Published on September 11, 2020

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Photography by DP Productions/Getty Images

If you’ve spent the past few months working remotely in a cramped city apartment, we have good news for you—and it involves a moving truck. According to a recent Zillow report, nearly 2 million renters who aren’t able to upgrade to a bigger space in their current metro areas might be able to afford the average U.S. starter home. It all comes down to the zip code. 

Per Zillow, the typical starter home weighs in at $131,740—not exactly a steal, but for those leasing in more expensive cities, purchasing one is an opportunity to cut back on costs and get more square footage all in one. In San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, 25, 22, and 17 percent of renters, respectively, would be able to save by moving. If your teleworking job offers some flexibility, look to cities like Akron, Ohio; Peoria, Illinois; and Rochester, New York; they’re among the most affordable for housing. All it takes is a little know-how as a first-time home buyer to navigate the market—and we tapped two real-estate pros for some intel. 

Prep the Right Questions

Before you even start touring, begin by asking yourself about finances—including the fine print. “How much money do you want to have left over after you sign the paperwork?” says Mihal Gartenberg, an agent with Warburg Realty. “Also, ask about costs not pertaining to the purchase price.” Title insurance, for example, can be a larger expense you might not be factoring in from the get-go. 

Look Beyond the Stated Price Tag

If your starter home is actually a starter apartment, there might be some communal costs, even if you buy. “Ask what capital improvements are planned for the building in the near future, as it could impact monthly fees,” suggests Michael J. Franco, a broker at Compass. Updates to a roof, boiler, facade work, elevator, or even cosmetic things like hallway or lobby remodels can creep up on you, so be sure to know how they will be financed in advance.

Crowdsource Best-Practice Tips

The most common mistake first-time buyers make? Not learning from friends and family who have already gone through the process, says Gartenberg. Chat with homeowners who have been where you’ve been and make a list of everything they wish they’d done differently. 

Stop by Multiple Times

“A viewing might happen during a time of day when there’s not a lot of traffic—buyers need to assess potential noise issues that may come up,” says Franco. Do a few test runs to make sure you’ve seen the place at all times of day; noise aside, this will help you figure out things such as where the light comes in and what the neighborhood is like at different hours. A little extra field research can’t hurt. 

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.

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