Are you thinking about moving to Boise? You’re not alone. In 2018, Forbes found that Boise topped the nation in growth in 2017 with a 3.08 percent population increase.
Looking around the Boise metro area, it’s not hard to see why the City of Trees is turning heads. Surrounded by picturesque hills and snow-capped mountains, Boise has an outdoorsy vibe with enough metro-area culture and industry to please almost everyone. Commutes are short, outdoor recreation is plentiful, and amenities like the famous Boise River Greenbelt and expansive city parks have gained nationwide attention.
If you ask a new Boise transplant where they’re from, many of them will list places like southern California, western Oregon and Washington. Californians make up the highest percentage of new residents in Idaho, with newcomers from Washington coming in at the second highest of overall population influx. If you ask the reasons why they’re moving, you’ll hear the cost of living listed near the top.
CNBC ranked Boise as the sixth “cheapest” city in the U.S. in 2017, citing estimates of low energy bills and affordable housing. But what is the true cost of living in Boise? This elusive, ever-changing metric is highly sought after by curious potential home buyers when they’re considering a move. Boise’s cost of living is known to be low, but how does it stack up against other western population centers like Sacramento, Seattle, and Denver?
Boise Housing Costs
While it’s true that home and rent prices have soared in the Boise area over the past few years, they still remain significantly lower than other Northwestern population centers. For instance, Boise’s current median house costs a homeowner around $300,000, while Seattle’s median home price hit $820,000 in April of 2018, shattering previous records.
Boise’s home prices have increased by nearly 20% over the past year, but we are forecasting the Boise market is headed for more balance in the coming months—good news for all potential homebuyers.
Overall, Boise’s cost of living index is 96. That means the cost of living in Boise is around 4 percent lower than the U.S. average.
Boise’s cost of living looks downright dreamy for many individuals and families fleeing “pressure cooker” markets across the western United States. For instance, by comparison, Sacramento’s cost of living index comes in at 116, while Seattle’s index ranks at a whopping 159.
In both Sacramento and Seattle, housing prices are the main factor in an inflated cost of living. Seattle’s housing costs are indexed at 224, meaning a house in Seattle will cost you more than double what a Boise home will. So while Boise housing has increased in cost over the past several years, the market is still incredibly affordable compared to many other western cities.
Boise Utility Costs
Whether you’re planning to rent or buy, you’ll end up paying for energy and other utilities such as water, sewer, and garbage. The good news is that Idaho’s overall utilities cost consistently less than the national average. Boise’s utilities index is 94, meaning the city’s typical cost of services is 6% less than the national average. Here’s a brief breakdown of typical utility costs in Boise.
Electricity: According to electricitylocal.com, Boise’s electricity costs are around 28.03% less than the national average rate, meaning you might save on your electricity bill each month when you move to Boise.
Water: Water bills vary widely based on usage and the time of year. In the area's dry climate, watering your yard every summer is the time when you’re likely to see your water bill climb. In the summer, the average water bill in Boise is around $100 a month for a typical household. While in the winter months, you can expect to pay as little as $30-$40.
Internet and cable: Depending on your chosen package and speed, your internet bill could vary in Boise. Typical rates range from widely from around $20-$100.
Natural gas: In Idaho, natural gas is a widely available way to heat your home and cooking. Rates are affordable and even recently decreased.
Sewer: City sewer bills are calculated using a base rate plus usage or the number of occupants at a residence. An average monthly sewer bill may range from $25-$40.
Trash: The City of Boise provides garbage, recycling, and composting services to residents. A typical bill for regular use is around $20 per month.
The cost of groceries in Boise is ranked below the national average with a food cost index of 90. A typical date night dinner out for two will likely set you back around $40-$60. Boise’s growing number of restaurants and markets is also making affordable food options widely available.
In just the past few years, popular grocery chains have joined the Boise area such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Boise-based grocery chain Winco is a low-price leader in the area. On the other end of the spectrum, you will find Albertsons, also headquartered in Boise. Fred Meyers, Wal-Mart, and Costco also have sizable footprints in the Treasure Valley area, giving wide access to affordable and varied grocery options for area residents.
Boise’s public transportation system is limited, a reality that many residents and the city council are trying to address. However, there is a bus system with reasonable rates with limited valley-wide service. A year pass to the Valley Regional Transit System will set you back $266, with local single-ride fares as low as $1. Most rates are affordable and the transit system receives significant usage from Boise State University students and downtown office professionals.
On the other hand, commute times are short in Boise, making getting around more affordable than many areas of the country. Traffic is minimal, even around peak times of the workweek.
Gas prices in Boise tend to be similar to or a bit higher than the national average and change with demand on a somewhat small regional market, prompting many residents to bike or carpool to work. Boise is known for its active community and increasingly bike-friendly roads, making cycling a popular way to get to work within the downtown area.
Healthcare costs in Boise are slightly higher than the national average. Health care costs consider the standard daily rate for a hospital room, costs of a doctor's office visit, and a dental checkup. All things considered, Boise’s healthcare cost index is 3% higher than the national average.
Boise has the added benefit of broad access to healthcare facilities, including the currently-expanding St. Luke’s downtown campus and the St. Alphonsus medical group network of hospitals and healthcare providers. St. Luke’s is working to expand and improve their Children’s Hospital, while St. Alphonsus recently opened a new maternity center in Nampa.
Boise’s economy is booming, and with it comes an uptick in employment opportunities and wages. According to U.S. Census data, the median household income in Boise is $54,547, while the city saw 4.1% job growth in 2017. Forbes projects an annual job growth rate of 2.1% and household income increase of 3.2%.
Industries such as tech, government, business, and education continue to expand in the Boise area, with tech giants like Micron and HP employing thousands of area residents. As new talent from places like Silicon Valley and tech-saturated Seattle migrate to Boise, the inrush of opportunities in the technology startup sector will continue to increase.
Boise is famously business-friendly with low tax rates and little regulation, tempting large companies to choose the city for their headquarters and entrepreneurs to select Boise as a home for their startups.
Overall, the perception holds true: Boise is an affordable place to live, particularly in comparison to other metro areas in the west. Will it be the next place you call home? Contact us for help finding your dream home.
Lisa Kohl is a top Idaho Realtor and creator of WeKnowBoise.com. From Southeast Boise to The North End, up to Eagle and West to Meridian, or right in the middle of the Boise Bench and downtown - We Know Boise. Whether buying or selling a home, we provide full-service real estate solutions dedicated to helping our clients achieve their goals.
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Source: The Boise, Idaho cost of living index data referenced above is derived from the Council for Community & Economic Research (coli.org).