The Dallas Morning News

The features that mat­ter most in a first home, by gen­er­a­tion

- Erik J. Martin, CTW Features Real Estate · Millennials · Business · Society · Massachusetts · Washington · California · Ohio · Texas · Michigan · Jacksonville · Florida · White Plains · New York · New York City · York City F.C. · Tennessee · Franklin · Gloucester, MA · Keller Williams · Franklin, TN

When we’re young, many of us dream of liv­ing like kings and queens of our cas­tle – re­sid­ing in a big, boun­ti­ful, man­sion­like home in a cov­eted com­mu­nity. While that grandiose vi­sion may even­tu­ally come to fruition for some, the re­al­ity is that the first home we end up buy­ing likely comes with some com­pro­mises: per­haps a smaller foot­print, fewer ameni­ties, and a neigh­bor­hood that may not be our first choice.

Clovered re­cently con­ducted a study (de­tails at to find out what is on the starter home wish list for most. Among the key find­ings:

The ideal size is 3,320 square feet for mil­len­ni­als, 3,311 for Gen Xers and 2,949 for boomers.

The top three ideal home styles are, in or­der: mod­ern, ranch and Vic­to­rian for mil­len­ni­als; and ranch, mod­ern and Vic­to­rian for Gen X and boomers.

The ideal num­ber of bed­rooms and bath­rooms, re­spec­tively, is 4.2 and 3.3 for Gen Y; 4.1 and 3.2 for Gen X; and 3.7 and 3.1 for boomers.

The top­rated fac­tors when buy­ing a starter home are af­ford­abil­ity (ranked tops by 75.1%), low crime rates (70.5%), prox­im­ity to work (45.2%), cli­mate (40.3%) and ge­og­ra­phy of the area (39.7%).

The most val­ued starter home features are cen­tral A/C (62.7%), pri­vate back­yard (61.9%), stor­age (53.5%), am­ple nat­u­ral light (50.4%), hardwood floors (39.5%) and sep­a­rate laun­dry room (40.3%).

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the per­ceived ac­cept­able starter home cost and the ac­tual starter home price is high­est in Mas­sachusetts (where starter home costs are $86,811 higher than an­tic­i­pated), Wash­ing­ton ($69,854 higher) and Cal­i­for­nia ($51,689 higher), and low­est in Ohio ($5,928 less than ex­pected), Texas ($3,353 less) and Michi­gan ($3,171 less).

Janelle Thomas, a real estate agent with Mag­no­lia Prop­er­ties in Jack­sonville, Florida, said most of th­ese find­ings align with what she sees in the mar­ket.

“To­day’s starter homes are of­ten a mat­ter of taste and ex­pec­ta­tion. In many cases, starter homes have evolved into more func­tional liv­ing spa­ces that have been up­dated for style as well as the cur­rent needs of to­day’s fam­i­lies,” said Thomas.

Given that starter homes are typ­i­cally pur­chased by younger buy­ers (es­pe­cially mil­len­ni­als), it’s es­sen­tial for th­ese home shop­pers to set re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions based on what they can af­ford.

“Most buy­ers of av­er­age­priced starter homes in my mar­ket will not find the cen­tral air or pri­vate laun­dry room that they de­sire,” said Jeremy Zucker, an agent with White Plains, New York­based Keller Wil­liams NY Realty. “I con­stantly re­mind buy­ers that they need to stick to their bud­get and keep their hous­ing ex­pense at a max­i­mum of 35 per­cent of their monthly gross in­come. This is im­por­tant so that buy­ers don’t stress out about their up­com­ing mort­gage pay­ment and can ideally save money for other goals, like ren­o­va­tions, re­tire­ment, col­lege sav­ings and more.”

Zucker stresses that, in­stead of wish list ameni­ties like a decked­out kitchen, pri­vate back­yard or hardwood floors, first­time buy­ers should pri­or­i­tize qual­ity constructi­on and a de­sir­able neigh­bor­hood with low­crime and re­li­able ser­vices.

But if you can af­ford it, a welle­quipped first home that you won’t need to fix up soon af­ter mov­ing can be a smart pur­chase.

“Many mil­len­ni­als are stay­ing in their starter homes longer and look­ing for a turnkey res­i­dence. They don’t want to be spend­ing their week­ends pick­ing out faucets or re­mod­el­ing their home,” noted Ali­son Bern­stein, pres­i­dent of Sub­ur­ban Jun­gle, a New York City real estate firm.

Kyle Wal­lace, CEO of Wal­lace Group/keller Wil­liams Realty in Franklin, Ten­nessee, finds this lat­ter trend trou­bling.

“Many first­time buy­ers aren’t will­ing to put in the sweat eq­uity like pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, of­ten due to a mix of de­mand­ing jobs and lack of know­how with fixer­up­per projects,” said Wal­lace.

Con­sider that, on av­er­age, most home­own­ers re­main in their prop­er­ties for only about seven years, “and that num­ber is even lower for first­time buy­ers,” added Wal­lace. “So first­timers should not ex­pect or be look­ing for lux­u­ri­ous ameni­ties and features. And they need to keep time­lines in per­spec­tive – no pur­chase is worth be­ing ‘house poor.’”

For th­ese and other rea­sons, Thomas rec­om­mended con­sid­er­ing a con­do­minium, town­home, du­plex or other res­i­dences within a new/newer sub­di­vi­sion as a starter home, if you can af­ford it.

“Be­ing in a build­ing or sub­di­vi­sion can of­fer a good start for first­time own­ers, and builders of­ten have at­trac­tive buy­ing op­tions that buy­ers may not get with an ex­ist­ing older home,” said Thomas. “This also al­lows you to live in a com­mu­nity that is re­quired to be wellkept, which will aid in sell­ing quickly when it’s time to move.”

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fizkes/getty Images/istockphot­o

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