Visalia among best cities for first-time homebuyers

Recent study ranks Visalia tops in the Valley for housing affordability, real estate market and quality of life

VISALIA – The Visalia area is not only one of the best places to live in the Valley, it’s one of the best in the nation for first-time home buyers.

WalletHub, a personal finance web site offering analysis to consumers, compared 300 cities of varying sizes across 26 key indicators of market attractiveness, affordability and quality of life. The data set ranged from cost of living to real-estate taxes to property-crime rate.

Buying a home for the first time is an exciting and important milestone for many Americans. Their purchases make up a sizable chunk of the market, too. In the fourth quarter of 2019, 39% of all U.S. single-family home purchases were made by first-time buyers. This year, though, Americans may be conflicted on whether it’s a good time to purchase a first home. While many people have been financially hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, mortgage interest rates have also hit record lows.

Kimberly Luchtenberg, assistant professor in the Department of Finance and Real Estate at American University, said it is hard to know now whether changes in the home buying process being driven by COVID-19 are going to be permanent. Much of the search for a property can be done online, but before making a final decision to buy it is still important to see the home in person. Open houses can and do still occur, but they are different today with social distancing.

“I believe it is more important than ever in these circumstances to work with an experienced professional who knows the local area and can help you find the right home for you,” Luchtenberg said.

For people willing to take the risk to invest in a house this year, the search for a first home requires careful consideration of a number of factors. Buyers must balance what they want and need with what they can afford. Often, people begin searching for their dream homes without a realistic idea of market prices, interest rates or even their eligibility to get a mortgage.

Luchtenberg said the neighborhood where you choose to buy a home is often more important than the home itself. Some factors that many homebuyers find important include safety, schools, community diversity, commute, entertainment options, noise, and many, many others.

“There are many ways to make a home your own even on a first-time home buyer’s tight budget,” Lucthenberg wrote. “It is less easy to change the neighborhood.”

WalletHub attempts to do that for the consumer with the ranking of “Best Places for First-Time Homebuyers.” Visalia ranked 58th on the list, the highest of any Central Valley city ahead of Clovis (100), Modesto (141), Fresno (175), and Bakersfield (160). To determine the most favorable housing markets for first-time home buyers, WalletHub compared a sample of 300 U.S. cities (varying in size) across three key dimensions: 1) affordability, 2) real estate market and 3) quality of life. Visalia ranked 78th in affordability which included factors such as median house price, median household income, cost of homeowner’s insurance, cost per square foot and real estate taxes.

Visalia fared well for both real estate market and quality of life. The city’s real estate market ranked 111th and included factors such as rent-to-price ratio, share of homes sold, home price appreciation, foreclosure rate, buyers vs. renters, building permit activity, agents and lenders per capita, and homeownership rate for millennials. Visalia was tops among Central Valley cities in this category even edging out the state capitol, as Sacramento ranked 114.

Visalia’s quality of life came in on the top half of the list at No. 131. The measurement takes many factors into consideration including recreation, weather, schools, driver friendliness, job market, home energy costs, as well as property and violent crime rates. The only Valley city to rank higher was Clovis at 119.

Bakersfield made the top five for the highest home-energy costs along with New Haven and Waterbury, Conn., Corpus Christi, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as the lowest rent-to-price ratio, along with four other California cities Fremont, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale.

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