While buying your very first home is an exciting milestone, it’s often met with a laundry list of decisions. What’s your budget? Do you have a list of non-negotiables? And, most important, where should you settle down?
A few years ago, you might’ve said near or in a city without hesitation; somewhere close to your office, favorite restaurants, and inner circle. But, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are rethinking those hustling, bustling metropolises. So, where to? Don’t worry. Help is on the way.
We chatted with a handful of realtors about the areas that are perfect for first-time homeowners. From low-key cool cities to under-the-radar small towns, consider this list your coast-to-coast look at the very best in real estate.
Anyone who is looking for a good deal in the Midwest will find a lot to love about Indianapolis. In 2019, LendingTree dubbed the city one of the best cities for first-time homebuyers because of its attainable real-estate market. Not only does the Crossroads of America have a bustling healthcare and technology scene, but its cost of living is also 7.6 percent under the national average. That way, you can have a steady work-life balance.
If health and wellness is a priority, check out Atlanta. According to a study by the app, Mindbody, this Georgia metropolis has the highest percentage of residents who feel spiritually fulfilled and have a normal body mass index per CDC definitions. Another perk? Atlanta reportedly has a low cost of living, vibrant nightlife, and gorgeous weather year-round. (The average temperature in the winter is 45.3 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Mindbody also found that Miami is both the happiest and healthiest city in the United States. According to the app, 52 percent of residents exercise once a week, while a large group of civilians say they enjoy their work and day-to-day activities. All of this plus easy access to the beach? Consider us sold.
For Tal Shelef, realtor and co-founder of Condo Wizard, Pittsburgh is an awesome place to live. Not only has its STEM employment opportunities grown tenfold — Facebook, Google, and Uber have all opened offices here — but you can also get a great bang for your buck.
“Aside from its wide range of architectural selections and stylishly designed houses, you’ll be surprised how affordable are they with a median home value of $160,000 and Housing Opportunity Index of 88.3 percent,” he explains. “Meaning, most of the homes sold in this city are at a reasonable price for a local median income family to afford.”
Best of all, Pittsburgh offers an assistance program for first-time homebuyers called First Front Door.
Westchester County, New York
Want to put down some roots, but aren’t ready to say goodbye to city life for good? Check out Westchester County, which is an hour north of New York City. Known for its great schools and laundry list of celebrity residents — think Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Stanley Tucci…we could go on — Westchester County has an affluent reputation. However Betsy Ronel, a licensed real estate salesperson with Compass, says there are more affordable areas.
For example, Hartsdale and Thornwood have good taxes, reputable school districts, and charming small town energy — but close to the train lines that run through Scarsdale and Chappaqua, respectively. Another favorite? Pound Ridge.
“Low taxes, a lot of bang for your buck, a vibrant town, and it piggybacks the train off of Stamford, CT, as well as Mt. Kisco or Bedford, NY,” she explains. “It’s very low-key with a nice economic demographic — everyone from teachers to billionaires, and no one cares who’s who.”
On the hunt for a reasonable alternative to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple? Consider moving to the Windy City.
“It’s is still a very affordable major metropolitan city in the Unites States as compared to other major cities,” explains Mike Opyd, managing broker of RE/MAX NEXT in Chicago. “For instance, you could buy a two-bed, two-bath condo with parking in River North (our version of Manhattan) for around $500,000, which would be impossible in New York City.”
But, like most cities, the crime rate here is higher than your standard suburbs. For a safe oasis, consider to moving the LGBTQ+-friendly neighborhood of Rogers Park. (Research claims the average median price is $195,000. Wow!)
Raleigh, North Carolina
While first-time homeowners who are looking for a new place to live may have different requirements, security and a good job market tops most wish lists. That’s exactly why Chris Brown, CEO of Tudor Housing Consulting, is so keen on Raleigh.
“It’s a city featuring a mild climate, allowing residents to spend a lot of time outdoors,” he adds. “[Raleigh] is also home to some of the top universities, including North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It offers great places to eat, and it is significantly rising on the cultural ranks as well.”
If a small town with gorgeous mountain views is more your speed, consider Thornton, which is a stone’s throw away from Denver.
“It has the real feel of living in a small town, but you will not be so far away from a big city,” Brown adds. “Thornton has multiple enjoyable activities for the residents throughout the year, and one of them is the Bike to Work Day.”
According to Neighborhood Scout, the median home value is $374,620. Translation? You can find a fairly good deal here.
If you’re craving the old-world charm of Europe, but aren’t ready to pack your bags and move across the pond, a town in Florida called Naples offers the best of both worlds.
According to Mark Washburn, a realtor in the area, the government placed strict restrictions of signs, billboards, and building heights to help preserve unobstructed views of the Neapolitan architecture and lush greenery. He adds that Naples offers a unique combination of affordability, weather, safety, and a booming economy.
“From its beaches perched on the Gulf of Mexico, to the many nature preserves and mangrove forests and parks, to the area’s excellent schools, Naples offers something for everyone,” he says. “Many of the area’s top-ranked schools are close to family-friendly neighborhoods, providing additional convenience.”
Nestled west of Boston, Newton offers close proximity to the New England epicenter. “[It’s] a city of 90,000 [residents],” shares Cyrus Vaghar, a local realtor. “It is very diverse and has easy commuting options, both by car and by public transportation, into Boston.”
