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First house blues: Are 20-somethings ready to buy their first home?

Published: Monday, Jan. 27 2014 11:55 p.m. MST

Staci Striegnitz sits on the porch of her first home in Denver with her Great Dane Cooper and Halloween decorations.

Staci Striegnitz

Staci Striegnitz was 24 when she bought her first home in a central Denver neighborhood back in 2010.

She took the real-estate plunge partly because she worked at a real estate company called Homefinder (now 8z.com, where she still works in marketing).

"It was not quite as intimidating," she says. "So I started punching around numbers and a lender prequalified me. I thought, 'Maybe this can really come true.’ ”

But maybe the biggest reason she bought a home was that she felt prepared to buy one. She had the job — and she had a down payment. With the recovering economy, Striegnitz did a lot of things correct. Other 20-somethings, however, are struggling with student loan debt and may wonder how and when they will be able to afford buying their own place.

The most recent National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers says the median age of first-time buyers is 31 with a median income of $61,800. Most of these buyers purchase a 1,600-square-foot home at an average price of about $154,000.

Striegnitz's home was built in the 1940s and had two bedrooms and one bathroom.

"I was really first of all my friends to buy a home," she says, "but pretty soon other friends started looking."

A few of her friends also bought in 2010. By now, more than half of her friends have homes.

A good time

Scott Lalli thinks it is a great time to buy a home.

"Right now is one of the best times in history for affordability," says Lalli, vice president of sales and marketing for Destination Homes in Layton, Utah.

He refers to low interest rates and the fact that many people can own a home for less than rent.

"I always think housing is a wise investment," he says. "We've been through a little bit of a downturn where people have taken it on the chin a little bit with housing, but historically it has always been a wise investment and where 20-somethings have awhile to work and invest, they have to have a place to live."

Lalli teaches a continuing education class for real estate agents on the differences between different ages of buyers. He says 20-somethings are looking for community-orientated locations. "They are socially conscious," he says, "and lifestyle is important to them."

People in that age group are involved in many things in their lives and want their homes to go along with that flexibility.

They don't, however, want to spend a lot of time on large yards or maintenance, Lallis says.

Efficiency and being environmentally sound are also important values they look at.

Although Lalli is enthusiastic about getting people into homes, he also says it is important to not overextend yourself financially. "If you are feeling all you can do is make your house payment," he says, "that is when people get into trouble."

First things

To stay out of trouble, first-time buyers need to look carefully at their finances, employment and long-term plans, experts say.

Gene Natali in Pittsburgh, co-author of "The Missing Semester: Your financial choices have consequences. Will you choose wisely?" says people need to assess whether they can afford the home.

"If you can't afford to put 20 percent down," he says, "you can't afford a house."

Lalli may disagree with that, and FHA loans don't require that much down, but Natali holds firm on his position — particularly when considering all the other costs of a home.

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