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Boulder real estate agent Tim Goodacre sees it on the faces of his clients all the time: sticker-shock.

It’s going to cost more than they thought to live the idyllic, walkable life they envisioned when they moved to the Colorado city.

“If they’re coming from the Midwest or other lower-income places, frankly they can get a little mad and irritated,” Goodacre said. “And I say, ‘well, you have to make your sacrifice.’ ”

Goodacre’s clients aren’t alone. While median-income buyers are paying a higher percentage of their paychecks than the national average (15.1%) for median-priced homes in New York, San Francisco and other historically expensive cities, they also have to put a larger portion of their income toward their house payments in college towns and vacation spots.

According to Zillow data, here are five places where home buyers may sacrifice affordability for the perks of living in areas others only visit.

Santa Cruz, CA

This home in Santa Cruz, for sale for $334,000, would be affordable for a median-income buyer.

This home in Santa Cruz, for sale for $334,000, would be affordable for a median-income buyer.

Median income: $63,574

Median mortgage payment: $2,314

Median percentage devoted to mortgage: 43.7 percent

In this boardwalk town at the north end of Monterey Bay, the median house payment is 43.7 percent of the median income. That’s more than in Los Angeles, San Francisco or Santa Barbara, and certainly a sign that prices are outpacing local salaries. Median-income homeowners spend 15 percent more on their house payments than they have historically.

But with 29 miles of coastline, Santa Cruz is a college town and surfer’s paradise at the foot of the Redwoods. Plus, it’s got personality — a counter-cultural history, with a burgeoning local-food movement and fashionable shops.

Napa, CA

At $310,000, this 2-bedroom, 1-bath home is affordable in Napa.

At $284,900, this 2-bedroom, 1-bath home is an affordable option in Napa.

Median income: $65,980

Median mortgage payment: $1,786

Median percentage devoted to mortgage: 32.5 percent

Land in this wine-producing valley is protected as farmland, which means a shortage of homes — especially in the range affordable for people making the median income.

Most buyers are wealthy, and they’re looking for second homes they can afford to buy with cash, said Jill Levy, an agent with Heritage Sotheby’s International Realty.

“They’re in a profession now where they can afford to buy anywhere,” Levy said. “Their primary reason for moving to Napa is a lifestyle choice.”

Ocean City, NJ

This beachfront condo has ocean views from the deck. At $279,900, it is affordable for the average buyer.

This beachfront condo has ocean views from the deck. At $279,900, it is affordable for buyers earning the area’s median income.

Median income: $54,177

Median mortgage payment: $1,263

Median percentage devoted to mortgage: 28 percent

In this shore town, everybody turns out with their folding chairs for the 4th of July parade.

“It’s like turning the clock back,” said Ed Hildebrandt.

He and his wife, Mary Kay, met at the local Chatter Box Restaurant when he was in college, then summered in Ocean City while they raised their four kids. Now retired, the couple bought a single-family home to live in full time. They anticipate visits from their grandkids.

The town is sentimental like that for a lot of buyers, said Ocean City real estate agent Cheryl Huber. Among the shore towns on the Jersey coast, Ocean City — an island — stands out as particularly family friendly. It’s a dry town with a community center, a boardwalk and miles of beach.

“As soon as they drive over the bridge, they start to feel relaxed, and they get excited,” Huber said.

Boulder,CO

This 604-square-foot condo is close to downtown Boulder and for sale for $297,000, which is affordable for a median-income buyer there.

This 604-square-foot condo is close to downtown Boulder and for sale for $265,000, which is affordable for a median-income buyer there.

Median income: $67,893

Median mortgage payment: $1,381

Median percentage devoted to mortgage: 24.4 percent

How about a foodie, family friendly college town in the mountains, with a vibrant downtown and boundless recreation? It sounds great to a lot of people, which is why buyers looking for a house in Boulder are willing to double-bunk the kids or give up having a dining room, Goodacre said.

“A million dollars is a ton of money for a house, right? But in Boulder, you’d be surprised what that gets you,” he said.

For a buyer making $67,893, the median-priced $350,000 home is a big stretch.

Bend, OR

This cottage on Bend's coveted West Side is $264,000, which is affordable for a Bend buyer who makes the median income.

This cottage on Bend’s coveted West Side is $264,000, which is affordable for a Bend buyer who makes the median income.

Median income: $49,564

Median mortgage payment: $957

Median percentage devoted to mortgage: 23.2 percent

This high-desert town is at the foot of Mount Bachelor, and the quaint downtown is minutes from hiking and mountain-biking trails.

“Most people, the first thing out of their mouth when they come to look for a house … they have this vision of being able to get a cup of coffee, go to the grocery store, take the kids to school — everything’s within walking or biking distance,” said Chris Sperry, an agent with Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty.

They soon learn that experience is going to cost them at least $300,000. Sperry said she has sold a lot of homes to telecommuters looking for a better quality of life. Locals who work in the service industry?

“Those are the people that aren’t going to be able to live in town,” she said.

Related:

Emily Heffter, a reporter and writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties, and other real estate topics. Read more of her work here.

About the Author

Emily Heffter writes about real estate trends and data for Zillow Blog.

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