Sun Belt real estate: Stats and trends for 2021

The Sun Belt runs from one side of the country to the other, encompassing 13 states and home to over 144 million residents. 

Some of the fastest-growing cities are in the Sun Belt, with both residents and investors drawn to the region’s temperate climate, affordable cost of living, and often low tax rates.

Real estate is all about location, location, location, and the Sun Belt has plenty to offer. In many Sun Belt real estate markets, both home values and rent prices have increased by double-digits over the past year, two important metrics that matter to rental property investors.


Key takeaways

  • Large metropolitan centers in the Sun Belt region include Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Orlando, and Tampa.
  • Many real estate markets in the Sun Belt still have relatively affordable home prices compared to major East and West Coast markets.
  • Fourteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities are located in the Sun Belt, including Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and San Antonio.
  • Many Sun Belt real estate markets have seen both home values and rent prices increase by double-digits over the past year.

 

 

What states are in the Sun Belt?

The Sun Belt spans around the southern half of the U.S. from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, roughly south of the 38th parallel. While the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t classify the Sun Belt as a Region, parts of the West and South Census Regions make up the Sun Belt.

Sun Belt states are known for their semi-desert, Mediterranean, and tropical climates, as well as the plentiful amounts of sunshine received throughout the year. 

States in the Sun Belt

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah

Largest cities in the Sun Belt

  • Atlanta
  • Austin
  • Charlotte
  • Dallas-Fort Worth
  • Houston
  • Jacksonville
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix
  • Riverside-San Bernardino
  • Sacramento
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Tampa

 

sunbelt

Population & economy of the Sun Belt

Over 144 million people live in the Sun Belt, with California, Texas, and Florida home to the largest populations. The most populous metro areas in the Sun Belt include Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

A little over 50 years ago, less than one-half of the U.S. population resided in the Sun Belt. Today, the Sun Belt comprises about 62% of the country’s population, according to the Brookings Institution.

Over the last 10 years, Sun Belt states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Texas have seen population growth of 10% or more. In fact, the Sun Belt is home to 14 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the United States including:

  • Austin
  • Charlotte
  • Fort Worth
  • Jacksonville
  • Las Vegas
  • Miami
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego

In addition to robust population growth, economic growth is another fundamental that real estate investors look for, and the Sun Belt continues to deliver. Southern and western cities in Arizona, Florida, and Utah are among the cities that have gained the most jobs since the pandemic.

Local governments and states with low property and income tax rates continue to attract both residents and employers alike. As a recent report from SmartAsset notes, millennials tend to flock to states with no income tax, such as Florida, Nevada, and Texas. In fact, these states were among those with the highest net migration of millennials in 2018.

Pro-growth Sun Belt states where the cost of living is lower than the national average are also home to some of the best cities for jobs. According to WalletHub’s recent Best Cities for Jobs report, several Sun Belt cities were ranked among the top 25 cities for finding a new or better job:

Universities in the Sun Belt consistently rank among the top universities in the country, and are well-known for their world-class engineering and technology programs, and top-of-the line STEM programs. 

Major public and private universities and colleges in the Sun Belt include Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, Wake Forest University, Duke University, and Rice University in Houston.

 

Why investors are interested in Sun Belt real estate

In addition to strong population growth and thriving economies, real estate investors like investing in the Sun Belt because real estate is relatively affordable and homes may be less expensive to maintain. 

As the U.S. Development Opportunities 2021 report from CBRE Research reveals, eight of the 10 lowest-cost markets for real estate development are located in the Sun Belt:

  • Orlando
  • San Antonio
  • Jacksonville
  • Phoenix
  • Dallas
  • Raleigh
  • Tucson
  • Atlanta

In Orlando, for example, the market-leading population growth and retail spending are driving the demand for additional housing. But it’s not just well-known cities in the Sun Belt that are seeing strong demand for housing.

According to the July 2021 Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Housing Markets Index, smaller real estate markets in the Sun Belt continue to rank well:

 

Atlanta skyline

10 Sun Belt real estate markets to consider

The Sun Belt is home to more than 144 million people living in 13 states, from metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Phoenix, to smaller secondary and tertiary markets like Salt Lake City, Waco, and Huntsville.

Investors thinking about purchasing rental property in the Sun Belt will find that there are plenty of real estate markets to choose from. To help get the search started, here are ten real estate markets in the Sun Belt worth taking a look at, listed in alphabetical order.

(Data cited below came from Data USA, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Realtor.comRENTCafé, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Zillow, and Zumper as of July/August 2021. Growth statistics are year-over-year, except for GDP which is growth over 10 years.)

