Starter Homes for Newlyweds

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Almost every evening he walked his dogs past the derelict old house. It was in a solid neighborhood, but it had been vacant for five long years and time had done its worst.

Most would see the broken and missing windows, collapsing roof, the yard in need of care and think that the land alone had value. But Garhett Gordon saw much more in that 1938 brick home.

"I want that house," he told his fiancee.

The idea of homeownership may be recession battered, but that great American dream is still alive, and North Texas newlyweds eager to find that a nest together have joined a big parade of first-time homeowners who are changing the game.

Often older, better educated, with both partners chasing professional careers, Indulge readers who are newly married have more jingle in their jeans -- and more long-term notions of how to spend those housing dollars.

They are also a diverse group. Some demand new construction while others are willing -- even eager -- to tackle major remodeling projects. But for the four couples we interviewed, location was a singularly important consideration, and all of them had an eye on the future.

"They're thinking long range," says custom builder Sean Knight, speaking in general terms of first-home buyers. "They buy with the idea of staying longer and so they're willing to pay more." Some of Knight's young clients have been so farsighted as to design that first home with universal design features for some day when handrails in the bathroom would make life easier for themselves or an aging parent.

A decade ago, people expected to stay in a first home only two to five years. Now it's 10 to 13 years, according to a 2011 National Association of Home Builders report.

The space newlyweds require has ballooned, too. While they may put off starting a family, they want to be ready when the time comes, says builder Michael Dike of Village Homes. "They want three to four bedrooms," he says. And with the future in mind, "wide doorways and fewer levels," he says.

They're also thinking of the resale value, says architect Brandon Allen of Allen Architecture. "I wish people would think more about how they are going to live in the house now and in 30 years. ... But they're thinking about ... how they can sell it before they even move in. So many decisions are based on resale," he says, regretfully.

But builders like Dike and Knight know that home buyers do have a different vision for living in a home than buyers of a decade ago did, and that their demands are changing. Open kitchens are still in. Formal dining rooms, an absolute must-have only a few years ago, are out and so are other rooms dedicated to a single use. Buyers want flexible rooms that can be used in any number of ways: a study, a music room, a guest room, craft room or reading nook, says Dike. Energy-efficient features such as foam insulation are also expected in new construction.

These young buyers are amenable to trade-offs. "They're willing to give up yards if there's a community park close," Dike says.

We talked to four recently married couples recommended by area builders, Realtors and friends about what sort of house they bought, where and why. They are arranged from newlyweds of four months to old hands who have celebrated two anniversaries.

KERI AND BRADLEY HICKMAN

Age/occupation: She's 26 and has been in film production. He's 28 and in real estate.

Married: November 2012

Wanted: New or nearly new construction. Safe neighborhood. Hardwood floors. Kitchen open to the living area. Small yard for dog. Park nearby.

Plan to stay: 10 to 15 years or maybe forever.

Bought: New 3,400 square feet; 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths on two levels, study, butler's pantry, hardwood floors, dining room, open kitchen and living area plus generous game room downstairs and room for an elevator to be added. And the family dog got the small yard.

Location: Village Homes development south of downtown.

Price: Houses range from $500,000 to well over $1 million.

ANISSA AND BRANDON ALLEN

Age/occupation: She's 36 and in management. He's 36 and an architect.

Married: January 2011

Wanted: Empty lot or "fixer-upper" close to downtown, TCU or the museums.

Plan to stay: A few more months -- or maybe a few more years; wants to build.

Bought: Badly neglected 1948 bungalow (2 bedroom, 1 bath) with addition.

Particulars after the remodel: 1,300 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths with open kitchen, dining and living area. Brandon drew the plans and did a bit of the work himself; tore off the addition, gutted the house.

Location: Historic Ryan Place south of Elizabeth Boulevard.

Price: Estimated value after the remodel is $225,000.

ANISA AND JOHNNY NHAN

Age/occupation: She's 29 and a licensed school psychologist. He's 35 and a TCU assistant professor.

Married: November 2010

Wanted: New or nearly new construction. No yard. Short commute to work. Walking distance from downtown. Not much square footage to maintain. Park nearby.

Plan to stay: Six to seven years.

Bought: In November 2011 a new-construction condo with intention of starting a family in this home.

Particulars: 2,500 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths on three levels plus roof deck with skyline views on fourth level. Yes, there is a small park nearby. No elevator and no room to add one.

Location: Uptown area

Price: $318,000; a year later appraised for $30,000 more.

ANDREA AND GARHETT GORDON

Age/occupation: She's 27 and a testing coordinator at a university. He's 31 and in real estate.

Married: May 2012

Wanted: A "fixer-upper" near downtown.

Plan to stay: Two to three years or less if they find another property ripe for investment.

Bought: A house built in 1938; vacant for five years -- roof on addition had collapsed, windows broken or missing, second floor sagged.

Particulars after remodel: 2,992 square feet; 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, dining room, massive state-of-the-art kitchen, plus upstairs play room; tore off addition and gutted the house. He did architectural drawings himself and some of the work.

Location: An older neighborhood west of TCU with some new construction on lots formerly with tear-down houses.

Price: Houses on the street are valued from about $300,000 to well over $1 million. Garhett believes the remodeled property could bring somewhere in the $600,000 range.

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