Housing Affordability for a Mid-Career Architect

I decided to do a little experiment to see what kind of home a mid-career registered architect can afford in ten various cities I've lived in.

A few assumptions:

Base salary figures are based on Architect 2 (registered architect with 8+ years experience) job description from the 2015 AIA Compensation Report. If salary information for an specific city isn't available, the statewide information is used.

I also assume a single income with no kids. If you're married to somebody who also works full-time, that greatly increases what you can afford to spend on housing. If you start making babies, your household expenses increase dramatically.

Housing affordability is based upon the USAA affordability calculator, and assumes $600 in monthly debt (including any combination of student loan payments, car payments, credit card payments, etc.), 4.5% APR, and a 5% down payment in every city except New York*. HOA dues, if applicable, are not included. 


* In NYC, due to the fact that the vast majority of apartments for purchase are co-ops rather than condominiums, a 20% down payment is assumed. Co-ops typically require 20% down, have higher monthly HOA dues, and have much stricter credit history requirements.

Job description for an Architect 2, from the 2015 AIA Compensation Report:

Now for what that gets you in terms of housing:

Cincinnati, OH
Annual Base Pay: $68,200
Maximum housing affordability: $248,500
Down payment: $12,420 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1730

Shown here: 3 bed / 2.5 bath, Northside
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 23 minutes (bus)

Asheville, NC
Annual Base Pay: $74,900
Maximum housing affordability: $281,300
Down payment: $14,070 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1959

Shown here: 3 bed / 3 bath, West Asheville
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 15 minutes (bus)

Jacksonville, FL
Annual Base Pay: $68,200
Maximum housing affordability: $248,500
Down payment: $12,420 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1730

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, San Marco
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 28 minutes (bus)

Chicago, IL
Annual Base Pay: $75,400
Maximum housing affordability: $283,800
Down payment: $14,190 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1976 + HOA

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Near North Side
Commute time to State / Madison via public transit: 13 minutes (Red Line subway)

Boston, MA
Annual Base Pay: $75,400
Maximum housing affordability: $283,800
Down payment: $14,190 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1976 + HOA

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, Jamaica Plain
Commute time to Downtown Crossing via public transit: 27 minutes (Orange Line subway)

Philadelphia, PA
Annual Base Pay: $73,400
Maximum housing affordability: $274,000
Down payment: $13,700 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1908 + HOA

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Society Hill (designed by I. M. Pei!)
Commute time to City Hall via public transit: 15 minutes (Market-Frankfort subway)

New York, NY
Annual Base Pay: $82,500
Maximum housing affordability: $376,900
Down payment: $75,380 (20%)
Monthly payment: $2219 + HOA

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Inwood (co-op)
Commute time to Lower Manhattan via public transit: 49 minutes (A train subway)

Los Angeles, CA
Annual Base Pay: $78,900
Maximum housing affordability: $301,000
Down payment: $15,050 (5%)
Monthly payment: $2096 + HOA

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, Mid-Wilshire
Commute time to Pershing Square via public transit: 18 minutes (bus)

Seattle, WA
Annual Base Pay: $74,400
Maximum housing affordability: $278,900
Down payment: $13,940 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1942 + HOA

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, Northgate
Commute time to Pioneer Square via public transit: 32 minutes (bus). (15 minutes after Northgate light rail station opens nearby in 2021.)

Mar 14, 17 7:07 pm

Also, keep in mind that I picked example real estate listings that had list prices close to the maximum affordability figure, and had the most reasonable commute times on public transit. Some, but not all, cities have much cheaper options. Of course, these involve trade-offs in terms of size, condition, neighborhood, commute distance, etc.

Mar 14, 17 7:23 pm

Nice thread, David.


$260,000 in Asheville - on 1/2 acre

Mar 14, 17 7:40 pm

That looks almost exactly like the Asheville house my family lived in for a couple years when I was a kid. If somebody put a gun to my head and forced me to live somewhere in the South, I'd probably head to Asheville.

I'm sure my parents didn't pay anywhere near $260k for it, though. This was in the mid-1980s and Asheville was still a dumpy little mountain town with a depressed economy at that time, rather than the mini-Portland it's become lately.


