There are a number of reasons why people are moving to Milwaukee and when I asked my past relocation clients, they will usually say something like, they visited, they really liked the vibe, and they think Milwaukee is getting kind of cool.
And it’s true, Milwaukee has been changing a lot over the last years and you can easily tell by just taking a walk downtown. But I’m pretty sure that the low cost of living had also something to do with it, especially if you’re moving from the East Coast, from the West Coast, or even from Chicago. Moving to Milwaukee can save you quite a few bucks. So in this video, we’re going to go through everything that you need to know about cost of living in Milwaukee, from real estate to childcare and we’re going to get started right now.
Hey everyone, it’s Marcus Auerbach with Keller Williams and on this channel, we are covering everything that you want to know about living in Milwaukee. I’m posting new videos every week, so make sure you subscribe and hit the little bell icon if you want to get notified every time we post a new video. My team and I love working with relocation clients. In fact, I had been relocated to Milwaukee by my company, and I had to learn Milwaukee from scratch, so I definitely know what it feels like. I’m getting phone calls and emails from people every week who asked me questions about what it’s like living in Milwaukee and I love answering these questions. That’s why I’m making all these videos, so if you’re thinking about relocating to Milwaukee, definitely reach out to us. We’ve got you covered.
All right, let’s talk about cost of living in Milwaukee. So there are definitely a few things that are just the way you would have expected them when you are moving to a city in the Midwest, but there may be a few items that could have caught you by surprise. And being caught by surprise is usually not appreciated when it comes to money and expenses at least. When you’re moving to a new city, you want to be able to plan and budget for things, and you want to know what you’re getting yourself into. So in the next minutes, I will be going over all your major living expenses. I will be sharing some personal experience, some personal stories as well, so you get my perspective and we’re going to cover it all the major categories. The first one I want to get started with is going to be housing, because that is going to be probably your single biggest expense, except maybe if you have three kids in college, then it might be your second biggest one, but it’s definitely one of the biggest ones, so we’ll talk about housing first.
The lower cost of housing is definitely one of the key advantages when it comes to cost of living here in Milwaukee. And it doesn’t even matter that much if you’re looking to rent or if you’re looking to buy, the advantage is going to be with Milwaukee either way. Milwaukee has quite a number of rental properties, but there’s also a lot of people looking to rent. So good rental properties that are updated go very quickly and have multiple applications, so you have to come prepared and you have to be ready to act quickly. Most of the rental properties here in Milwaukee are from the 1920s or from the 1960s. Some are updated, others maybe not so much, but if you’re just looking for a basic apartment, a budget of let’s say $1,200 to $1,500, will give you a lot of options.
If you’re looking for something nicer, or if you’re looking for a new apartment that is built in the last few years with some in-house amenities, let’s say a gym, then you need a little bit of a higher budget, let’s say $1,500 to $2,000 will get you there. And everything that is $2,000 to $3,000 really gets you into high end stuff, close to the lake and even with views of the lake maybe. Rental prices have gone up in Milwaukee over the last few years, but even so, the prices are still really good compared to other metro areas. If you compare it to Chicago, for example, you can expect about 38% lower rents here in Milwaukee and if you want to compare it to New York or to San Francisco, you are looking to a price difference that’s more like 50%.
Home prices are still very affordable in Milwaukee, even though they have been going up quite a bit over the last year. In 2020 alone, we have seen an increase of more than 10% on single family homes and the market is very competitive, but from a financial point of view, it is still very attractive to buy a property in Milwaukee. And if you’re comparing buying a property with renting a property, you will find that you are, financially speaking, still better off buying a property. Even with a smaller down payment, your monthly payment will be lower in comparison to renting an identical property.
I know this is different than other metro areas, where it is more attractive, financially speaking, to rent than to buy and people are buying for other reasons, but in Milwaukee, it’s still the other way round. It makes sense to buy a property. In order to give you a little bit of a national context, I would like to share some numbers with you, which I found in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, which came out with this report early this year and they are ranking the top 100 Metro areas according to home value and some other factors.
