Larry Lapidus


Where Are the Best Cities for First-Time Buyers?

According to the National Association of Real Estate, nearly 40 percent of homebuyers in 2018 were millennials, and that trend is expected to continue. If you’re included in that group of homebuyers who are looking to purchase your first place this year, you probably have one big question: “Where?!”

WalletHub’s new 2019’s Best & Worst Cities for First-Time Home Buyers report should help. The financial website studied “300 cities of varying sizes across 27 key indicators of market attractiveness, affordability and quality of life” to determine the best places for first-time buyers across the country. Their three key dimensions were: Affordability, Real-Estate Market, and Quality of Life, which were then evaluated using 27 relevant metrics including but not limited to: cost per square foot, price appreciation, recession recovery, millennials homeownership rates, weather, job market, crime rate, and quality of local schools.

We’ve taken their top three—Tampa, FL, Overland Park, KS, and Thornton, CO—and dug in a little further.

No. 1: Tampa, FL

Tampa achieved WalletHub’s No. 1 ranking despite an “affordability” rank of No. 147. It enjoyed a No. 2 rank in “real estate market” and No. 13 for “quality of life.”

U.S. & World Report’s list of the Best Places to Live has Tampa in the No. 56 spot nationally. Among their reasons to put down roots in the city: The “laid-back beach lifestyle and the amenities of a large metropolitan area, including professional sports teams, interesting museums and an array of entertainment and dining options.”

Livability adds some important background on the city and its growth: “Some may have counted Tampa out after the city was hit hard by the Great Recession. But over the last eight years, Tampa hasn’t just managed to get back up, it’s been completely transformed into a desirable and competitive city. In fact, Tampa is now one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, with nearly 300,000 new residents migrating to the city between 2010 and 2017.”

Of particular interest to millennial buyers is Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion mixed-use urban waterfront development that is “helping transform the city into a vibrant, diverse and attractive option for young people looking for a new place to call home.”

What to watch out for: Hope you’re a fan of high humidity. Summers can be brutal here, with “intense humidity, daily rain showers, high temperatures and occasional hurricanes,” said U.S. News & World Report. Also, the average age in Tampa is 40—the oldest among WalletHub’s top three.

No. 2: Overland Park, KS

Overland Park was 104th in affordability, 24th in real estate market, and ninth for quality of life in WalletHub’s study for an overall No. 2 rank. The city was also named MONEY’s No. 15 best place to live.

“The second-largest city in Kansas, Overland Park continues to attract newcomers with the resources and appeal of a big city,” they said. “Its public schools are famed for their high graduation rate, while the bustling business community—Overland Park is home to telecom giant Sprint’s world headquarters, among other employers—helps keep unemployment low.”

Livability notes the “balance of business and quality of life” and also points out the “large assortment of indoor and outdoor recreation options,” which span 72 parks and more than 1,800 acres of open space, plus “good restaurants and shopping areas. The city’s low crime rate and stable economy attracts many couples with children.”

What to watch out for: The slower pace of life is lauded in Overland Park, but if you’re used to city living, you might be bored. The median age is 38, which tracks higher than many other cities that cater to first-time buyers, and only 36% of homes in the city are owned. Also: tornados.

No. 3: Thornton, CO

Thornton was 138th in affordability, 28th in real estate market, and fourth for quality of life in the WalletHub report. Just eight miles from Denver, Thornton is a bustling suburb that offers family-friendly living within in the shadow of a major metropolitan area. As such, the city is thriving.

“Economic diversity and easy access to the great outdoors make these cities among the most attractive places to live in Colorado,” said Livability. “Since 2010, the city has had a population growth of almost 18 percent. That growth largely caters to younger buyers seeking out an ideal place to purchase their first home. The city’s median age is just 33.

Peak Property Group points out the “views of the Rockies to the west, and the towering Denver skyline to the south,” as well as the “fabulous sense of community, the strong economy, and the plentiful recreational opportunities that are easily accessible from this Denver suburb.” In addition, the key location on the north end of Denver just 20 minutes from the airport “make it an attractive place to build strong companies without incurring the costs associated with a downtown location. Allegro Coffee built their headquarters in Thornton in 1977 and they are still brewing up some of America’s best breakfast beverages. The city is also home to Regis University, Google, Intrex Aerospace, Ascent Solar, and Sungard Data Systems.” 

What to watch out for: Winters are cold. Really cold. An average low of 19 in January cold.

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