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Average Cost of Living in California: An In-Depth Guide

If you’re planning to move to sunny California, there is a lot of necessary planning. Not only do you need to coordinate moving expenses, but first you should determine if you can afford to live there. To help with preparation, here’s an in-depth guide on the average cost of living in California.
If you’re planning to move to sunny California, there is a lot of necessary planning. Not only do you need to coordinate moving expenses, but first you should determine if you can afford to live there. To help with preparation, here’s an in-depth guide on the average cost of living in California.

Accounting for 12% of the total U.S. population, California is the nation's most populous state with over 38 million residents. To put that into perspective, there are more people living in California than in major countries like Canada or Australia. This isn’t surprising considering the fact that California has great weather, plenty of job opportunities, and many popular vacation destinations.

However, California is known for being on the more expensive side when it comes to the cost of living. In fact, California holds the honor of some of the highest income taxes in America. Its top state income tax bracket comes with a 12.3% rate. But, it balances itself out with higher wages, lower property taxes, and cheaper homeowners insurance.

For buyers looking to move to California, an experienced, local real estate agent can be an invaluable resource. They will be able to give you realistic expectations in terms of cost to purchase a home, as well as an idea of what expenses are associated with the area you’re moving to.

Typical Home Prices in California in 2019

Houses in California have a reputation for being on the more expensive side. However, in smaller cities like Bakersfield or Roseville, you can expect more affordable houses. But in the majority of the state where land is desirable, good real estate comes at a cost.

Right now, California is in a buyer’s market and has been for some time. Currently, the median home value is $548,000, according to May data from Zillow. California home values have gone up 2.2% since 2018, but should only rise 0.1% during 2019.

The median price of homes currently listed in California is $549,000 while the median price of homes that sold is $497,500. The market peaks during the spring months with houses only staying on the market for as much as 50 days.

To help better demonstrate the difference in house prices in California, according to NeighborhoodScout, the median home value in San Francisco is $1,304,885, whereas Sacramento has a median home value of $355,030. Because of the vast difference in pricing, you’ll want to do research on the best areas that work for you.

How Much Are California Property Taxes?

Property taxes are collected on a county level and each county in California has its own method of assessing and collecting taxes. The exact property tax total depends on the California county you’re located in.

While California has some of the highest income taxes in America, overall California’s property tax rates are below average. The state of California has an average effective property tax rate of 0.79%, compared to the national average of 1.19%. This is largely because of California’s Proposition 13, a state law that reduced property taxes by more than 50% and capped annual increases in assessed home values.

Marin County collects the highest property tax in California, levying an average of $5,500, while Modoc County has the lowest property tax in the state, collecting an average tax of $953 per year.

Average Homeowners Insurance in California

As a homeowner, you’ll need to calculate homeowners insurance into your expenses. While homeowners insurance is not legally mandatory, if you finance your home with a mortgage, your lender most likely will require you to have coverage to protect your home in case of damage caused by unforeseen circumstances.

California has lower than average homeowners insurance rates. This is surprising considering California is subject to frequent wildfires and earthquakes.

The average monthly homeowner's insurance payment in California is $81. This is just $109 cheaper than the national average.

You might also be required to purchase fire and lightning premiums because of California’s frequent fire seasons. However, added premiums tend to be fairly inexpensive.

Common Home Maintenance and Repair Costs in California

As stated previously, being a homeowner comes with a level of financial commitment that some people aren’t aware of. On top of paying your mortgage, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, you are in charge of covering home maintenance and repairs.

If you choose to live in a new construction home in California or one that was built within the last few years, you might not have as many repairs. But, if you have a house that is a few decades old, costly repairs are coming you’re way.

When living in California, you want to make sure your house is structurally sound. Earthquakes can cause significant damage to older properties that weren’t built to withstand them. If you aren’t sure about the state of your house’s structure, you hire a home inspector to check.

You might also need to spend the money to upkeep your air conditioning system. Summers in California can be hot, and in California, it’ll cost you around $350 for a general air conditioning repair but over $5,000 to get a new one installed.

By performing general upkeep to your home, you can help prevent costly repairs that could have been prevented with some maintenance.

Other Costs of Living in California to Consider

There are a few other costs of living in California that you’re going to want to consider. For starters, California has consistently been in a water drought for over a decade. This means that they have increased water rates, thus costing families more money on their water bills.

In San Francisco, water rates increased from $86.31 to $209.71 a month for a household of four using 150 gallons per person a day between 2010 and 2018.

You’re also subject to some of the highest gas prices in the country in some cities. According to fuel-savings app GasBuddy, the statewide average price of gasoline has soared over $4 per gallon in recent weeks — and now at least four stations there are charging more than $5. Depending on how long of a commute you have and what type of car drive, this can quickly add up.

Food in California can also be more expensive if you live in bigger counties and cities. For example, based on 2019 data from Numbeo.com, the average cost of a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs in Fresno is $2.91 and $1.83, respectively. In LA, those prices each jump to $3.81 and $3.24. For reference, the national average price for a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs $3.10 and $2.26, respectively.

Find a Top California Real Estate Agent

One of the best things you can do for yourself when making a big decision like moving is to consult an expert. When you get ready to buy a house, you’ll want to work with a real estate agent. In addition to helping buyers get the best price possible, they can set realistic expectations about how much it will actually cost you to live in the area you’re moving to.

By working with Clever, you will be paired with top agents in whichever area of California you’re headed to. In addition to helping buyers find and rate prospective properties, Partner Agents typically handle the details and offer support throughout the entire process. This includes house hunting to mortgage pre-approval to closing, as well as offering expert advice, drawing up paperwork, and offer letters.

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Jamie Ayers

Jamie is the Director of Content at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top real estate agents and helps you save thousands on commission. In the past, Jamie has managed columns for clients in a variety of leading business publications, including Forbes, Inc., CEO World, Entrepreneur, and more. At Clever, Jamie's primary goal is to provide home sellers, buyers, and investors with the information they need to successfully navigate the ins and outs of the real estate industry.

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