So when we’re looking here at the top 10 of Kiplinger’s list, it is not going to be a surprise. We are finding a lot of East coast and West coast cities here in the cities. Top number one of course is San Jose with almost $1.1 million median home price followed by San Francisco with 875, LA, and then if you go down, you have, of course, Seattle, Boston, New York, even Denver, Colorado with $400,000. So those are the top 100 and Milwaukee is actually in position number 61 with the $193,000. So in comparison, a Milwaukee home will cost you about half of what a Denver home will cost you, about a third of what an LA house will cost you, and less than a fifth of what you might be paying in San Jose.
So that’s pretty nice, but here is the really interesting part. Kiplinger is also giving us an affordability index, which they are calculating by looking at the percentage of the median income that is required to buy a median priced home. Their affordability index ranges from one to 10, one being the highest affordability and 10 being the lowest affordability. So when you look at Milwaukee, it is ranked at an affordability of three, which is one of the best in the nation and that is a result of relatively high incomes and wages in comparison with relatively low real estate prices. So we have a lot of older homes in Milwaukee. We should talk quickly about the cost of remodeling. Fortunately, remodeling is not outrageously expensive. Don’t get me wrong, remodeling always feels outrageously expensive, but if you ever paid a contractor in Chicago, in New York, or in San Francisco, you will be pleasantly surprised with the rates that we have in Milwaukee.
For a carpenter, the going rate is approximately $50 an hour. An electrician or an HVAC contractor will run you about $70 to $80 an hour. Plumbers are most expensive, so you will pay about a hundred to $120 for a licensed plumber to come out and fix some things for you. If you are trying to estimate the cost of a total budget for a house, you are looking at about $35 a square foot for basic remodeling. If you want nicer finishes, I would go maybe with $55, $60 a square foot and a hundred dollars a square foot really get you into the top of the line finishes. So if you know you have a thousand square feet to remodel, times $35 a square foot, you’re looking at about $35,000. So this is how you can quickly estimate costs of remodeling. I’ve been doing remodeling for a little over 10 years now.
And so if you have any questions on that, you can always send me an email. If you need contractors, we have a whole ecosystem set up. Actually you can download the list of contractors from our website. You can just go to OnPointRG.com. That’s our website and you can just download our list of contractors for free. It’s available for anybody to download.
After shelter comes food, so let’s talk about the cost of eating out in the Milwaukee restaurant scene. Fortunately, we are really blessed here, Milwaukee has a lot of fantastic restaurants and good eateries. Even by my standards, I am a foodie and I will go a long way for a good restaurant. We have a lot of good places to eat out. It doesn’t even matter if you just want to have a burger and a beer, or if you go to a mid-range restaurant, or if you want to celebrate this special location and go to a really fine dining restaurant, you will generally be very happy with the food that you will find and the prices are also very good, so usually about eight to 10% less than what you would be paying in Chicago.
So if you go out, let’s say in a mid-range restaurant for two people, you should be budgeting for a three course meal, maybe about $75. And if you add two brandy old fashions, either sweet or sour, which by the way is kind of a staple drink here in Milwaukee, you’ll be looking at about a hundred bucks on a Friday night for a nice dinner with you and your significant other.
What if you like cooking at home? What about the cost of groceries? So this is one that actually surprised me. Groceries in Milwaukee are 7% more expensive here in Milwaukee than they are in Chicago. So here’s an advantage for Chicago, but we actually have a really nice selection of grocery stores. You have everything from entry-level all the Trader Joe’s to mid-level Metro Market or Sendik’s, or if you want to go Fresh Thyme, Fresh Market or Whole Foods, we have those too, all of them will carry a good selection of organic and regular groceries and the costs are about in line with the national average, but as I said, about 7% higher than in Chicago.
