The thrill of buying your first home is up there with many firsts in life – landing your dream job, finding the right mate, having a baby, adopting a pet – there is a sense of wonder and accomplishment about it.

You think to yourself, “This is mine.”

Then, you go about introducing yourself to it – interweaving your personality into the landscape of your structure – the four walls that become your haven. What you come back to.

Facts about first-timers

According to MGIC.com, first-timers share a few characteristics:

• Sixty-three percent are married; 18 percent are single females; 9 percent are single males; and 8 percent are unmarried couples

• Twenty-five percent of millennials buy a home together before getting married.

• Thirty-three percent of all homebuyers are buying their first home.

• The median age of a first-time homebuyer is 32.

• Twenty-four percent of first-time buyers used a gift as a source of down payment.

• Seventy-one percent rented before buying.

• Twenty-three percent lived with parents, relatives or friends before buying.

“I’m a data driven decision maker,” said Gentry Todd of The Boulevard Company. “Knowing that many first-time buyers will typically be in a home for a limited period, I help them identify features that will help with resale value and that can often help them in choosing one home over another.”

What they want

Not surprisingly, millennials are the largest pool of first-time home buyers and where they decide to put their roots is determined not only by budget but by the lifestyle they want.

“First time home buyers want several things in their first home,” said Todd. “Proximity to amenities and walkability has become an important factor, if not the most important over the past five years.”

Most of his clients – millennials, who are buying their first homes — settle on single-family dwellings that range in size between 1300-1800 square feet. But, as prices have increased in certain areas – Mount Pleasant and close to downtown – the areas popular in 2012 have changed as prices changed.

“If I had a couple with a budget of $350,000 looking for a three-bedroom, two bath home up to 1800 square feet, there weren’t too many areas off limits,” Todd said. “Now, I find many of my first-time buyers gravitating toward West Ashley, James Island and Park Circle in North Charleston.“

For single-family homes, West Ashley’s Bolton Landing has new construction under $300,000 while Byrnes Down (close to downtown and Folly Beach) has cottage-style older homes that range from 900 to 1800 square feet with prices in the $300,000 range. Carolina Bay is one of the newer neighborhoods in West Ashley, and though further out, it has amenities galore that first-time buyers with children want.

James Island’s Willow Walk has homes in the mid to high $200,000 and brand new luxury-style condos in The Retreat at Riverland are good for those busy first-time buyers who’d rather go without yard work. Lawton’s Bluff fits the bill for many as their mixture of 1960s to 1990s ranch-style homes offer larger lots and are only five minutes from downtown. Prices range from $275,000 to smaller homes to almost $6 million for estate-like homes on the water.

The new Mixson neighborhood near Park Circle is becoming a hotspot for young professionals. Referred to as the “gem” of Park Circle, it brings “urban architecture,” – into a mix of neighborhood must-haves such as social and swim clubs, green spaces, a yoga studio, its own market, on-site dog park and an on-site restaurant. The Park Circle district is just minutes away, as is downtown and Riverfront Park. Prices range from the high $200,000 to the low $300,000.

First-timers, as most homebuyers, usually have to compromise – deciding what’s most important – location or size.

“Location is more important than the size of the home,” said David Kent of The Real Buyer’s Agent. “Affordable homes are in several locations – it could be anywhere in the Lowcountry. Most of our clients have been in Mount Pleasant, James Island and North of the Crosstown.”

Kent recently sold a home to a first-time homebuyer that wanted to be close to downtown. The renovated 1940s style bungalow home on the peninsula sold for $433,000.

The median home price for single-family dwellings in Mount Pleasant is now over $400,000, so buyers wishing to stay within that $300,000 mark are choosing neighborhoods such as Ivy Hall off of Highway 17 North, where a buyer can stay in the $300,000 range for a 1,200 square foot single family home. Carol Oaks, a neighborhood established in 2007 and a mile north of the intersection of Highways 17 and 41 has homes ranging in size from 1,400 to 2,200 square feet, starting in the mid $300,000. Hamlin Plantation off Rifle Range has townhomes in the high $200,000 with over 1,400 square feet.

