Family-friendly homes in the best cities for raising kids

Would one of these affordable properties work for you?

Forbes magazine recently picked the top cities in America to raise a family based on the cost of living, home affordability and ownership rates, commuting times, crime stats and school quality.

That made us wonder what kind of homes we might be able to find in some of those cities, focusing our search on neighborhoods that were especially safe and offered excellent schools. (We used GreatSchools.com to get a sense of that.)

We looked for single-family houses with at least three and preferably four bedrooms, lots of comfortable living space and a kid-friendly yard priced at or near that metro area's median home price.

Of course, some compromising was required, but the home’s we found offered 2,000 square feet for an astoundingly cheap $55,000 to a very affordable $215,000.

That works out to a monthly principal and interest payment of $223 to $872, assuming a 20% down payment and 4.5% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.

Let’s start with the house in the biggest metro area we searched.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Address: 1049 Birney Lane, Anderson, Ohio
Price: $188,500
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2,024 square feet
Price per square foot: $93

With more than 2 million residents, the Cincinnati area is a conservative region that spreads over parts of three states in the Ohio River Valley. Procter and Gamble, Macy's and Kroger all call the city home. The best schools are in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs and in some towns south of the river in Kentucky. The median home price for the metro area is $147,300.

This 1966 home in Anderson Township (with its top-ranked schools) sits nestled on a woody hill, so the finished basement space directly accesses the backyard. The tiered deck has a nice view. The neighborhood is quiet, although this home sits on a minor arterial street. Anderson Towne Center Mall is less than two miles in one direction and the river less than two miles in the other.

Contact: Sarah Noggle of Coldwell Banker West Shell at 513-470-6067

Boise, Idaho

Address: 605 N. Horton St., Nampa
Price: $190,000
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2,030 square feet
Price per square foot: $94

Time magazine recently named Boise the No. 1 city in the U.S. for "getting it right." It's the state capital and Idaho's biggest city, with a diverse business base. It also sits at the southwest corner of one of the largest unbroken protected areas in the country, a series of national forests extending all the way across the state and into Montana. The median home price in the metro area is $174,600.

Nampa is a good-sized town in its own right, 20 miles west of Boise on I-84, and has a number of highly rated schools. This house is across the street from a private school and a couple of blocks from Lions Park. It has lots of room, nicely laid out. The kitchen and dining area are warm and airy. The trampoline and RV are not included, but the spaces for them are, in a neatly kept yard (including the pergola-covered patio).

Contact: Kelly Welty of Keller Williams Boise at 208-841-4868

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Address: 1815 Leonard St., NE
Price: $139,900
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1,980 square feet
Price per square foot: $71

Grand Rapids has a low cost of living and the highest home-ownership rate in the country (77%). Forbes put "The River City" at the top of this list in 2012, and it came in at No. 2 this year. It's the snowiest of the towns in our slide show, with an average of 73.4 inches per year, so if you want your kids to grow up in a true four-season climate, this is a winner.

This house was on the edge of town when it was built in 1864 and still feels like a country home, with an old-fashioned front porch, huge shade trees, play set and fort. The interior has been updated with new carpeting and laminate flooring, a new water heater and bathtub. The city grew up around this house, and it’s on a busy street. But it’s within walking distance of a large park, highly rated high school and supermarket.

Contact: Julia Moore of Gatehouse Real Estate at 616-723-5532

Provo, Utah

Address: 2780 W. Center St.
Price: $209,000
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1,900 square feet
Price per square foot: $110

As home to Brigham Young University and the missionary training center, Provo is the most Mormon city in the U.S. It’s full of activities for children. The central public library has multiple story hours, and playgrounds are many and busy. It's close to wonderful hiking and biking trails in the Wasatch Mountains but suffers from the air pollution common to the whole Salt Lake City metroplex.

This 1972 ranch home features a remodeled kitchen with tons of storage space and new appliances and cabinets. The comfortable living room includes a large natural stone fireplace. Off the two-car garage is a separate work space, suitable for a workshop, music room or home office. There are built-in drawers and linen cabinets and an extra-deep jetted tub in the master bathroom. The screened-in porch looks over a neatly landscaped yard. The house is a few blocks from the Provo River walking and bike trail, Fort Utah Park and elementary schools.

Contact: Steph Summers of R&R Realty at 801-616-2099

Raleigh, North Carolina

Address: 5200 Olive Road
Price: $200,000
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2,194 square feet
Price per square foot: $91

Raleigh is a hot area, with low crime rates, minimal congestion, good schools and a booming economy. It also has the highest median home price in our slide show of $211,000, according to Trulia. You won’t find much for that price close to the center of town. But there are lots of homes in that price range farther out. New-home construction is booming, too. Raleigh's population and that of the metro area have both grown by 50% since 2000.

This home, built in 1970, sits just outside Raleigh's city limits — in fact, the back fence of the wooded, half-acre lot is the city limit but is still considered southwest Raleigh. The middle school that serves the home is especially well-regarded. Though the house is adjacent to the Raleigh beltline freeway, it has a secluded feel, situated at the far end of a loop road. On the other side of the freeway, Lake Johnson Park offers miles of trails. Inside, the home has refinished hardwood floors and new carpetinh, a remodeled master bath and lots of space. A separate workshop and storage shed in the backyard provide even more options.

Contact: Sharon Cooper of Coldwell Banker Howard Perry and Walston at (919) 789-5200

Des Moines, Iowa

Address: 2241 Camelot Court, Altoona
Price: $175,000
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1,400 square feet
Price per square foot: $125

Des Moines is the capital of Iowa, a national center for insurance and a major hub for publishing and financial services. Besides making the Forbes list of best places to raise a family, it also topped the magazine’s 2013 "Best Places for Business" list. Schools in the city aren't especially great, but many of the suburbs have highly rated districts. There is a well-developed trail system, both in the city and the surrounding countryside.

Altoona is a suburb 20 minutes northwest of Des Moines, with excellent schools and parks. Although this house sits on a quiet cul-de-sac, it's less than a mile from the Adventureland amusement park — not an amenity you'll see every day. The home was built in 1975 and features wood floors and trim. The eat-in kitchen leads to a deck and terraced backyard, and the finished basement features a home theater with surround sound.

Contact: Jonathan Lee of RE/MAX Real Estate Concepts at 515-276-2872

Youngstown, Ohio

Address: 51 Overhill Road, Boardman
Price: $85,000
What you get: 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 1,712 square feet
Price per square foot: $50

Youngstown's is the classic story of the Rust Belt. The steel industry that dominated the Mahoning Valley collapsed in the 1970s, and the economy is still trying to figure itself out. Youngstown itself has lost an amazing 60% of its population over the last half century. But the metro area is also low in crime, and outside the city of Youngstown, it has excellent schools.

At its peak, Boardman was the prosperous suburb of a thriving city, and it still has top-rated schools and nice shopping and parks. It was the site of the country's first Arby's restaurant. Newport Village Historic District (where this house is located) was one of Youngstown's first car-oriented suburbs. This 1932 home still has most of its original woodwork, including the dining room's built-in corner cabinet and leaded windows downstairs. It also has an updated kitchen with granite counter tops and a new roof and furnace. The glassed-in back porch looks out at a peaceful yard and original detached garage.

Contact: Melissa Palmer of Real Living Brokers Realty Group at 330-727-0577

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