Next, let’s talk about the cost of transportation and let’s talk about gas prices. So I have a chart here from Gas Buddy, and as you can see, gas prices have been really going up and down nationwide over the last three years. Actually, right now, it looks like they’re going up, but the good news is gas is really on the cheaper side in Milwaukee. It is not as low as in Texas, but it’s not that far off. And compared to Chicago, if you fill up once a week, you can actually save about $300 a year just on your gas prices. Car washes are also cheap. So I’ve washed my car here in one of the biggest gas stations right off the freeway in Mequon, we actually have a really good deal there for just a basic drive through, I pay $5. I would say on average in Milwaukee, a carwash will run you about 10 bucks.
If you are moving with children to Milwaukee, the next one will interest you. Let’s look into the cost of childcare and into private schools. So depending where you settled down in Milwaukee, you typically have your choice of private and public schools. And depending on your expectations and the school district where you actually at, you will either opt for one or the other. But because I’m not a parent, let’s hear it from somebody on my team who has firsthand experience, who is actually a mom. Here is Kasey.
Daycares are going to be your biggest expense. In Milwaukee area, expect to pay $1,500 to $2,000 a month for a daycare center. My tip for you here, if you’re expecting, reach out sooner than you think. A lot of these daycare centers have quite a long waiting list on their infant rooms, so the earlier you start your search, the better. Milwaukee has a lot of great public school options. Whether you’re looking for a Montessori or a language immersion, there are plenty of great schools in the Milwaukee School District. There are however, some areas in the Milwaukee area that are really cool to live in, but might be worth looking into a private school education.
Private schools in the Milwaukee area are plentiful. We have about 180 of them and great news is, in comparison to other large metros in the United States, we’re relatively inexpensive. For example, in comparison to Chicago, we’re about 30% less expensive. An education from a private school for elementary is going to cost around $4,500 on average whereas high school is going to cause $9,800 a school year. The last thing I’m going to want to know as a mom is how much is date night going to cost. $15 an hour for a babysitter is a pretty good going rate for the area. If you don’t want to foot that bill, however, Milwaukee is an incredibly family oriented city so it is actually common for kids to join their parents in a bar, a restaurant, or even a brewery. They’re welcome to enjoy a kiddie cocktail alongside your adult beverage.
Next I’m afraid I have to bring a rather unpopular topic to your attention. There’s just no way around it. We have to talk about taxes. Yep, Milwaukee and Wisconsin have taxes. There’s actually three types of taxes that you should be considering when you’re relocating here. The first one is going to be property taxes, especially for Milwaukee. That is a highly debated item. Then we also have sales tax we should look into, and finally you got state income tax.
So here we go. All right, let’s just start with the property taxes. This is a very hot topic here in Milwaukee, and also highly debated on social media because there’s just no other way of putting it. Property taxes are just very, very high in Milwaukee County. The County is collecting 2.24% of your tax assessed value here in annual property taxes and that puts us on a national comparison actually on one of the most expensive counties in the nation.
We’re actually here on number 89 out of 3,143 counties, so it’s one of the highest property taxed counties in the nation. If you want to know what that is in absolute dollars, you are looking on a median property tax bill of about $3,707. That was for last year for 2020, but of course, that also means that it was for a median valued home of about $192,000, so as your home value is going up, so is your property tax bill.
And the reason why this discussion is so controversial is because a lot of people are choosing to live in one of the surrounding counties because property taxes in the surrounding counties are significantly lower than they are in Milwaukee County. The only thing that softens the blow a little bit with the high property taxes is that in Milwaukee County, garbage removal fees are actually included in your annual property taxes, so that saves you about $700 out of the $3,707, because I’m out here in Ozaukee County and I’m paying about $700 a year to Waste Management so they come out here and pick up my trash and my recycling, so if you’re in Milwaukee, that’s already included.
Next on my list is sales tax and this is actually some positive news because sales tax in Milwaukee is actually rather low. So people from Chicago have known this for a long time. That is the reason why we have so many outlet malls just north of the Illinois, Wisconsin border, because all the Chicagonites come up here and buy cheap stuff in our outlet malls. We only have 5% sales tax in Wisconsin. In the city of Milwaukee, it’s a little bit higher. You’re looking at 5.5% combined sales tax, but that is a lot less. For example, compared to Chicago where you are paying 10.25% or even Kansas City where it’s 8.85%. So if, as a household, you are spending a hundred thousand dollars on items every year that are subject to sales tax, on a hundred thousand dollars, moving from Chicago to Milwaukee, you can save $5,000 a year just on sales tax alone.