Further out

As demand for single-family homes in the $300,000 range East of the Cooper grows, one builder foresaw that need, purchasing several plots of land in Huger.

“The affordability of Huger is drawing first-time home buyers, and retirees,” said David Mikulski of Near Zero Energy Homes. “In the last 20 homes we have built, eight of them are first-time home buyers.”

Brightwood Plantation is a new development of 114 lots, in Huger, about 20 miles from Mount Pleasant proper. There are 60 homes built and according to Mikulski, construction will be complete within two years. The homes range from 1800 square feet up to 2400. Two homes in the neighborhood are 2800 square feet.

“You’re just a few minutes away from Mount Pleasant,” said Mikulski. “We are this little gem out here and it’s going to blow up on Cainhoy Road. It is coming this way.”

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The homes range in price from $250,000 to $300,000. The community has a clubhouse, swimming pool and a large pond where residents can fish.

“Brightwood Plantation is value upon value,” he said. “Many first-time homebuyers want to be near Mount Pleasant, but aren’t able to afford the area. We are 14 miles from the Harris Teeter on Highway 17, 20 miles from Tailrace Canal and Lake Moultrie, and 10 minutes to the marina on the Wando. This area is great for nature enthusiasts and for those who love to boat and fish.”

The classic Charleston-style homes have engineered hardwoods, 42-inch hardwood cabinets, porcelain tiled baths and granite countertops. Insulated slabs, walls wrapped in radiant barrier, spray foam insulation in attics and cement plank exteriors make them very energy efficient Mikulski said, with “electric bills at $90-$120 a month during the heat of August.” Two of the model homes have nine-foot ceilings and are four-bed, four bath with double masters and double porches.

Going six miles down the road on Clements Ferry raises the price – for the same type build to over $200,000 compared to Huger home prices, he said.

Venturing out to Johns Island offers first-time buyers lower price point alternatives as well. The new phase of Oakfield neighborhood, Laurel Glen, offers three-bedroom homes starting at $252,990. Large green spaces, a community pavilion, playgrounds, walking trails and a community pool are part of the lifestyle.

Advice, purchasing power and the rest

The buying process can be overwhelming. Doing one’s due diligence in terms of preparation is the first step in what can seem to be a complex undertaking. Many buyers don’t know where to begin.

“Get educated on the process. Finding a good agent who can help you make sound decisions along the way is essential, but most buyers start their research far before contacting an agent,” Todd stated. “While good ole’ Google helps, if you have a friend or family member who has purchased recently in your market and can share their experience, that’s good. Get your hands on your financials and get pre-approved. Start making improvements, pay off debt and ensure your credit is in good standing.”

Kent agreed. “A first-time homebuyer should hire an agent who will represent them and not the seller. It’s a good idea to interview three agents before making a decision. Understanding all the risk-based decisions buyers need to make — do you want earthquake insurance, a termite warranty, flood insurance and the timeline in which to make those decisions.”

There are a variety of home financing options for first-time home buyers that require little to no down payment.

“Our homes (in Brightwood Plantation) have USDA financing with no down payment,” Mikulski said.

USDA loans are specific to eligible rural and suburban buyers with zero down payment. They are issued through the government and are similar to FHA and VA loans. According to NerdWallett.com, applicants with credit scores of 640 or higher receive streamlined processing.

This is an attractive alternative to homebuyers without means of a down payment, though as Kent said, “It’s important for buyers to understand the cost of mortgage insurance when they put less than 20 percent down.”

“You don’t have to have 20 percent down,” Todd said. “The national average for first-time home buyers is around six percent. I regularly see folks putting five to ten percent down with conventional style loans.”

Making, what is for most, the largest purchase of their lives is daunting. Breaking down the process into manageable steps, arming yourself with knowledge and working with a learned professional is key.

“I find it useful for first timers to list their musts,” Todd said. “Not only is it a good exercise to help me make suggestions to them, but they reinforce to themselves what is most important when it comes to decision making time. For many buyers, this can be subject to change when we actually get out and start looking. They begin to imagine themselves in a certain neighborhood or home.”