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The Worst Places To Buy a Home During the Pandemic — and Where To Invest Instead

Joel Anderson
·14 min read

Location, location, location. Americans have heard that expression about real estate for years. But as we’ve learned over the past six months, the phrase also applies to public health, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In some corners of the United States, the coronavirus has infected thousands of residents per county. In other areas, the cases have been few.

In some counties, the pandemic forced local businesses to shutter for months, furloughing or laying off employees, and creating a jolt to the local economy. At the same time, many areas experienced a drop in home values or a significant slowdown in real estate.

If you’re looking to buy a home, some counties present a more favorable option in terms of both a low COVID-19 infection rate and the potential for a high return on your real estate investment. GOBankingRates looked at counties in the United States with more than 70,000 residents to determine which ones had the greatest challenges both medically and financially — then, using the numbers, located another county in the same state that might better be suited for settling down. A little maneuvering can put you in the right home in a place where the coronavirus is much less of a danger.

Here’s a closer look at some places where the virus is running rampant, and the alternatives where the economy is likely much closer to fully reopening.

Last updated: Sept. 21, 2020

Don't Buy a Home in McKinley County, New Mexico

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 5,947

  • 1-year home value change: 4.64%

  • 5-year home value change: 16.94%

In the metro area of Gallup, New Mexico, coronavirus cases are at nearly 6,000 cases per 100,000 people, making it a hotspot for the virus. Additionally, home values have increased over the past five years, but they remain low by national standards at an average $169,606.

Instead, Choose Sandoval County, New Mexico

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 860

  • 1-year home value change: 10.48%

  • 5-year home value change: 30.71%

Things are looking sunny in Albuquerque, where cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents stand at a relatively low 860. Also, the five-year change in home values is nearly double that of Gallup at an impressive 30.71%. Note, though, that you’ll have to spend a little more for a house in Sandoval County, where the average home value is $231,674.

Don't Buy a Home in Imperial County, California

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 6,101

  • 1-year home value change: 3.54%

  • 5-year home value change: 26.81%

Just over 6% of Imperial County residents have contracted COVID-19, making it the county with the highest infection rate in this study. And while the growth in home values over the past five years is large, it’s also possible that local real estate could take a hit in the face of such serious public health issues.

Instead, Choose Yuba County, California

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,293

  • 1-year home value change: 6.88%

  • 5-year home value change: 50.54%

With an infection rate of less than a quarter of Imperial County and a growth rate in home values that roughly doubles that of the El Centro area, Yuba County, in the Central Valley, could be a much better option for home shoppers in the Golden State.

Find Out: The Most Expensive Suburbs in Every State

Don't Buy a Home in Webb County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 4,385

  • 1-year home value change: -4.23%

  • 5-year home value change: 6.42%

This border county’s infection rate of about 4.4% is troublingly high. And with home values slumping over 4% last year, this might be one market you should stay away from unless you’re really just in love with the Laredo area.

Instead, Choose Hunt County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,490

  • 1-year home value change: 6.76%

  • 5-year home value change: 47.37%

Hunt County encapsulates much of the Dallas-Fort Worth area and clearly offers a much better return on your investment. But, more importantly, an infection rate under 1.5% in a densely populated metro area points to local health officials doing something right.

Don't Buy a Home in Miami-Dade County, Florida

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 5,964

  • 1-year home value change: 3.73%

  • 5-year home value change: 37.35%

Living near Miami probably appeals to homebuyers for a variety of reasons — think sand and sun for starters — so some might just be set on calling it home. However, if you’re relatively indifferent to the city, the numbers indicate you should look elsewhere as nearly 6% of county residents have had COVID-19.

Instead, Choose Hernando County, Florida

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,436

  • 1-year home value change: 9.21%

  • 5-year home value change: 61.87%

Living in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area offers a much lower chance of contracting COVID-19, at the moment, and a healthy growth in home values.