And then finally, the third one they get you with is the state income tax. So I have a chart here that shows you the national comparison and Wisconsin is showing up here with a 7.65%. And when you look at it on a national comparison level, we are kind of the upper middle segment here I would say. There’s a lot of States that are collecting around four or five, 6%. Fortunately, we’re not as crazy as our neighbors here to the west, Minnesota with 9.85% or even California with 13% or New York with 8.8%.
By the way, if you have comments or questions, and you want me to explain something more specifically, you can just put your questions and comments just below this video in the comment section here on YouTube. I’m usually trying to respond within 24 hours and love hearing from you, your questions, your comments, where you’re from, why you thinking about Milwaukee. It’s always great when people are reaching out and I hear from you. If you’re getting value out of this video, I would really appreciate it if you give it a thumbs up, that would be great. And of course, if you want to get ahold of me, if you have any questions about relocating to Milwaukee, the best way is always to reach me via email. Just send me an email. Tell me what you’re thinking about, what questions you have. I’m happy to hear from you. And I’m always happy to answer questions.
Next on my list for cost of living in Milwaukee, are utilities. So we’re talking specifically about natural gas and electricity in Wisconsin. We’re heating our houses typically with natural gas, very rarely you see somebody using an oil tank, but nobody’s really using electricity, so electricity is only for lights and in the summer for air conditioning. We have one big supplier here in Milwaukee for utilities, and that is We Energies. So the good news is that you don’t have to shop around, you just call We Energies, tell them you bought a house today, and they’re going to sign you up for the service and then you are going to get a monthly bill. You can choose if you want to pay your actual bill for that month, or if you want to be what they call a budget plan so then they kind of even it out over the year and you are paying the same amount every month and it’s not going up and down in the summer and in the winter.
My personal utility bill is a little bit higher in the winter because then we’re using more electricity because we keep the lights on longer. We have short days here in the winter, very long days in the summer so we need more electricity in the winter for the lights. And then of course you need more natural gas for heating. So usually in January I have the highest electricity bill and I have my personal copy here so let’s take a look at that.
So here is my actual energy bill from We Energies from the middle of January. And you can see the total was $273 and 28 cents. And that breaks down into $165 for electricity and $108 for a gas. Now I would say, this is typically the highest energy bill that I get in the year so in the other month of the year, it’s a little bit lower. My house is maybe a little bit on the bigger side, but it’s also very well insulated so I would say it is this a rather average energy bill. And you can see my previous balance that I paid in December was $200 and 51 cents so that is more a normal average here.
And there’s going to be one more utility bill that is going to show up in your mailbox and that is for water and sewer. At least if you’re anywhere in the city, you are going to be connected to the municipal city water and city sewer system and of course, they’re going to bill you for that. Fortunately, we have plenty of fresh water and good quality. We are right here on Lake Michigan so water is relatively inexpensive and you should budget about $50 to $70 per month for your water bill, but keep in mind, they’re only billing you every three months so it’s actually going to be a little bit higher when the bill hits your mailbox.
The only way you can get around the water and sewer bill is if you’re in a more rural area with the bigger lot, outside of Milwaukee, like I have here, if you’re on an acre, you typically have your own private well and you also have your own private septic system so then obviously you don’t get a water and sewer bill, but now you’re responsible for the maintenance and the upkeep of that system. And very important if you’re buying a home here, always, always, always have the well and the septic system inspected by a licensed professional. We have that on our checklist so we do it automatically so you don’t have to worry about it, but that is absolutely an important item to inspect because any repairs or upgrades that you have to make to your water or to your septic system can get very costly.
And then finally you have cable and internet. So this is fairly straightforward because we have only two service provider that service most households here in the Milwaukee area. And that is AT&T and Spectrum. I don’t think it makes that much of a difference which one you choose. And for basic internet plan, you should budget about $63 a month.
