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For First-Time Buyers, Expectations May Not Match Reality

The housing bust is forcing many to reconsider their notions of housing and what it means to be a homeowner, but perhaps no group has been more challenged on that front than the first-time home buyer: mortgages are tougher than ever to get, prices tend to be dropping in most major housing markets, and home prices can vary wildly in the same neighborhood as one seller frantically tries to get out and another doggedly holds the line on what they think their property is worth. And the list goes on. Despite the challenges confronting many first-time home buyers, a new study by Coldwell Banker suggests that many have yet to come to grips with market conditions. In particular, first-time home buyers are primarily concerned with affordability when choosing a new home, but their expectations may be too high relative to their current financial buying power, the survey found. While nearly half of the Coldwell Banker broker respondents surveyed by the company reported that affordability was the No. 1 concern for first-time buyers, 81 percent said today's first-time home buyers consider move-in conditions to be very important when searching for homes. In contrast, only 7 percent are looking to purchase "fixer-upper" homes that they could buy at a lower price and renovate themselves. "In the past, first-time home buyers were willing to purchase older, more basic houses in an effort to save money and break into homeownership," said Jim Gillespie, president and chief executive officer, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, LLC. "Today, this group has greater home expectations because they have grown up more accustomed to their parents' lifestyles." In other words, many first-time buyers still carry bubble-level expectations of what their first home ought to be. Survey findings also suggested that first-time home buyers worry more about credit ratings and approval than they did a decade ago, but less about down payments -- another holdover of the easy-lending boom, where down payments mattered little and all that mattered was being approved for the loan. According to 29 percent of brokers surveyed, first-time home buyers were more concerned with down payments 10 years ago than anything else, while only 17 percent said this is the biggest concern in today's market. Meanwhile, survey respondents said that only 4 percent of first-time home buyers were worried about their credit scores in 1998, while 14 percent said it is more of a concern today. More evidence that first-time buyers have yet to come back to Earth: 71 percent of brokers noted that first-time home buyers are looking for larger homes than they were 10 years ago; 35 percent of the survey respondents said "investment" is the No. 1 reason they are looking to make their purchase.

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