Check Out: 45 Great Cities With Shockingly Cheap Real Estate

Don't Buy a Home in Walker County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 5,282

  • 1-year home value change: 2.18%

  • 5-year home value change: 29.92%

In another county where 1 in 20 residents has contracted the coronavirus, the average home price in the Huntsville metro area is $197,822.

Instead, Choose Johnson County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,471

  • 1-year home value change: 3.67%

  • 5-year home value change: 48.44%

Johnson County’s home values aren’t growing as fast as they were a few years ago, but the growth is fast enough to give you a return of another 20 percentage points over the next five years, at this rate. And if the lower rate of COVID-19 cases continues, it also could be much safer.

Don't Buy a Home in Yuma County, Arizona

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 5,772

  • 1-year home value change: 7.40%

  • 5-year home value change: 28.02%

Yuma’s one-year return on home values is actually quite good, but that also indicates that growth over the four years prior to that wasn’t so strong. And with 5.77% of residents dealing with COVID-19, now might not be the time to buy.

Instead, Choose Yavapai County, Arizona

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,008

  • 1-year home value change: 5.64%

  • 5-year home value change: 38.24%

The case rate for COVID-19 in Yavapai County is the slightest bit over 1%, while the one- and five-year returns on home value show that this is one area that could be on the rise.

Warning: 50 Housing Markets That Are Turning Ugly

Don't Buy a Home in Rockland County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 4,432

  • 1-year home value change: 0.30%

  • 5-year home value change: 11.89%

For Rockland County, home values have grown at under 2% a year over the past five years. But even by those standards, last year’s 0.30% was low.

Instead, Choose Niagara County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 793

  • 1-year home value change: 5.62%

  • 5-year home value change: 36.69%

Living near Niagara Falls, situated along the border with Canada, would be just part of the appeal here. You’re also looking at very low infection rates and a decent return on home value over the past five years.

Don't Buy a Home in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,848

  • 1-year home value change: -0.03%

  • 5-year home value change: 4.33%

If St. Landry Parish is the only place you ever envisioned living, you might not mind that homes haven’t been building much equity. However, you undoubtedly would be concerned about your family and your neighbors with nearly 4% of them suffering from COVID-19.

Instead, Choose Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,119

  • 1-year home value change: 1.64%

  • 5-year home value change: 12.22%

While home values are relatively stagnant in Terrebonne Parish, they’re a huge improvement on those in St. Landry Parish. Likewise, an infection rate of just over 3% is a higher rate than homebuyers would prefer, but they are better than those in St. Landry.

Don't Buy a Home in Cameron County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 5,096

  • 1-year home value change: 8.23%

  • 5-year home value change: 16.54%

If last year’s one-year spike in home values holds, the outlook in this Texas county could change. However, the past four years combined would be needed to match that rate, and the county’s infection rate is north of 5%.

Take a Look: Where Is the Best Neighborhood To Buy a Home in Your State?

Instead, Choose Grayson County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 1,158

  • 1-year home value change: 3.21%

  • 5-year home value change: 47.92%

Grayson County didn’t put up half the growth in home values last year that Cameron County did, but it more than doubles the growth over five years — and with a COVID-19 infection rate barely over 1%.

Don't Buy a Home in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,698

  • 1-year home value change: -0.27%

  • 5-year home value change: 6.76%

Last year’s slip in home prices can’t have been welcome, given the sluggish rate of growth that preceded it. And, with more than 3.5% of the county dealing with COVID-19, there could be more trouble ahead.

Instead, Choose Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,890

  • 1-year home value change: 5.43%

  • 5-year home value change: 25.57%

Jefferson Parish is home to much of the greater New Orleans area, so you can live near one of America’s most historic and culturally significant cities while avoiding areas of Louisiana that have a higher rate of the coronavirus and a lesser return on real estate.

Don't Buy a Home in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,442

  • 1-year home value change: -3.61%

  • 5-year home value change: 9.96%

That ugly 3.5%-plus drop in home values hurts the case for Lafourche Parish, but the nearly 3.5% infection rate of COVID-19 might be the bigger issue.