Another question that I get on a regular basis when it comes to moving to Milwaukee is the healthcare system. So the cost of healthcare is actually pretty much here on the national average. I think it’s 0.2% higher than the national average so you’re pretty much right there. Of course it’s, from my European perspective, it is crazy insanely expensive, how much we’re paying here for healthcare so it’s really important that you have health insurance. We have several large hospitals here. We have the Medical College and the Froedtert Hospital, and then we also have the Aurora Hospitals so both are very large hospitals with a very, very good reputation. And I didn’t know that, but I’ve looked it up, Wisconsin is actually ranked number four in terms of healthcare by the US Department of Health.
Of course, I have kept the best for last. So here is the dessert that I have for you when it comes to living expenses, let’s talk about things that are free or relatively inexpensive in Milwaukee. The first one I have on my list is driving on freeways. So freeways are actually free in Milwaukee so this is a big difference. It shocks me every time when I go down to Chicago and have to stop and pay all the time when I’m on the freeway. So in Milwaukee, we don’t have a toll system and you can just hop on the freeway and get just about anywhere. Milwaukee is also considered a 20 minute city, so traffic is usually very light here and if you hop on the freeway, you can be anywhere at any other point in the city in about 20 minutes.
The other thing that is relatively inexpensive, not for free, at least not everywhere, is parking. So if you go into the suburbs, of course parking is free there, but if you’re going to downtown, you have metered parking and you can either pay with credit cards or with coins, or like I do it, with my app and you are paying between 75 cents and $2 an hour, depending on the location.
Parking is really easy in Milwaukee, so most of the time I find a parking spot right in front of the building where I want to get to, very rarely I have to get around the corner. If you are booking one of the parking garages downtown, you are typically looking at about $12 a day or $120 if you make a monthly arrangement. So that is $120 for a whole month. Again, I’m shocked when I go down to Chicago, it feels like if I’m parking somewhere overnight in a parking garage, it’s almost $120 just for one day, so that’s what a whole month will cost you in Milwaukee. Another expense that you can potentially scratch when you’re moving to Milwaukee is your cost for pest control. So courtesy to the cold winter, we don’t really have as many pests here that we’re dealing with compared to our southern States where you have to spray several times a year for insects and deal with all sorts of other critters.
We don’t really have that that much here in Wisconsin. The only thing that we have here are mosquitoes. So yes, you can spray for mosquitoes, but it doesn’t really seem to help that much so most people just don’t. And so you don’t really have to budget much in terms of pest control. And there is one more thing that is free to you when you’re moving to Milwaukee and that is your realtor fees when you’re buying a property. You probably knew this, but I thought I’ll just confirm it just to be on the safe side. So when you’re hiring us to represent you, to find a property for you, to negotiate for you, to oversee the transaction, make sure everything is done correctly, and in your best interest, you don’t have to pay for our services. Your buyer’s agent is always paid by the seller or by the listing agent so there is no expense to you when you’re buying a property.
The other thing that may surprise you if you’re moving from Illinois from Chicago, or if you’re moving from New York, everything here is handled between the real estate agent and the title company so you will not need an attorney to close a real estate transaction here in Milwaukee so that will also save you a few bucks. If you’re looking for more information about living in Milwaukee, you can just go to my YouTube channel. I have a bunch of other videos out there and I keep adding a video every week. So I have videos out there for example, about the best neighborhoods, which neighborhoods I like, which ones I would prefer and why would you live in a certain neighborhood with kids or without kids, for example, about the pros and cons of living in Wisconsin, my personal experience, what I like, maybe what I don’t like so much, things that you should be generally aware if you’re considering moving to Milwaukee.
You can also go to my website, that is OnPointRG.com for On Point Realty Group and you can download our free guide for relocating to Milwaukee. It’s about 40 pages. We put a ton of work in there. It’s a really dense book. There’s a lot of good information in there and that’s all I had for you. I’ll see you with another video next week.