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The Worst Places To Buy a Home During the Pandemic — and Where To Invest Instead

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Location, location, location. Americans have heard that expression about real estate for years. But as we’ve learned over the past year, the phrase also applies to public health, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In some corners of the United States, the coronavirus has infected thousands of residents per county. In other areas, the cases have been comparatively few.

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In some counties, the pandemic forced local businesses to shutter for months, furloughing or laying off employees, and creating a jolt to the local economy. At the same time, many areas experienced a drop in home values or a significant slowdown in real estate.

If you’re looking to buy a home, some counties present a more favorable option in terms of both a low COVID-19 infection rate and the potential for a high return on your real estate investment. GOBankingRates looked at counties in the United States with more than 70,000 residents to determine which ones had the greatest challenges both medically and financially — then, using the numbers, located another county in the same state that might better be suited for settling down. A little maneuvering can put you in the right home in a place where the effects of COVID-19 haven’t been as great.

Here’s a closer look at some places where the virus has had a bigger impact, and the alternatives where the economic repercussions have been fewer.

Last updated: June 23, 2021

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Don’t Buy a Home in McKinley County, New Mexico

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 17,271
  • 1-year home value change: 7.01%
  • 5-year home value change: 22.06%

In the metro area of Gallup, New Mexico, coronavirus cases are at more than 17,000 cases per 100,000 people. While home values have increased over the past five years, they remain low by national standards at an average of $178,221.

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Instead, Choose Santa Fe County, New Mexico

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 6,926
  • 1-year home value change:  12.02%
  • 5-year home value change: 37.27%

Things are looking sunny in the Santa Fe area, where cases of coronavirus per 100,000 residents stand at 6,926 — one of the lowest in the study. Also, the five-year change in home values is considerably more than that of Gallup at an impressive 37.27%. Note, though, that you’ll have to spend a lot more for a house in Santa Fe County, where the average home value is $441,312.

See: The Cost To Own a 3-Bedroom Home in Every State

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Don’t Buy a Home in Webb County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 15,810
  • 1-year home value change: 1.45%
  • 5-year home value change: 17.96%

This border county has had nearly 44,000 COVID-19 cases. And with home values rising just 1.45 % over last year, this might be one market you should stay away from unless you’re really just in love with the Laredo area.

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Instead, Choose Travis County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 6,556
  • 1-year home value change: 26.28%
  • 5-year home value change: 52.07%

Travis County, Texas, is the home of Austin, one of the hottest real-estate markets in the country. with out-of-towners drawn by lower housing prices and lower taxes than areas such as New York. Home values have risen 52.07% over five years.

Find Out: The Most Expensive Suburbs in Every State

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Don’t Buy a Home in Miami-Dade County, Florida

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 18,350
  • 1-year home value change: 9.24%
  • 5-year home value change: 37.98%

Living near Miami probably appeals to homebuyers for a variety of reasons — think sand and sun for starters — so some might just be set on calling it home. However, if you’re relatively indifferent about where you live, the numbers indicate you should look elsewhere as more than 18% of county residents have had COVID-19 — the most in the study.

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Instead, Choose Hernando County, Florida

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 7,439
  • 1-year home value change: 18.71%
  • 5-year home value change: 70.43%

Living in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area has meant a much lower chance of contracting COVID-19, at the moment, and a big growth in home values.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 10,729
  • 1-year home value change: -12.23%
  • 5-year home value change: -9.67%

About 120 miles north of Anchorage is Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which has seen a virus infection rate of 10.7%. On top of that, home values are plunging, dropping 12.23% in the past year.

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Instead, Choose Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 8,090
  • 1-year home value change: 11.72%
  • 5-year home value change: 26.98%

Home values in Fairbanks North Star Borough continue to rise, and the average home now is valued at $257,322. The area has had fewer than 50 COVID-19 deaths — the lowest in the study.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Potter County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 14,912
  • 1-year home value change: 4.05%
  • 5-year home value change: 15.60%

Amarillo is the largest city in Potter County, located in North Texas. Nearly 15% of the population has had COVID-19. On the plus side, average home values are an affordable $107,898.

