Is your town affordable?

April 11, 2014 

The news release, which arrived via email, said Clayton ranked in the Top 10 in affordability among North Carolina towns with more than 10,000 people. Smithfield wasn’t far behind, ranking 14th.

It’s tempting to see affordability as a feather in a town’s cap, and in many ways it is. But numbers often tell more than one story, and so it is with the affordability rankings released this week by Movoto Real Estate, a national online real estate brokerage.

An affordable town should have affordable utilities, right? Apparently not. While Clayton ranked ninth and Smithfield ranked 14th in overall affordability, their utilities tied for 66th, near the bottom of the towns surveyed. That’s no surprise, by the way, because both towns own and operate debt-laden electric systems.

The Johnston towns fared much better in the miscellaneous category, which looked at the cost of restaurants, repairs, entertainment and clothing. In that category, Clayton and Smithfield tied for fifth. That’s good to know, because when it came to income divided by the cost of living, neither town approached the Top 10. Clayton ranked 30th, and Smithfield was a disappointing 56th, suggesting that at the end of the work week, many Clayton and Smithfield families don’t have a lot of money left over to spend on low-cost restaurants, entertainment and clothing.

From the numbers, it is also possible to draw comparisons between Clayton and Smithfield. They were comparable in overall affordability and tied in utilities and miscellany. But when it came to median home price, Smithfield fared twice as better as Clayton, with the towns ranking 22nd and 43rd, respectively.

That’s a feather in Smithfield’s cap, right? Yes and no. For a young family or retired couple looking for a place to settle, Smithfield is clearly more affordable than its neighbor 12 miles to the west. But if demand drives prices higher, and it surely does, then Clayton is a more desirable town. One reason, no doubt, is Clayton’s relative proximity to Raleigh, though the U.S. 70 bypass of Clayton has brought Smithfield much closer to the Triangle. A challenge for Smithfield leaders is to figure out what else about Clayton makes its housing more desirable.

Movoto Real Estate no doubt released its affordability report, in part, to generate some publicity for itself, and that’s fine. Its numbers show that many factors make up affordability, and not all of those factors cast Smithfield and Clayton in an attractive light. The challenge for policymakers in both towns is to make their towns even more affordable.

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