Bankrate’s Housing Heat Index: Which state real estate markets are doing the best, worst during the coronavirus boom?

Before the coronavirus recession, Utah’s housing market was on fire. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which sent residents of Northern California and Seattle in search of affordable homes and more space, and an already-hot market grew hotter.

Dave Robison, president of the Utah Association of Realtors, sums up the activity simply. “It’s insane,” says Robison, a real estate broker in Salt Lake City.

His assessment isn’t just salesmanship. Utah home prices have been soaring as Californians stream into the state. Utah boasts the nation’s strongest pace of job growth, along with rock-bottom unemployment, few mortgage delinquencies and low state and local taxes.

All those factors pushed Utah into first place in Bankrate’s Housing Heat Index for the fourth quarter of 2020. Residential real estate has boomed during the coronavirus recession, and Utah has emerged as a particularly desirable market.

Other states in the Mountain time zone also are thriving. Montana, Idaho and Arizona rank second, fourth and sixth, respectively, in Bankrate’s index.

At the opposite end of the list is Hawaii, a state that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its tourism industry has ground to a halt, and Hawaii’s jobs picture has darkened.

The 5 states with the hottest housing economies

The Housing Heat Index shows how states’ real estate markets are faring in the coronavirus-fueled housing boom, and how they might perform in the future. To calculate the ranking, Bankrate analyzed six data points: annual home price appreciation reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index; share of mortgages past due as reported by the Mortgage Bankers Association; unemployment and job growth from the U.S. Labor Department; the cost of living index from the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness; and state-by-state tax burdens as reported by the Tax Foundation.

These five states had the strongest housing economies in the fourth quarter of 2020:

  1. Utah – Its home values jumped 15.4 percent in the 12-month period that ended Dec. 31, third-best among U.S. states, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Utah posted the second-strongest job growth in the nation from December 2019 to December 2020, according to a Bankrate analysis of Labor Department data. And its tax burden is among the lowest in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation.
  2. Montana – Home prices rose 15.5 percent in the past year, and Montana has the nation’s lowest level of past-due mortgage payments, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
  3. Nebraska – A state not usually associated with housing booms, Nebraska had the nation’s lowest unemployment in December, at just 3 percent. Its home price appreciation was a robust 12 percent for the year.
  4. Idaho – Idaho’s home prices have been the hottest in the nation, soaring 21.1 percent in the year ending Dec. 31. And job growth is the strongest in the country. However, Idaho’s overall ranking was tempered by middle-of-the pack readings for cost of living and taxes.
  5. Indiana – The state’s home prices jumped 12.3 percent in 2021, and its tax burden is the ninth-lowest in the nation.

The 5 states with the coolest housing economies

As a nationwide housing boom rages, every state saw property values increase during the 12 months that ended in December. However, some state economies are struggling with weak job growth and other challenges. The bottom 5 on our index:

  1. Illinois – High unemployment and tepid price appreciation placed Illinois near the bottom of the pack.
  2. Louisiana – It ranks worst in past-due loans, with nearly 11 percent of homeowners behind on their mortgage payments. Louisiana also fares poorly on price appreciation, job growth and tax burden.
  3. New York – Hit hard by the pandemic, New York is facing a number of headwinds. It ranks near the bottom in job growth, unemployment, tax burden and past-due loans.
  4. Washington, D.C. – The district ranked last in home price appreciation, with an increase of just 1.5 percent for the year. The city also ranked last in cost of living, and near the bottom in unemployment.
  5. Hawaii – This tourism-dependent state ranks dead last in job growth and unemployment and near the bottom in price appreciation. “The overall picture is one of a very weak economy,” says Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.