Asheville has become a hot spot for retirees fleeing the urban northeast in the last few years. That has put an upward pressure on house prices. If you were to rent here and really look around for a while I am sure you could equal or do better than this. As the original Thomas Wolfe, an Asheville native, said: "Look Homeward Angel" 

Mar 14, 17 7:57 pm

He also said you can't go home again.

NYC is the real outlier on this list in terms of commute time and affordability, especially given the typical 20% down payment requirements for co-op apartments. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I moved there; buying an apartment there would be nearly impossible even if my salary were doubled. (Actual condos are available in newer buildings and across the river in New Jersey, but then you're looking at longer commute times. And my understanding is that FHA-approved condos barely exist at all in the NYC metro area.)

Seattle has its own challenges with rapidly increasing housing costs, and there's some quirk in Washington state's liability laws that makes it cost-prohibitive to build new condos. Almost all the new housing in the Seattle area right now is rental, although much of it is being built to condo specs in case the law changes. I'm hoping the law changes to allow more condos to come online, or else I may end up buying a place way out in the suburbs and dealing with a long commute. (Fortunately, the natural beauty of this region means the suburbs typically aren't quite as terrible as elsewhere.)

Mar 14, 17 8:24 pm

Jersey City is the shit, plus PATH and ferries. I should've stayed in NJ.

Non Sequitur

Most of these (excluding NY) are right in line (and taking into consideration currency exchange) with the cost of my first home.

Mar 14, 17 9:03 pm

what # home are you on now NS?  fwiw, my house costs a lot less, and is probably a lot less house than some of those.

both of those asheville houses seem very comparable.  they're only 1.5 miles apart.  seems you get more house with the more expensive one.  it's from 1928 though, which is a fair bit older than 1953.  the 'traditionalism' of david's older house probably has some value.

Mar 14, 17 9:50 pm
Non Sequitur

Sorry, should have been clearer. First home purchased at the end of summer 2015. (Early 1960s brick detached bungalow). Still living there.

Also not factored in for this list: the quantity and quality of job opportunities for mid-career architects in these cities. In New York and Chicago, there's a decent chance you'll be working for a firm that routinely gets published and wins design awards, if that's important to you. In someplace like Cincinnati or Jacksonville, you're much more likely to spend your career pumping out permit drawings for new Applebees locations. Opportunities and barriers for launching your own practice probably also vary widely per city.

Mar 14, 17 10:04 pm

ouch that hits right on the spot, I was working in cities like Singapore ,DC where the firms were very competitive. Now I'm in Florida midway between Tampa and Orlando, our motto is "we can do sh*t fast". Having said that, the level of workmanship and technical ability that my office can do beats any design-driven firm around

Did you factor in how many bottles of wine one can also afford each month when paying that amount in mortgage?

Mar 14, 17 10:33 pm

very important


It would take a large quantity of the grape for me to stomach being a mid-career college educated professional and still only being able to live in a one-bedroom condo. We boomers thought the housing market sucked in the late '70s when we got on the escalator, but you younger folks are really getting fucked. This is not going to end well. I just hope I have embarked on the big dirt nap by that time.

marry a lawyer...


Similar to Non Sequitur here. I also live in Canada and bought my first home at the end of 2014, right around the same price range. Our interest rates are much lower than 4.5% and I was 3.5 years out of school when I bought this place.

Mar 14, 17 11:02 pm
Non Sequitur

yeah, 4.5% seems high. I think rates were floating around 2% when I was house shopping.

Tinbeary There there

I paid $265k for my first house and I still live here 9 years later. I'm married but my husband was in grad school at the time so only my income was used to buy it and I had about 6 years of experience at the time. The house has just about doubled in value since then and I couldn't afford it if I had to buy it now. The mortgage broker and realtor questioned my income - "You said you were an architect?" "Yes." "And this is your income?" "Yes. I'm not a doctor, or you know, a mortgage broker or money-bags realtor." 

I live in the hood. I like it here.

