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How Rich You’d Be If You Bought a Home in These Cities 20 Years Ago

Barri Segal

Buying a house is still a relatively safe investment. Even if you don’t make a killing on a property when you sell it, you’ve at least made it a home for a number of years — and you likely won’t lose money from the sale.

Some real estate investments, however, have proven to be far more than safe. If you had invested in these cities 20 years ago — assuming you’ve paid off your home — you’d be sitting on a goldmine.

Using the following data from Zillow, GOBankingRates compiled a list of the 20 best cities to invest in real estate:

  • Median home price: Based off of the actual median listing price from the given area as of March 2019.
  • Median home value: Based off of Zillow’s estimate of the home values from the given area in March 1999 and March 2019.
  • 5-year rental income: An average of Zillow’s median rent prices per month from March 2014 to March 2019.

If you could go back in time, these cities would have been the best places to buy a house. Find out where you could have made a killing in the real estate market if only you had known better.

20. Milpitas, California

  • Median home price: $1,017,950
  • Median home value (1999): $308,500
  • Median home value (2019): $1,131,000
  • 20-year home value change: 266.6%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $709,450
  • 5-year rental income: $198,802

Milpitas is located in Santa Clara County, with San Jose to the south and Fremont to the north. Had you bought in this sleepy little town 20 years ago, you’d be on easy street today.

19. Somerville, Massachusetts

  • Median home price: $821,300
  • Median home value (1999): $197,100
  • Median home value (2019): $901,400
  • 20-year home value change: 357.3%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $624,200
  • 5-year rental income: $159,399

Somerville has really seen a surge in home values over the past 20 years — it ranked as the No. 1 most gentrified city in another GOBankingRates study.

18. Redondo Beach, California

  • Median home price: $1,149,000
  • Median home value (1999): $272,200
  • Median home value (2019): $1,208,800
  • 20-year home value change: 224.8%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $776,800
  • 5-year rental income: $223,935

Who doesn’t want to live by the beach? If you had the foresight to buy in Redondo Beach 20 years ago, you could take your profits and buy two homes in many other parts of the country.

17. Berkeley, California

  • Median home price: $950,000
  • Median home value (1999): $342,900
  • Median home value (2019): $1,265,900
  • 20-year home value change: 269.2%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $607,100
  • 5-year rental income: $221,583

Located just north of Oakland, home prices in Berkeley have surged dramatically over the past 20 years. The average change in home value during that time is a whopping $923,000.

16. Fremont, California

  • Median home price: $1,008,995
  • Median home value (1999): $295,800
  • Median home value (2019): $1,176,500
  • 20-year home value change: 297.7%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $713,195
  • 5-year rental income: $191,826

Imagine making almost 300% on your home investment in 20 years — if you bought in Fremont, you’d be living the dream, not just imagining it. This San Francisco Bay Area city also has one of the largest profits on homes.

15. Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Median home price: $899,000
  • Median home value (1999): $403,300
  • Median home value (2019): $1,592,600
  • 20-year home value change: 294.9%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $495,700
  • 5-year rental income: $187,784

Home to Harvard University, Cambridge was almost affordable in 1999. Today, you’d need more than three times what you paid to buy something comparable.

14. Hoboken, New Jersey

  • Median home price: $797,000
  • Median home value (1999): $417,400
  • Median home value (2019): $1,746,300
  • 20-year home value change: 318.4%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $379,600
  • 5-year rental income: $165,601

Hoboken is another major center of gentrification, and as a result, home values have skyrocketed. The average change in home value in the past 20 years is $1,328,900, which is among the highest in this study.

13. Encinitas, California

  • Median home price: $1,392,495
  • Median home value (1999): $343,500
  • Median home value (2019): $1,198,000
  • 20-year home value change: 248.8%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,048,995
  • 5-year rental income: $229,688

You’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in California in Encinitas, along with world-class surfing. But it doesn’t come cheap these days. If you bought your place back in 1999 and sold it today, you’d make over $1 million.

12. Santa Clara, California

  • Median home price: $1,199,500
  • Median home value (1999): $344,400
  • Median home value (2019): $1,396,100
  • 20-year home value change: 305.4%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $855,100
  • 5-year rental income: $211,937

Near San Jose in California’s Silicon Valley, Santa Clara is home to a number of tech companies. Despite the high home values, it still only ranks fourth among all cities in the San Jose metropolitan area in this study.

11. Arcadia, California

  • Median home price: $1,590,000
  • Median home value (1999): $360,100
  • Median home value (2019): $1,243,000
  • 20-year home value change: 245.2%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,229,900
  • 5-year rental income: $257,215

If you dreamed of making more than a million dollars on your home, Arcadia might be the place to do it. Located about 16 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, this city’s home prices have gone sky high in the last two decades.

10. San Mateo, California

  • Median home price: $1,370,944
  • Median home value (1999): $418,300
  • Median home value (2019): $1,513,500
  • 20-year home value change: 261.8%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $952,644
  • 5-year rental income: $246,788

South of San Francisco and north of San Jose, San Mateo offers the perks of big city life with a small town feel. But the real estate prices certainly aren’t small town — you’d make almost $1 million today by selling a home you bought in 1999.