Instead, Choose Bossier Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 2,232

  • 1-year home value change: -0.79%

  • 5-year home value change: 3.63%

While property owners in Bossier Parish lost money last year, it was a small slip compared to the bigger loss in Lafourche Parish. And while the five-year growth rate doesn’t compare favorably, the number of COVID-19 cases per capita definitely does.

Don't Buy a Home in Westchester County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,857

  • 1-year home value change: 1.46%

  • 5-year home value change: 7.22%

This county near the Big Apple is suffering from the inverse of what you want — relatively high rates of coronavirus infections and relatively low growth in home values. Plus, it’s the most expensive locale in our study, with an average home price of $665,244.

Read More: These Are the 50 Best Cities for Gen Z To Live Well on a Budget

Instead, Choose Chautauqua County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 376

  • 1-year home value change: 7.34%

  • 5-year home value change: 24.10%

You’ll find a very low number of COVID-19 cases in Chautauqua County, located in Western New York, along with a strong growth in home prices last year. Lucille Ball was born in the county, and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum is located in Jamestown.

Don't Buy a Home in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,680

  • 1-year home value change: -1.73%

  • 5-year home value change: 13.25%

Louisiana is one state where the struggle with the coronavirus has had a devastating impact. Throw in the anemic growth in home values across much of the state, and there’s a lot of reason to avoid parishes such as Calcasieu.

Instead, Choose Ascension Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 2,744

  • 1-year home value change: 3.69%

  • 5-year home value change: 10.07%

While many parishes in Louisiana have a lot of red flags, there are others where the same problems are present but less prominent. Ascension Parish, where infection rates are under 2.8%, is one of them.

Don't Buy a Home in Iberia Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,954

  • 1-year home value change: 1.16%

  • 5-year home value change: 12.53%

The rate of infection in Iberia Parish is just shy of 4%. On top of that, the growth in home values barely cleared 1% last year.

Instead, Choose Livingston Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 2,482

  • 1-year home value change: 4.17%

  • 5-year home value change: 14.76%

Livingston Parish saw homes grow in value by almost four times that of Iberia Parish in the past year, and the rate of COVID-19 infections is under 2.5%.

Don't Buy a Home in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 3,462

  • 1-year home value change: 2.04%

  • 5-year home value change: -0.01%

The last of the six Louisiana areas in the study, Lafayette Parish is struggling with the coronavirus with an infection rate approaching 3.5%. A drop in home values over the past five years does nothing to brighten spirits.

Instead, Choose St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 2,458

  • 1-year home value change: 5.63%

  • 5-year home value change: 11.71%

If you live in St. Tammany Parish, you will reside in the New Orleans area. You’ll still live near the city that invented jazz but also experience lower COVID-19 infection rates and higher growth in your home values than in much of the rest of the state.

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: To find the worst places to buy a home during the pandemic and where to look instead, GOBankingRates looked at all U.S. counties with a population over 70,000 as sourced from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. With these counties isolated, GOBankingRates looked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s United States COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by County tracker, with data provided by USA Facts, and found the following factors: (1) total cases of COVID-19 in the county; (2) percentage of state’s cases accounted for by the county; (3) COVID-19 cases per 100,000 county residents; and (4) total deaths from COVID-19 in the county. GOBankingRates then used Zillow data to find each county’s (5) July 2020 single-family Residence home value; (6) July 2019 single-family residence home value; (7) July 2015 single-family residence home value; (8) one-year change in home value (%); and (9) five-year change in home value. To determine rankings, GOBankingRates scored factors (3), (8) and (9) and ranked counties on their combined score, with the highest score being the worst places to buy a home and the lowest scores (within the same state) being where to look instead. Factor (3) was weighted double for the final ranking. All data was collected on and up to date as of Sept. 9, 2020.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: The Worst Places To Buy a Home During the Pandemic — and Where To Invest Instead