Mar 15, 17 3:37 am

for nyc just about all commutes from affordable areas are about 45 to 1 hr. Inwood is so far North in Manhattan you might as well commute from the suburbs. a non-subway commute is better than a subway commute.......on wine....well if you wanted a life in NYC it will take you longer to get to the 20% down. you could live like a monk of course, but reality is you will be around 15-20 years experience before you had 20% assuming you were still single, which you probably may be because you work all the time as an architect....

Mar 15, 17 7:38 am

Yeah, I used to live right down the street from that place in Inwood, so I know all about the commute times. Commuting in from the burbs wouldn't be so bad if your office happens to be near Penn Station (if you're coming in from NJ or Long Island) or Grand Central (if you're coming in from up north), but if you work in SoHo or Lower Manhattan, you're still looking at a longish subway ride once you're in the city.


i lived a little further south of that in Washington Heights around 12 years ago, had my rent down to $250 a month at one point. agree on SoHo or lower which is why I ultimately decided not to have an office downtown. its a trip no matter where you are coming from


lets not have any delusions here either. if you came to NYC to be an architect you came to be an Architect and nothing else. if somehow you imagined just by graduating you would get a job at a famous firm and somehow have a life outside of architecture - you are delusional. you are competing with the best here....people that still pull all nighters over design and a whole bunch of people that will do it for free, so forget saving any money for the first 3 years...

Mar 15, 17 7:43 am

I got my house in '08 when they were half price

Mar 15, 17 7:55 am

As bad as it sounds to potentially gain from someone's misery (assuming a recession/financial issues) - this is kind of my plan. Save up and wait for the next downturn to buy.

Tinbeary There there

How much did you spend? KC is very affordable, right?


less than 100k. a neighbor just sold a similar size house for something like 180. the market here has been going up like everywhere else. some people are flipping houses and marking them ridiculous high. it would not be hard to spend half a million pretty close to where i live.


the guy i bought it from was moving to a different state for work. i don't really see it as taking advantage of someone. it's just kind of buying a house at a time when no one else is buying houses. even if it was a foreclosure, it's the bank you're taking advantage of. the former homeowner wouldn't be better off if you paid more, and it was the bank's fault it all went to shit in the first place.

Pretty much my strategy as well. I saw a recent headline saying that Seattle's housing market is over-valued by about 20%, which doesn't surprise me. We'll probably have a crash at some point, and hopefully I'll be in a position to buy something by then. (Also a big reason I got away from working on multifamily projects and into a more stable market sector.)


Just one more. This is $230,000 on .7 acre in Hendersonville, NC, which is18 miles south of Asheville,

Mar 15, 17 8:45 am

That's gorgeous. Anything you can get for $230k in Denver is something you wouldn't want to own, in a neighborhood you wouldn't want to live in.


You should do one for SF, just for the lulz.

Mar 15, 17 11:40 am

I may do a similar list for some additional cities, including SF, Denver, etc. I may also do one comparing rental listings for an architect making an entry-level salary, which should be pretty depressing.


$250,000 in denver

sold for 84,000 in 2004. 

Mar 15, 17 2:05 pm

That neighborhood is rough, rough, rough.

This is a great thread, David! Nice to have something we can all relate to without yelling at each other.
Mar 15, 17 6:28 pm

This is from a $540,000 cdn 364 square foot condo in BIG's new Vancouver House. It's currently the most affordable in the building. 

There's something painful about calling a selection of apartments in this building the "Architect Series" when they are so disappointing and yet still out of reach for an architect even with years of experience.

Mar 15, 17 6:39 pm

A bit over $400k USD at current exchange rates, but obscene at any price. I've stayed in NYC hotel rooms larger than that.

Oh my. That floor plan is......not good.

Non Sequitur

Priorities Donna. Separate bath and shower at the cost of a dinning table space, permanent bed, and house plant.

Imagine taking a date back to that sweet pad. "But it was designed by BIG!"

Non Sequitur

On that line of thought David, perhaps the teeny-tiny unit makes "it" look bigger.


That's really, really awful. That's the best they could come up with? An open bedroom in the kitchen? Wow.


And that is the work product of one of the "stars" of our profession? That says something that is not good.