9. San Francisco

  • Median home price: $1,299,000
  • Median home value (1999): $362,000
  • Median home value (2019): $1,421,100
  • 20-year home value change: 292.6%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $937,000
  • 5-year rental income: $251,019

This small city by the bay attracts a lot of people. Had you bought a home back in 1999, you could easily sell it today and fund your retirement. Given the lovely weather and city culture, however, you might just want to stay.

8. Brookline, Massachusetts

  • Median home price: $1,197,000
  • Median home value (1999): $589,200
  • Median home value (2019): $1,891,300
  • 20-year home value change: 221%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $607,800
  • 5-year rental income: $362,986

All of the Massachusetts cities on this list are in the Boston metro area, but Brookline and Cambridge were already on the pricey side in 1999. However, the five-year rental income you could have made from a property in Brookline was over $175,000 more than what you would have received in Cambridge.

7. Redwood City, California

  • Median home price: $1,548,500
  • Median home value (1999): $440,700
  • Median home value (2019): $1,688,200
  • 20-year home value change: 283.1%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,107,800
  • 5-year rental income: $265,061

Another San Francisco Bay Area city, Redwood City gets an average of 255 sunny days a year, so if you love warm weather, this is a great place to live. It’s also a great place if you bought a home here two decades ago — today, you’d be looking at a tidy profit of more than a $1 million.

6. Sunnyvale, California

  • Median home price: $1,500,000
  • Median home value (1999): $455,400
  • Median home value (2019): $1,886,500
  • 20-year home value change: 314.3%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,044,600
  • 5-year rental income: $237,333

Not surprisingly, Sunnyvale is another San Francisco Bay area city on the list. This should not come as a shock, given that the average home value has changed by $1,431,100.

5. Miami Beach, Florida

  • Median home price: $499,000
  • Median home value (1999): $315,700
  • Median home value (2019): $1,624,500
  • 20-year home value change: 414.6%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $183,300
  • 5-year rental income: $354,883

Miami Beach does have a median single-family home value of over $1.6 million, yet its low median list price means you won’t be getting much of a return if you sold the property. However, the 20-year growth in home value is huge, and high rents on average mean that the potential 5-year rental income is excellent.

4. Mountain View, California

  • Median home price: $1,679,880
  • Median home value (1999): $516,300
  • Median home value (2019): $2,224,300
  • 20-year home value change: 330.8%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,163,580
  • 5-year rental income: $270,871

With beautiful views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it’s no wonder real estate has gone up drastically in Mountain View. Not to mention that it’s home to Google and its 11,000 employees, among other prominent tech companies. It was a smart move to buy here in the 1990s.

3. Cupertino, California

  • Median home price: $2,080,000
  • Median home value (1999): $609,400
  • Median home value (2019): $2,294,600
  • 20-year home value change: 276.5%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,470,600
  • 5-year rental income: $289,602

Thanks to the explosion of the tech industry, property values in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley have appreciated greatly over the years. Cupertino is the foremost example of this. It’s one of only two cities on this list with a median home price of over $2 million.

2. Newport Beach, California

  • Median home price: $2,498,400
  • Median home value (1999): $695,900
  • Median home value (2019): $2,443,600
  • 20-year home value change: 251.1%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,802,500
  • 5-year rental income: $382,625

This coastal city in southern California is known for its large, boat-filled harbor and beautiful local beaches. And, of course, it’s expensive real estate, with the median home price coming in at nearly $2.5 million — the highest in this study.

1. Santa Monica, California

  • Median home price: $1,724,500
  • Median home value (1999): $608,900
  • Median home value (2019): $2,024,700
  • 20-year home value change: 332.5%
  • Net return if the home sold at current price: $1,115,600
  • 5-year rental income: $446,886

If you had bought a house in Santa Monica some 20 years ago and sold it now, you’d be pretty dang comfortable. Just think about what you could do with all of that money if you moved to another city or state.

How Rich You'd Be If You Bought a Home in These Cities 20 Years Ago

If you can’t afford to buy in one of these cities — thanks to their homes’ appreciation — consider renting. Or, think about looking outside the city and finding something a bit less expensive. However, make sure you research the area’s home values to see if they’re on an upward trend. If you have the means, you might even think about buying a home or condo and using it for a rental property, which could help fund your retirement.

However, if you already live in one of these 20 cities, and you’re ready to retire, you’re golden. You can sell your house now, take the money and run to a cheaper retirement locale — such as Arizona or Florida — or hang on and perhaps make even more in the near future. Whatever you decide, pay close attention to home values in your area, as well as the area’s you’re looking to retire so that you can get the most out of your money.

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Methodology: GOBankingRates generated the list of cities based on the following parameters: (1) median home value 20 years ago for single-family homes, sourced from Zillow’s March 1999 data; (2) median home value today for a single-family home, sourced from Zillow’s March 2019 data, and the 20-year change in single-family home values in terms of both: (3) absolute dollar amount and (4) percentage for all cities available in Zillow’s data; (5) median monthly rent, sourced from Zillow’s March 2019 data, was used to determine (6) approximate rental income a homeowner would earn over the five-year period from March 2014 to March 2019; and (7) median listing price or median sales price, depending on availability, sourced from Zillow’s March 2019 data, which was used to determine (8) the potential net return if the home was sold at current price. This study assumes the homebuyer has paid off owning the home since 1999. Factors were then scored and combined, with the lower score ranking higher, to give the final ranking.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How Rich You’d Be If You Bought a Home in These Cities 20 Years Ago