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Instead, Choose Williamson County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 7,873
  • 1-year home value change: 27.51%
  • 5-year home value change: 48.76%

Home values in Williamson County, just north of Travis County, grew at a higher percentage than Travis in the past year. Maybe that’s because average home values are $398,240 — significantly less than the $515,546 average to the south.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Richmond County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 15,527
  • 1-year home value change: 3.65%
  • 5-year home value change: 28.54%

Richmond County is more commonly known as Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City. Growth in home value slowed in the past year to 3.65%, but the average value still is just shy of $600,000, making it the priciest location in the study.

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Instead, Choose Ulster County, New York

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 7,793
  • 1-year home value change: 29.02%
  • 5-year home value change: 57.98%

Ulster County is in the Hudson River Valley, and its biggest city is Kingston.The county has more than 250,000 acres of woodlands and experienced a boom in home prices over the past year as residents left New York City during the pandemic.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 9,964
  • 1-year home value change: -10.36%
  • 5-year home value change: -7.27%

Lafourche Parish, in the southeastern portion of the state, suffered a double dose of bad news throughout the pandemic. Nearly 10% of the population was diagnosed with COVID-19, and home values dropped more than 10%.

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Instead, Choose Orleans Parish, Louisiana

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 7,792
  • 1-year home value change: 6.29%
  • 5-year home value change: 10.15%

The rate of COVID-19 cases in Orleans Parish, home of New Orleans, is about 7.8% and 2.2% lower than in Lafourche County. The home values have fared much better than those in Lafourche, too, rising 6.29% over the past year.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Lubbock County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 15,859
  • 1-year home value change: 9.93%
  • 5-year home value change: 28.68%

Home values increased nearly 10% over the past year in Lubbock County. However, the COVID-19 rate of 15.9% is on the high side.

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Instead, Choose Henderson County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 7,195
  • 1-year home value change: 24.66%
  • 5-year home value change: 36.56%

Henderson County is southeast of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area and has soaring — but still affordable — real estate prices.The average home value is $197,341, up from $158,305 a year ago.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Minnehaha County, South Dakota

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 16,392
  • 1-year home value change: 10.40%
  • 5-year home value change: 35.35%

Minnehaha County is the largest in South Dakota in terms of population, and it also had a double-digit increase in home values since 2020. However, the COVID-19 infection rate stands at 16.4%.

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Instead, Choose Pennington County, South Dakota

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 12,121
  • 1-year home value change: 15.31%
  • 5-year home value change: 36%

Pennington County home values rose 15.31 percent to an average of $262,329 in the past year. While its COVID-19 infection rate is lower than that of Minnehaha County, it is on the high side at 12.1%.

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Don’t Buy a Home in El Paso County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 16,191
  • 1-year home value change: 13.13%
  • 5-year home value change: 28.38%

Home prices in El Paso County gained 13.13% in the past year and 28.38% over five years to $155,658. Still, the infection rate of 16.2% is concerning.

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Instead, Choose Bell County, Texas

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 6,222
  • 1-year home value change: 14.43%
  • 5-year home value change: 40.13%

Bell County, in Central Texas, has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than any county in the study with a 6.2% infection rate. It’s proved to be a desirable location for homebuyers, with demand leading to a 40.13% increase in value over a five-year span.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Peoria County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 13,004
  • 1-year home value change: 5.88%
  • 5-year home value change: 3.83%

This county, the midpoint between Chicago and St. Louis, has been through the inverse of what you want — relatively high rates of coronavirus infections and a low five-year growth rate in home values. On the plus side, the average home value is $109,046.