Yeah, I think we need a separate thread of starchitect horror show condo layouts. Kuma hasn't had much luck in Vancouver, I'll post at the bottom.


David Cole, a date is one thing, but imagine an architect hosting a dinner party in here only to abruptly end the party when he/she needs to make the bed.

Or open the dishwasher.


i'd like to see one for SF too, but... it wouldn't be pretty..  Median housing price for SF is 1.14 million now..

btw, David Cole, did you also factor in mortgage insurance if you don't pay 20% deposit? that's about additional 150-280/month ish..

here in the bay area, we have rich people from China buying houses 100% cash, which increases housing prices even more...

I guess my advise is to stay away from SF Bay Area if you want to buy a house with architect's salary..

Mar 15, 17 7:19 pm

PMI is included in the monthly payment numbers for the properties that don't have a 20% down payment.

In SF Bay you might get a 1 car garage for $300K, sleep in the car.

Mar 15, 17 10:05 pm

You would probably be more comfortable than that condo by BIG

I just checked, there is not a 1 car garage available at $300K

Mar 15, 17 10:16 pm

So your saying I make as much as my bosses? I'll need to remember to not leave that pay stub around....

Mar 15, 17 10:34 pm

Fantastic post David! Well researched. Very useful. 

Mar 15, 17 11:44 pm

Yes. Very fun and very revealing.


The architect-on-the-go's house.

Mar 16, 17 12:16 am

Five more cities, including San Francisco. Keep in mind I'm not as familiar with these cities, so in most cases my neighborhood selection is more-or-less arbitrary.

Atlanta, GA
Annual Base Pay: $64,700
Maximum housing affordability: $231,300
Down payment: $11,560 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1611 + HOA

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, Midtown
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 14 minutes (MARTA subway to Peachtree Center)

Denver, CO
Annual Base Pay: $68,700
Maximum housing affordability: $250,900
Down payment: $12,550 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1747

Shown here: 3 bed / 2 bath, Mississippi Heights
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 49 minutes (bus and light rail to Union Station)

Minneapolis, MN
Annual Base Pay: $74,200
Maximum housing affordability: $277,900
Down payment: $13,900 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1935

Shown here: 3 bed / 1 bath, Kenny
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 33 minutes (bus)

Portland, OR
Annual Base Pay: $65,600
Maximum housing affordability: $235,700
Down payment: $11,790 (5%)
Monthly payment: $1641 + HOA

Shown here: 1 bed / 1 bath, South Portland
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 8 minutes (bus to Pioneer Courthouse Square)

San Francisco, CA*
Annual Base Pay: $88,300
Maximum housing affordability: $347,100
Down payment: $17,350 (5%)
Monthly payment: $2417

Shown here: 2 bed / 1 bath, Richmond, CA
Commute time to downtown via public transit: 1 hour, 1 minute (BART train to Union Square)

* There were only 11 listings within San Francisco proper for less than $347,000, and all of them were considered "below market value" properties with income restrictions. I widened the search to properties within 10 miles of the city.

Mar 16, 17 2:29 am
Non Sequitur

What a beauty!

that brick pattern must cause accidents

Olaf Design Ninja_

this thread alone should encourage not working longer for any firm than mid career unless its your firm or you will make partner very soon. they should show you this in high school or freshman year of college.

Mar 16, 17 7:19 am

But then where would the second year design students come from?


I am glad I am such an optimist, otherwise I would think the system is collapsing.

Mar 16, 17 9:05 am
Tinbeary There there

Check out this one! Move-in condition! Mid-career professionals are clamoring over this one. ($247k)

Mar 16, 17 9:27 am
Non Sequitur

What happened?


That is a pretty rough neighborhood as well.

won and done williams

This thread points to the value of marrying well.

Mar 16, 17 9:31 am
Tinbeary There there

Now calculate the realtor's commission on each of these. 

Mar 16, 17 9:38 am
won and done williams

Lulz - a realtor gets 6% for selling one of these; we get 6% for designing one.

Tinbeary There there

Realtors get 6% of the sale price. Architects use construction price...