Atlanta, GA

  • Population: 6,018,744
  • Population growth: 11.4%
  • GDP: $422 billion
  • GDP growth: 62%
  • Employment growth: 1.06%
  • Unemployment: 3.2%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $346,087
  • Home value growth: 14.0%
  • Median listing price: $393,000
  • Median sales price: $347,500
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $2,347
  • Rent growth: 21%
  • Renter-occupied households: 57%
  • Per capita income: $37,331
  • Median household income: $71,742
  • Median age: 36.8

Charlotte, NC

  • Population: 2,636,883
  • Population growth: 2.63%
  • GDP: $178 billion 
  • GDP growth: 60%
  • Employment growth: 3.77%
  • Unemployment: 4.4%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $326,870
  • Home value growth: 22.6%
  • Median listing price: $364,000
  • Median sales price: $352,500
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $1,815
  • Rent growth: 13%
  • Renter-occupied households: 41%
  • Per capita income: $36,374
  • Median household income: $66,399
  • Median age: 37.7 

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

  • Population: 7,573,136
  • Population growth: 0.44%
  • GDP: $524 billion
  • GDP growth: 62%
  • Employment growth: 0.96%
  • Unemployment: 5.3%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $320,045
  • Home value growth: 21.0%
  • Median listing price: $449,200
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $2,350
  • Rent growth: 18%
  • Renter-occupied households: 43%
  • Per capita income: $36,274
  • Median household income: $72,265
  • Median age: 35.2

Huntsville, AL

  • Population: 471,824
  • Population growth: 1.97%
  • GDP: $26 billion
  • GDP growth: 24%
  • Employment growth: 3.92%
  • Unemployment: 2.5%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $235,633
  • Home value growth: 19.9%
  • Median listing price: $275,000
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $1,415
  • Rent growth: 29%
  • Renter-occupied households: 42%
  • Per capita income: $35,357
  • Median household income: $67,157
  • Median age: 38.6

Las Vegas, NV

  • Population: 2,266,715
  • Population growth: 1.57%
  • GDP: $128.5 billion
  • GDP growth: 49%
  • Employment growth: 2.86%
  • Unemployment: 9.4%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $364,752
  • Home value growth: 23.3%
  • Median listing price: $375,000
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $1,995
  • Rent growth: 25%
  • Renter-occupied households: 37%
  • Per capita income: $32,511
  • Median household income: $62,107
  • Median age: 37.7

Phoenix, AZ

  • Population: 4,948,203
  • Population growth: 1.86%
  • GDP: $272 billion
  • GDP growth: 57%
  • Employment growth: 2.83%
  • Unemployment: 5.8%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $369,661
  • Home value growth: 32.1%
  • Median listing price: $405,000
  • Median sales price: $390,000
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $2,125
  • Rent growth: 20%
  • Renter-occupied households: 36%
  • Per capita income: $34,074
  • Median household income: $67,896
  • Median age: 37.2

Plano, TX

  • Population: 285,849
  • Population growth: -0.67%
  • GDP $524 billion: (part of Dallas-Fort Worth MSA)
  • GDP growth: 62%
  • Employment growth: 1.33%
  • Unemployment: 5.2%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $437,915
  • Home value growth: 24.1%
  • Median listing price: $445,000
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $2,250
  • Rent growth: 18%
  • Renter-occupied households: 28%
  • Per capita income: $48,957
  • Median household income: $93,321
  • Median age: 39.4

San Antonio, TX

  • Population: 2,550,960
  • Population growth: 1.31%
  • GDP: $129 billion
  • GDP growth: 63%
  • Employment growth: 5.25%
  • Unemployment: 5.4%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $232,885
  • Home value growth: 19.0%
  • Median listing price: $275,000
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $1,699
  • Rent growth: 14%
  • Renter-occupied households: 36%
  • Per capita income: $29,802
  • Median household income: $62,355
  • Median age: 35

Tampa, FL

  • Population: 3,194,831
  • Population growth: 1.66%
  • GDP: $169 billion
  • GDP growth: 48%
  • Employment growth: 3.26%
  • Unemployment: 4.7%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $303,374
  • Home value growth: 25.9%
  • Median listing price: $350,000
  • Median sales price: $350,000
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $2,150
  • Rent growth: 20%
  • Renter-occupied households: 44%
  • Per capita income: $33,116
  • Median household income: $57,906
  • Median age: 42.2

Waco, TX

  • Population: 270,868
  • Population growth: 0.11%
  • GDP: $13.6 billion
  • GDP growth: 56%
  • Employment growth: -1.18%
  • Unemployment: 5.1%
  • Zillow Home Value Index: $182,229
  • Home value growth: 20.6%
  • Median listing price: $235,000
  • Median sales price: (currently unavailable)
  • Median rent 3-bedroom home: $1,495
  • Rent growth: 26%
  • Renter-occupied households: 41%
  • Per capita income: $25,448
  • Median household income: $50,368
  • Median age: 34.7

 

Final thoughts on Sun Belt markets

Sun Belt real estate markets are home to about 62% of the U.S. population, boasting robust job growth and growing populations. Cities in the Sun Belt range from major metros like Los Angeles, to smaller secondary markets like Salt Lake City, Charlotte, and Waco, Texas. Many housing markets in the Sun Belt have seen both home prices and rents increase by double-digits year-over-year, two key metrics that every rental property investor likes to see.

 

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This article, and the Roofstock Blog in general, is intended for informational and educational purposes only, and is not investment, tax, financial planning, legal, or real estate advice. Roofstock is not your advisor or agent. Please consult your own experts for advice in these areas. Although Roofstock provides information it believes to be accurate, Roofstock makes no representations or warranties about the accuracy or completeness of the information contained on this blog.
Jeff Rohde

Author

Jeff Rohde

Jeff has over 25 years of experience in all segments of the real estate industry including investing, brokerage, residential, commercial, and property management. While his real estate business runs on autopilot, he writes articles to help other investors grow and manage their real estate portfolios.

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