The 7 top places to own a home in America - if you’re not rich

Want to buy a home but feel shut out by high prices? With the average home in the U.S. costing around $200,000, saving up for the typical 20% down payment can be tough.

But the problem may not be your saving habits. Instead, it may be where you live. That's because the percentage of people who are homeowners in any given area can vary widely depending on everything from housing prices to the number of good jobs, to how many young people are trying to get their foot in the door alongside you. While the economy has recovered since the housing crash, just last year, homeownership reached a 50-year low of 62.9% as the after effects of the Great Recession persisted.

Now there are signs that could be changing. Homeownership rates have climbed nearly a full percentage point to 63.7%, according to the latest quarterly report from the Census Bureau. And housing inequality — the gap in homeownership rates between the richest and poorest residents in any given housing market — appears to be shrinking as well.

That's according to a recent analysis from housing economists at the real estate site Trulia, which looked at homeownership rates for households headed by people aged 25 to 55 in the 100 largest U.S. housing markets. While wealthy households (defined as being in the top third by income of residents in a given market) are still 2.3 times more likely to own a home than their neighbors in the bottom third income level, that's a 4% improvement from 2012 when wealthier households were 2.4 times more likely to own a home.

Given that income inequality has continued to climb over the same period, it's a particularly surprising finding. "The income gap is widening, which isn't a great factor for homeownership," Trulia housing economist Felipe Chacón said in a phone interview. "But other factors are helping the gap narrow," such as a wider range in home prices in certain markets, he added.

In some regions where the homeownership gap is quite high, like Los Angeles or New York City, the richest third of residents are more than four times as likely as the bottom third to own a home. But in other regions, that ratio falls below two.

Somewhat surprisingly, Chacón said that flat housing prices — a sign housing prices aren't rising — actually aren't that conducive to lower levels of housing inequality. That's because the typical price for a home may still be too high for someone in the lower income bracket.

Instead, what's needed is a wide range of home prices in a given area. "A wide spectrum helps people who are in the lower income group," Chacón said. That happens when the population is older, or in working-class suburbs which can serve as "bedroom communities" for economic centers. A good example is West Palm Beach, Florida, where the home values range from about $138,000 for lower income households to just over $280,000 for higher income families.

If the economy continues to expand, Chacón said he would expect housing inequality to decline as well. But to mark the progress we've made since last year, here are the seven housing markets with the smallest homeownership gaps in the country, according to Trulia:

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