Around here, you don't get 6% of construction price. It's usually based on square footage if you're doing builder work.

won and done williams

Y'all are taking me literally, not seriously.

Tinbeary There there

I think architects should get a real estate license with their license. What's one more thing to study and test over? It's nothing.


What about building your own on a piece of land? You wouldn't have to worry about the 6% design fee for starters and if you're a bit handy you can do a lot yourself and save on the construction costs as well. Check out "The House That £100k Built" on BBC for inspiration.

Mar 16, 17 12:17 pm

Not really an option if you're commuting to a job in the middle of a large city, and the nearest cheap land might be well over an hour away and not have access to public transit.

That said, if I'm ever fortunate enough to retire or work from home, I wouldn't mind buying some land up in the Cascades and building a house on it.

The more common approach among my colleagues seems to involve buying an existing home in an "up and coming" neighborhood and fixing it up, and most of the examples I know of are two-income households.

Tinbeary There there

Have you priced land? Utilities are expensive too. I have been looking for a few years and can't afford this route.


No one in this profession should be buying. Pretty much need to be nomads if work dries up due to location, recession, etc. We design houses, not live in them for pete's sake! Renter 4 Lyfe!

Mar 16, 17 12:39 pm
Non Sequitur

I'll keep my well located house, you can keep hunting for new leases every few years.


Migratory architectural worker. One of those jobs Americans won't do.


Why rent when you can couchsurf, airbnb or sleep under your desk ;)

Olaf Design Ninja_

as an Architect you have every opportunity to marry well.

Mar 16, 17 8:33 pm

Until your prospective partner discovers your pay grade, student loan balance, and the psychological trauma that come with being an architect. Probably best just to marry another architect.

psych trauma is a prerequisite for marriage

Well, if the shit really hits the fan, at least I can buy a mobile home just outside of Vancouver, BC for only $38,500 CDN ($28,900 USD).

Mar 17, 17 10:43 am

Haha, David, when I read "just outside" I assumed five hours outside of Vancouver. I think you're buying some rotted wood at that price. Notice how the land size is 0x00?

Mar 17, 17 2:03 pm

Kuma hasn't had much luck in Vancouver either. Studios start at 1.2 million. This isn't an apartment but a block of money for an investor. That's also listed as 833 square feet despite much of it being concrete. 

Mar 17, 17 2:09 pm
Non Sequitur

That's pretty damn far to go for your bedroom closet. A shame that it's not a bowling alley. Also, those chairs can't really be pulled out unless the table is first moved, and the sofa.

I've seen listings for fairly spacious one-bedroom units in the $280k CDN range in high rises in nearby Vancouver suburbs like Burnaby and Surrey, with quick Skytrain access into the city. I have no idea what typical salaries for architects are like up there, though. I've done some casual poking around on the web but haven't found anything as comprehensive as the AIA Compensation Report. Nor do I know anything about the process of getting a mortgage in Canada, except that a 25% down payment seem like standard practice. Sucks for first-time homebuyers, but then, Canadian banks weren't the ones collapsing in 2008.

Non Sequitur

20% down or greater and you don't need to pay for insurance. Minimum is 5% but it varies on properties above $500k. Typical licensed salaries are almost the same as the american ones for large cities if you assume the dollars are equal (ie. 70K USD in Seatle = 70K CAD in Vancouver). not perfect science but decent benchmark.

Thanks, that's helpful to know. Over the past few years I've half-jokingly talked about moving to Canada, but now that I'm facing the latter half of my career with the very real possibility of not being able to afford healthcare, housing, my student loan payments, or any kind of secure retirement, I'm starting to think more seriously about Vancouver. I love Seattle and have a great job here, but at least Vancouver is still somewhat local.


From what I've understood, Vancouver is one of the least affordable places in the world for housing - comparable to London, New York, Sydney, Hong Kong. I'm not entirely sure where you're getting the info for 280k places...? I've had a few friends living there that looked at buying and everything seems pretty far out of reach for them. I'd assume Seattle is more realistic for ownership.

I'm using to find the listings. Right now they show about 190 listings in the Vancouver area for less than $275,000 CAD.

