California ranks among the top three states in this country with the least affordable housing markets and highest cost of living. Inexpensive real estate and affordable housing are available; but the true value and expense of "cheap" property varies in relation to the available jobs, resources and relative safety of each locale.
Inexpensive housing can be found in the metropolitan areas in and around Sacramento, Modesto and Los Angeles, though often in exchange for long commutes and/or higher crime rates. Parts of north and southeastern California (including Modoc, Glenn and Yuba counties to the north and Kern and Kings county to the south) offer homeowners the lowest price per square foot statewide. Glamorous locations such as San Francisco, San Diego and Beverly Hills are the most expensive places to live in California.
According to statistical listings by City-Data.com, the median home price in Yuba, Kings, Kern and Glenn counties falls between $100,000 and $200,000. The cost of living in each of these counties is below the national average: Index figures range from 88.4 in Kings and 89.9 in Kern to 91.8 in Glenn and 93.8 in Yuba, as compared to the index average of 100. The city of Modesto, located in Stanislaus County, is a more populous but similarly inexpensive area with a cost of living index of 99.9 and a median sales price of $120,000 as of 2009. Major urban areas such as Sacramento and Los Angeles are more expensive, with current median housing prices of $238,500 and $395,000, respectively.
Unemployment in the outlying and rural counties is above the state average of 7.2%, falling predominantly between 10% and 12%. By contrast, Sacramento and Los Angeles possess unemployment rates of only 7.2% and 7.5%, respectively. The limited opportunity for jobs outside agricultural, education, social service and government sectors can make meeting even a low cost of living something of a challenge in rural California. Commuting to urban centers is a common solution when local employment is limited, and is most practical in central areas like Modesto (located within 90 miles of both San Jose and San Francisco).
Purchasing a home in California's cheapest locales comes with its share of drawbacks. Inclement weather, wild animals, undeveloped resources and limited retail and recreation options are all features of rural life in northeastern California, potentially altering the true value of a low-cost property. On the other hand, its convenient location and myriad resources did not stop Modesto from ranking fifth amongst Forbes' "America's Most Miserable Cities" as a result of high crime and unemployment rates. In general, California's cheapest locations are also its least desirable, and thorough research is an advisable first step when considering apparent real estate bargains.
If you are willing to compromise when it comes to certain lifestyle factors and closely examine the true cost of a supposedly "cheap" home, you can find an affordable place to live in California and enjoy relative proximity to world-renowned beaches, national parks, metropolitan centers, skiing and surfing, wine country and more. Towns such as Eureka (in Humboldt County) and Murphys (in Calaveras County) offer a unique and quaint taste of California history and culture at an easy distance from Modoc and Yuba counties. In southeastern California, the beaches of Santa Barbara and the desert beauties of Joshua Tree National Park lie adjacent to Kern County and provide world-famous sightseeing and recreation opportunities.