Purchasing a home for the first time can be intimidating, but it also can bring life-changing financial and emotional benefits.

“You’re building equity, as opposed to allowing a landlord to build equity, so that’s a huge benefit,” said Curtis Bowers, a real estate agent with King William Realty. “Then there are all the other social benefits. I think for me in particular, the biggest thing is having a sense of community and really putting down roots in a neighborhood.”

Perhaps the biggest reason people buy is for pride of ownership. Owning a home means residents can modify the property, landscape to their liking and decorate freely.

“My dad loves his garden and his yard. It’s a way to express himself, and it’s a hobby,” said Carey Morgan, a real estate agent with the Phyllis Browning Co. “Owning a home gives people the opportunity to paint walls whatever color they want and do their landscaping how they want to do it. When you’re living in an apartment or renting, sometimes you’re really limited by what you can do.”

Homeownership gives owners and their families a sense of stability and security. And, mortgage interest is fully deductible on tax returns.

Because last year’s tax credits have expired, many buyers have vanished, making it easier to get a good deal. There also is more to choose from. “It’s an investment in your future,” Morgan said. “There’s this idea that you’re throwing money out of the window with rent.” But Morgan warns that homeownership isn’t for everyone. For most people, a home purchase is the largest single financial investment of a lifetime, and they should think long and hard before buying.

“Some people are not in the ideal situation,” Morgan said. “I think it’s a very personal decision.” Buyers should have reasonably healthy credit scores and steady employment, Bowers said. They also must be willing to commit to living in a home for several years before even considering making an offer.

“I always coach people if you’re not committed to being in that home for at least two years, it’s not wise to buy,” Bowers said. “The rationale for that is just basically on the front end of buying a house. You’ve got closing costs, Realtor fees, and you have to set up escrows.”

Owning a home requires maintenance, which may not appeal to those used to renting. Potential buyers must be disciplined and ready to take on the challenges of upkeep.

Ideally, first-time buyers should look for homes that are priced from about $100,000 to $180,000, said Joe Burrage, a real estate agent with Your Realty Solutions. Besides a reasonable listing price, buyers also should seek the lowest interest rate possible. Three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes about 1,300 square feet in size that require little to no renovation are most popular with first-time buyers.

“Today’s first-time buyers are mostly young couples that maybe don’t have kids yet but are thinking of growing a family,” Burrage said. Burrage said choosing the right location is a uniquely personal decision, although many homes on the city’s North Side meet the needs of first-time buyers.

Most buyers choose a neighborhood to be close to work or in a desirable school district. “You can find something all over San Antonio,” Burrage said.

For first-time buyer Josh Clapp, the right location was the Lavaca Historic District located just south of downtown. Clapp, who is about to finalize a purchase on a home, said buying a home was enticing because of the city’s low housing prices.

San Antonio largely was spared the brunt of the housing crisis, and prices here are more stable than in most markets across the country. “I have family all over the country and I’ve noticed the housing prices here are staggeringly low,” Clapp said.

Clapp’s sister, for example, just purchased a 900-square-foot home in Seattle that is “not in very good shape” for $250,000. His own 1,300-square-foot San Antonio house is fully remodeled and will cost about $185,000.

Clapp was drawn to the Lavaca area’s older homes, which are known for their interesting architectural details.

The neighborhood is close to vibrant Southtown, a commercial corridor popular for its local restaurants and art scene — a big plus for Clapp, who is an artist. Clapp said he plans to turn the home’s detached garage into an art studio.

“There are some amazingly beautiful little houses right next to downtown,” Clapp said. “They have character. It’s another reason we chose to move here.” Express-News archives were used for this report.
 Written By: Ana Ley

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