David Cole, AIA's comment has been hidden

I'm using to find the listings. Right now they show about 190 listings in the Vancouver area for less than $275,000 CAD.


I wouldn't be surprised, but prices vary wildly, especially if you consider areas such as Surrey, Coquitlam or even Langley to be part of the city, but have commute times of an hour into the downtown core.


The Kuma building and the Vancouver House are right in the core, and since some parts of the downtown core are 20% non occupied, the pricing is pure speculation and investor driven. Many of the affordable places downtown would either be 40-50 yeard old co-op buildings requiring a large down payment that most can't do, or even lease hold.

Oh, this is better than a 1 car garage, but too far from spicy noodles

Mar 17, 17 2:54 pm

The info says the lot is .37 acres. Seems the land in that area would be worth a multiple of the price being asked. No photos show the extent of the lot. The "house" itself seems to be a mobile home, probably falling apart. Curious.

Mar 17, 17 7:47 pm

That Kuma plan is horrible.  

Mar 17, 17 9:06 pm

Given that the "architect" will be either hunched over a computer or passed out on the couch does it matter? Shear walls happen.

Mar 17, 17 9:28 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

David (in line with your thoughts, although that engineering pun, oh man) this was always the ideal living situation for me, my room did look like this for a while, but then I got married and had kids...but ideally as an architect I didn't want any design. just space and books.

I'm sure at mid-career that would be doable based on David's research above?

Mar 17, 17 9:41 pm

I'm 28 years into it so I don't know if mid career is now or earlier. Earlier I had an Eichler knock off in LV, 4 bedrooms. (buy low, sell high) I guess if I live until 104 I am at mid (whatever). When I am 104 we will be lucky if there is air to breathe.

At OSU I had a two bedroom apartment over a printing studio. I had keys to the whole place, just me, a trumpet and a drafting table. $290/mo

Mar 17, 17 10:56 pm

Follow-up thread here, comparing average salaries and rents for an entry-level intern architect in the same 15 cities.

Mar 18, 17 10:37 pm

It's an interesting thread.  While your entry-level analysis thread seems pretty straightforward, this mid-career one seems more complex to analyze. 

You said you're making the assumption that the hypothetical mid-career architect is single with no children.  But for the most part your examples are homes that would be suitable for a young family or a couple.  Is this because you expect that most of these mid-career architects are nesting in preparation for acquiring the partner and children in the near future? Or is it based on the realtor's mantra that one should buy all the bedrooms one can stretch to afford, for the sake of future sellability?

I'm a mid-career architect.  My salary is toward the higher end of the range that you depict above.  I am single with no children and intend to stay that way.  Consequently I chose to purchase a home that is smaller than nearly all represented here, to live more sustainably, and to be able to prioritize spending on things that I care about more than bedroom count.  I'm in a location in the northeast that is within commuting distance of several secondary metropolitan regions.  My down payment was 20%, my interest rate is under 3%, and I have a < $900 monthly payment on a 15-year mortgage (it would be under $600 on a 30-year).  Most of my colleagues do own much larger homes - but most are also 2-income households.

Your analysis indicates that housing would be a hardship for many mid-career architects in many places.  That's true - but in some cases I think the hardship is self-imposed - just the result of wanting too much house.

Mar 20, 17 10:45 am

My final follow-up thread: Housing Options for a Managing Principal. As with the other two threads, these show what you hypothetically could buy under certain circumstances, not necessarily what you should buy.

Mar 20, 17 12:16 pm

Shouldn't you keep a few constants like #of bedrooms...?  A one bedroom and a 3 bedroom are not really comparable.  

Mar 20, 17 2:25 pm

It's interesting how we're still not in a position to purchase a decent place to live in provided that these combined household incomes are way over the median, which is around 60k i think. 

Mar 22, 17 11:44 am

My information is based on the mean salary for an Arch 2, based on the 2015 AIA Compensation Report, and the number varies considerably per city. The median salary isn't the same thing as the mean salary, and in no case is either the median or the mean anywhere near $60k for an Arch 2.



Jun 30, 17 5:05 am


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