Admittedly, properties in Newton can be pricey; Vaghar says the average home sale price is $1,300,000 for a single-family and $823,000 for a condo. But, don’t worry: If you’re working with a tighter budget, Vaghar says there are affordable alternatives in the Great Boston Area.
Charleston, South Carolina
For an extra dose of Southern hospitality, head over to Charleston. Not only does the city have offices for major companies like Boeing, Bosch, and Volvo, but it also has a median house price of $314,900. Of course, it’s not all business in Charleston. Realtor Peter H Derry says the charming city is well on its way to becoming a cultural hub.
“[It] has transformed into a thriving business economy surrounded by world-class dining, shopping, and schools all with the backdrop of a waterfront community,” he explains. “There are so many options to choose from: Live and work communities, walkable communities, waterfront communities, [and] retirement communities. Whatever you like, you will be able to find.”
Is Boise the new Silicon Valley? All signs point to yes! As one of the top “outdoorsy” metropolises in the United States — with a more affordable real-estate market to boot — many Bay Area residents are packing their bags and heading to the City of Trees.
“[It’s] the land of opportunity these days,” says Bobbie Shiner of Capital Group. “Although home prices are on the rise, you can definitely find a home well-suited for first-time buyers. It’s a great place for young families, with tons of job opportunities, good schools, and lots of beautiful places to get outdoors and thrive. There are activities and events galore.”
Alternatively, Caldwell is a sound option for anyone who is a little bit country. Approximately 25 miles from Boise, Caldwell currently has a median home value index of $311,300. Oh, and did we mention it’s super charming?
“There’s lots of beautiful farmland with a mix of new residential subdivisions,” Shiner says. “It has a great little downtown with some of the best eats in the Treasure Valley. Caldwell turns their entire downtown into a winter wonderland during Christmas, decorating with over one million lights. And, there’s an amazing ice skating rink open all winter!”
(Read: It’s like living in your very own holiday movie!)
Admittedly, Seattle is by no means cheap. However, if you’re looking for a return on your real-estate endeavors, it’s well worth the investment.
“Over the past 20 [or so] years, Seattle has consistently ranked as one of the hottest real estate markets in the country,” explains Jed Kliman, a realtor with more than 20 years of experience with the market. “In the past 12 months alone, Seattle real estate has appreciated 8.2 percent. That means if a buyer purchased an entry-level home for $750,000 last year, it is now worth $61,500 more.”
It doesn’t hurt that the city is also incredibly beautiful, surrounded by mountains and water.
As the Home Demand Index for Washington’s market rose 16 percent in February 2021, moving to the country’s capitol is easier said than done. Many residents are moving out of Washington, D.C., and into the city’s surrounding metro area. A favorite? Columbia, Maryland, which was ranked fifth in Money Magazine‘s “Best Places to Live” list.
“Aside from having great schools, this bustling place is also where you can find Lake Kittamaqundi, which means you won’t miss out on outdoor adventures,” says Kris Lippi, a licensed real estate broker and founder of ISoldMyHouse.com. “This place is good for first-time homebuyers looking to start a family or just begin a new life together since the economic growth here is promising, especially over the past 10 years.”
Santa Fe, New Mexico
With a cool art scene and delicious dining, Santa Fe has long been considered a fabulous vacation spot. But, did you know it also has an affordable real-estate market?
“The City offers many programs and assistance for first-time homebuyers, making it an attractive choice for those looking for a cost effective way to purchase their first home,” explains Aaron Fowler, director of real estate sales at Homewise. “While the median home price is steep at over $500,000, the City of Santa Fe offers many resources for first-time home buyers.”
For example, the nonprofit Homewise provides free financial coaching, homebuilding, and real estate services for those with moderate incomes.
While California is often synonymous with pricey real estate, Eureka is a breath of fresh air. Located in between San Francisco and Portland — and a quick drive to those legendary giant redwood trees — Eureka has a median home price of $303,638.
Of course, this area has more to offer than a great value. Lined with ornate Queen Anne homes, cute shops, and plenty of restaurants, Eureka is packed with a sweet, small town charm. (But, in reality? It has a population of over 26,000 residents.)
It’s easy to see why Bend has the second highest four-year growth forecast in the United States. With affordable housing options (the median price is $502,000), sunny forecast, and easy access to both hiking trails and breweries, Bend is an ideal place to set down roots — especially if you’re buying your first home.
(Attention movie buffs: Bend is also home to the last Blockbuster in the world.)
Like lobster rolls, eclectic shops, and stunning seaside views? You’ll find a lot to love about Portland, Maine. Don’t let its quaint appearance fool you: The city has offices for several healthcare businesses, and tech firms, plus its very own newspaper. (Or, if your company has an office in Boston, you can be a train ride away from work.)
Though Portland has a median house price of $434,900, state of Maine does have several support programs for first-time homebuyers.
While Savannah, Georgia, also has a home buyer assistance program, it’s a surprisingly affordable place to to live. Not only is the cost of living six percent lower than the national average, but it also has a median home price that’s 4.8 percent lower than the state’s status quo. Plus, it’s packed with some cool culture.
Anyone who wants to “keep Austin weird” should definitely consider planting some roots there. With delectable restaurants, lively Rainey Street, the annual SXSW festival, as well as big tech companies like Google and Facebook, the Texas city truly has something for everyone.
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