Best Spots for Starter Homes
When you've finally decided to hunt for a home of your own, venturing beyond your current locale to properties in other cities, or even another state, can help you snag a better deal. While you may be looking for something a little bit unusual in the place you’ll eventually call home, most first-time buyers prize affordability, a thriving local economy, and a high quality of life. These are precisely the factors the Mortgage Research Center considered in its ranking of the best cities for first-time home buyers, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other government sources. Read on to find out which cities topped the charts and why they’re ideal for novice buyers.
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El Paso, Texas
Head to the far western reaches of the Lone Star State to lasso a home in this underrated city of 678,266 for the unbeatable median home price of $121,300. The 70 Fortune 500 companies in the area have held unemployment to a reasonable 6.9 percent, but it’s not all work in this Texas town. The three-time All-America City Award winner treats residents to scenic walks and lively culture in downtown’s Museum Row, which features the El Paso Museum of History and its impressive 3-D digital wall, as well as views of the Franklin Mountains and the Rio Grande.
Although it was named the fastest-growing large city in the nation in 2019 and has a current population of around 1 million, Austin has retained its booming economy, low property prices, and Southern charm. With an unemployment rate in the city of 4.4 percent and a median home price of $285,900, new buyers can quickly nab a job, save up, and make a down payment on their dream dwelling, no sweat. And as you might expect from a state capital, the city's packed with iconic architecture, including the pink granite Texas State Capitol, recreational venues like Zilker Park, and a noteworthy music scene.
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Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh can attribute its low unemployment rate of 5 percent to its location in the Research Triangle, a nine-county region that includes neighboring Durham and Cary. But Raleigh's cost benefits and distinct character are particularly alluring to first-time home buyers. For a median price of just $225,000, property hunters can buy into a vibrant city of 449,477, lined with oak trees, historic buildings like the birthplace of President Andrew Johnson, and artifact-filled museums that live up to Raleigh’s moniker, the “Smithsonian of the South.”
Gilbert’s appeal to first-time house hunters is perfectly captured in its city motto: “Clean, Safe, Vibrant.” The town's quaint streets are lined with breweries, coffeehouses, and delis, and with property and violent crime rates in Gilbert at just 0.08 percent and 1.43 percent, respectively, you’ll feel safe strolling those quaint streets well into the wee hours. With amenities like these, it’s no wonder that this city of 226,832 residents is the third most popular among millennial homeowners with families, a category that makes up 10.7 percent of the city’s population, according to ImproveNet. Of course, the median home price of $264,700 and a 4.7 percent unemployment rate attract buyers of all ages and households of sizes.
From the wooden sidewalks to the blacksmith shop, Scottsdale offers nostalgia-seekers a chance to experience modern life in the Old West. If your budget will stretch to the median home cost of $405,500, you’ll enjoy a burgeoning economy fueled primarily by the tourism and resort industries, and a low unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. And if you’re fond of festivals, you’ll have plenty to choose from, including the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in January and Old Town Scottsdale Western Week in February.
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Virginia Beach, Virginia
Coastal living doesn’t come cheap—except in this city of 450,057 with a median home price of $267,300. Water worshipers who settle down in Virginia Beach can swim or surf the Atlantic or stroll 28 miles of shoreline and a three-mile boardwalk. While the fun and sun make for a flourishing tourism sector, the city’s military bases and agribusiness also play a helping hand in its low unemployment rate of 5.3 percent.
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Whether you’re a sports fan hitting Hohokam Stadium to watch professional baseball teams in spring training, a culture buff learning about indigenous history at the Park of the Canals, or a golf enthusiast teeing off at an area course, Mesa is a hole in one for both kids and active adults. But what first-time home buyers may find even more inviting than the city's attractions or its warm, dry climate is the affordable median home price of $187,900, and an unemployment rate of 6 percent.
Over the last 147 years, Plano has transformed itself from an agricultural town on the Blackland Prairie to a sprawling financial and commercial hub of 281,566 with vast parkland and an eclectic food scene. Its impressive unemployment rate of 4.2 percent is owed in part to the numerous companies headquartered within its borders. But even though a job at a global company like Toyota may come with a nice paycheck, you don’t necessarily have to be well-heeled to buy a house. Plano’s median home price of $271,300 puts the American dream within reach of first-time home buyers of more moderate means.
This Phoenix suburb sits on the site of Chandler Ranch, an extensive property acquired by veterinarian Alexander John Chandler in the waning years of the 19th century. Though it had a population of just 3,800 in 1950, the town now counts 245,160 residents within its borders. Its growth was spurred by the arrival of computing firms like Intel and a low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, and its rich menu of entertainments includes famed local haunts like Desert Breeze Park and citywide events like the Ostrich Festival. Though packed with ample opportunities and amusements, Chandler is still a bargain, with a median home price of $268,000.
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Surrounded by 400 horse farms, the Horse Capital of the world is famous far and wide for the Keeneland Race Course, which hosts thoroughbred racing meets every spring and fall. But home buyers hoof it to the Lexington-Fayette metro area in search of affordable prices in a region where the median cost of a house is only $193,500. While the area is home to numerous former Kentucky Derby champions, most two-legged residents manage to eke out a living outside the racing circuit, enjoying the area's unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. In addition, Lexington’s lower-than-average cost of living leaves residents with enough money to partake of attractions like art galleries, downtown shops, and the Brewgrass Trail, which is lined with craft breweries.
Centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth, Irving grants easy access to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Yet its population of 235,648 is proof that this is no fly-over city. Residents flock from all corners of the country to make the north Texas suburb home, attracted by its median home price of $155,200, the most diverse zip code in the country (75038), a large regional office park, and a low unemployment rate of 5 percent. To top it all off, the city boasts a number of green spaces, a world-class arts center, and an 8,000-seat music hall.
Fort Worth, Texas
If it's your first rodeo, steer your house-hunting toward this town of 815,930, where the job and real estate markets are as friendly to newcomers as the people. The living is easy in this town where the unemployment rate hovers at around 6.2 percent and the median home comes in at just $131,100. The low price tag belies the town's world-class attractions like the Kimbell Art Museum and the Fort Worth Stockyards, a historic district with must-visit country music venues.
Put Down Roots
Ready to take the big step and become a homeowner? Consider one of these cities that are great for first-time homebuyers.
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