This March, Forbes’ ranked the top 10 richest counties in the U.S. based on household median income for the most recent data available from the Census Bureau. Although high incomes are matched with high home prices in many of these counties, buyers are better able to afford the cost of new homes; the gainfully employed are able to pay for what they want. Who are the top builders catering to America’s elite? What does it take to buy a home in towns among the most affluent? Here, BUILDER takes a deeper look at home building and buying in counties across the country rolling in the dough.
According to Metrostudy 2013 data, trends among the richest counties include median incomes in the six-figure vicinity and similar affordability. With soaring demand in the D.C. metro area—a region hailed as a top destination for wealthy millennials—it’s no surprise that the wealthiest counties leading in the number of future subdivisions and high lot prices are in Virginia. The profile for each county shows 2013 data for the median costs and closings for new and existing homes combined, the top builders, and a county subdivision summary from Metrostudy Analytics and the new Builder Insight. Also included is the estimated 2013 population from the U.S. Census. Market data shows most of these county markets are booming with high numbers of closings despite high prices, confirming what we already know—go where the money is.
Forbes ranked Falls Church City No. 1 based on a 2014 median household income of $121,250. Technically of county-equivalent status although it often is considered a part of Fairfax County, Falls Church City boasts a closing price average just over $500,000 for 2013 despite the smallest living square foot average of the 10 richest counties. The town is just over 2 square miles but has three new subdivisions (which will be the city’s first) on the way, including an age-restricted condominium development by Centex Homes with 134 future properties. With just 28 land prospects currently listed in Falls Church, vacant lot shortage could confine the county’s new-home expansion and boost prices.
Loudoun comes in second with a median household income of $118,984. In his regional report, Ben Sage, Metrostudy’s regional director for the Mid-Atlantic, easily picked Loudoun County as the strongest market area in Northern Virginia with 3,869 starts in the first quarter. The county has more than 250 subdivisions and has among the highest median home prices in the state. Furthermore, Loudoun County is currently seeing lower vacant developed lot supply with about 14 months, only about half the supply in other counties.
With a Census population estimate just shy of 18,000, Los Alamos is a small county with big bucks at a household median income of $112,155, according to Forbes. Compared with the other counties in the top 10, Los Alamos offers the lowest average prices per square foot, and cheap land is not nearly as hard to come by than in counties neighboring big East Coast cities. Its low population density, however, doesn't lend itself to booming new-home market and there is very little housing activity.
Near D.C. on the northern side, Howard County has a median income of $108,234. Howard is host to more than 100 subdivisions, more than half of which are future subdivisions, marking major plans for growth in this upscale county. Currently, the top nine subdivisions by annual closings are townhouse or condominium developments, but coming in 10th is the single-family Waverly Woods subdivision by NV Homes with price tags just under $500,000 with 35 closings in the past year. More than 4,000 land prospects offer many future development opportunities for the county median home prices that soar higher than Baltimore and all other Maryland counties to the north.
With proximity to D.C., Fairfax County has a high median household income at $106,690, matched by high price tags for both new and existing homes. The 204 subdivisions across Fairfax are led by five townhouse and condominium developments in annual closings. NV Homes is the builder behind the highest annual closings single-family subdivision, Riverwood at Ferry Point in Alexandria, which closed 12 homes in the past year. Riverwood also has among the highest prices at $1.3 million to $2 million. Vacant land under 10,000 square feet in desirable locations in Fairfax County can cost millions, but some of the best-selling subdivisions offer condos under $200,000, showing a vast range for the wealthy county's market.
On the western side of New Jersey, Hunterdon County is home to a median household income of $103,301 and 40 subdivisions, 19 of which are future subdivisions. Flemington Fields and Estates, built by Hallmark Homes, leads annual closings in the past year for single-family subdivisions with five closings in the price range of $360,000 to $430,000. While median home price range falls in the $200,000s, Hunterdon is less expensive for home buyers than neighboring Somerset and Morris counties. With land prospects approaching 8,000 commercial and residential lots, there is plenty of opportunity for growth in the county that boasts proximity to both Philadelphia and New York City.
The small but densely populated county sitting just outside D.C. has a median household income of $99,255. A whopping 17 of the 26 subdivisions in Arlington County are future subdivisions displaying yet again the rapid expansion of the D.C. suburbs. Only one subdivision, Lacey Lane built by Evergreene Homes, is a single-family development in the urban county. Top-selling condominium and townhouse developments in the county range from less than one month housing supply to more than one year despite prices that creep toward $1 million. Arlington County’s median price range matches neighboring counties, including D.C. itself.
Of subdivisions in Douglas County, which surpass 200, slightly more than half are active. With a median household income close to six-figures and home prices more affordable than most of the wealthiest counties, Douglas County sold approximately one home per every 300 people. Single-family developments rule the top rates for annual closings by subdivision with Meritage Homes’ Meadows/Morningview leading in the northern half of the county with 188 annual closings in the $240,000 to $460,000 price range closer to Denver. Ryland Homes’ Kings Ridge leads the southern half toward Colorado Springs with 88 annual closings in the $290,000 to $370,000 price range. Compared with neighboring counties, Douglas is on par with median home prices in Denver but climbs above the counties to the south that border the Colorado Springs area.
With a median income of $95,927 and home to 166 subdivisions, more than half of them future, the Northern Virginia county is a wealthy one on the rise. Colonial Forge (also known as Augustine South) leads single-family subdivisions with 88 annual closings from Augustine, Beazer, and Drees Homes in the $355,000 to $491,000 price range. While the median residential home sale price is steeper than the counties that lie farther south, Stafford offers more bang for your buck than those counties directly bordering D.C.
A short distance from New York City with a median income of $95,574, Somerset County has plans for expansion with 23 future subdivisions of 47 total. Single-family subdivisions lead the county in annual starts and closings. Country Classics at Hillborough, built and developed by Country Classics, is at the top with 32 annual closings. The price tags range from $692,000 to $810,000, higher than the median price but not unreasonable for new homes. Compared with other New Jersey counties, Somerset experiences some of the highest median home prices in the state with prices higher than any of its neighboring counties other than Morris County.