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Instead, Choose McHenry County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 9,365
  • 1-year home value change: 12.68%
  • 5-year home value change: 28.39%

Lower infection rates and much higher home prices than in Peoria County can be found in McHenry County. Situated on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, the county boasts an increase in home values of nearly 30% over the past five years to $259,160.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Tazewell County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 12,950
  • 1-year home value change: 5.20%
  • 5-year home value change: 5.35%

Just east of Peoria County, across the Illinois River, is Tazewell County, and it shares many of the same characteristics as its neighbor. Its infection rate hovers near 13% and the appreciation in home values is flat. Homes are more expensive than in Peoria County, with an average value of $132,358.

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Instead, Choose DeKalb County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 9,510
  • 1-year home value change: 9.31%
  • 5-year home value change: 29.87%

DeKalb County is situated near the Wisconsin border and enjoys a COVID-19 rate of less than 10% and a nearly 30% gain in home value over the past five years. The average home value now is a few hundred short of $200,000.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Etowah County, Alabama

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 13,649
  • 1-year home value change: 2.48%
  • 5-year home value change: 23.51%

The rate of infection in Etowah County is 13.6%. On top of that, the growth in home values didn’t reach 2.5% last year after years with a steady increase.

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Instead, Choose Madison County, Alabama

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 9,462
  • 1-year home value change: 13.01%
  • 5-year home value change: 40.78%

Madison County saw home values rise by more than five times that of Etowah County in the past year, and the rate of COVID-19 infections is less than 10%.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Vermilion County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 12,956
  • 1-year home value change: 3.38%
  • 5-year home value change: 12.29%

The fifth Illinois county listed in the study, Vermillion has seen a minimal increase in property values over the past year, growing by just 3.38%. It has the lowest average home values on the list at $70,047, but the infection rate is approaching 13%.

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Instead, Choose Lake County, Illinois

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 9,722
  • 1-year home value change: 10.34%
  • 5-year home value change: 18.38%

Home values in Lake County, tucked in the northeastern corner of Illinois on the shores of Lake Michigan, jumped by 10.34% in the past year. The growth was driven in part by Chicago residents who either wanted to leave the city or find a bigger home where they could both live and work amid the pandemic, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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Don’t Buy a Home in Apache County, Arizona

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 15,848
  • 1-year home value change: 10.84%
  • 5-year home value change: 35.07%

Apache County is a long, narrow stretch on Arizona’s eastern boundary that touches the Four Corners of the United States. Home values made an impressive 35% gain in the past five years, but the infection rate is nearing 16%, placing it sixth highest in the study.

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Instead, Choose Yavapai County, Arizona

  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people: 8,142
  • 1-year home value change: 21.24%
  • 5-year home value change: 58.80%

The case rate for COVID-19 in Yavapai County is the slightest bit over 8%, while the one- and five-year returns on home value show that this is an area on the rise. Average home values are approaching $400,000

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Joel Anderson contributed to the reporting for this article.

Photo disclaimer: Images are for representational purposes only. 

Methodology: To find the worst places to buy a home during the pandemic and where to look instead, GOBankingRates looked at all U.S. counties with a population over 70,000 as sourced from USAFacts.org “US COVID-19 cases and deaths by state” dataset. With these counties isolated, GOBankingRates looked at the same USAFacts.org dataset, and found the following factors: (1) total cases of COVID-19 in the county; (2) COVID-19 cases per 100,000 county residents, and (3) total deaths from COVID-19 in the county. GOBankingRates then used Zillow data to find each county’s (4) April 2021 Single Family Residence home value; (5) April 2020 Single Family Residence home value; (6) April 2016 Single Family Residence home value; (7) 1-year change in home value (%); and (8) 5-year change in home value. To determine rankings, GOBankingRates scored factors (2), (7) and (8) and ranked counties on their combined score, with the highest score being the worst places to buy a home and the lowest scores (within the same state) being where to look instead. Low case numbers and large increases in home value were deemed desirable. Factor (2) was weighted double for the final ranking. All data was collected on May 25, 2021, and is up to date as of noon on May 23, 2021.