“The bottom half of the results of our study consists of cities in the northeast and many in California,” says Bernardo. “They tend to have some of the highest home values but lower median income levels.”

He compared the average homebuyer’s income in the US (about $50,000) to Oakland’s median income of $37,000. Compare that to the $466,000 median home price in Oakland and buying a home looks like a big stretch for first time homebuyers, who are more likely to be younger and less well off. What the income figures don’t tell is the story of income inequality. While half the population of Oakland makes $37,000 or less, many in the other half make much, much more as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

Surveys have to be taken with a grain of salt. Statistics can show one picture while obscuring another. This survey got at least one thing dead wrong: Oakland was ranked 176 (slightly below average) for weather when everyone who lives in Oakland knows that the weather here is just about perfect.

3 Responses

  1. Matt in Uptown

    That’s some crap criteria. Anyone notice that the list basically says liberal cities suck and conservative city/suburbs rule? Ya, that’s crap. WalletHub are the same yahoos that rated SF’s climate better than Oakland’s!

    It’s time to make a list of the best and worst list makers.

  2. Jack

    Hahaha, classic: “The bottom half of the results of our study consists of cities [that] tend to have some of the highest home values” — this from their “financial writer” no less. You’d think a guy with that title would maybe understand what prices mean.


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