Study finds Charleston in top quarter, North Charleston in middle for cities' attractiveness to first-time homebuyers

Rows of peaked roofs mark this street in White Gables, a popular Summerville neighborhood for first-time homeowners (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).

Singles, couples and families looking to buy their first homes locally should expect positive results, or at least better outcomes than in most places nationwide.

That's based on a new "in-depth analysis" from WalletHub. The company bills itself as the "leading personal finance social network."

WalletHub says it conducted the survey in August because it's one of the top months for home sales. The network reviewed information from the nation's 300 largest cities - as opposed to metro areas - focusing on home affordability, real estate market conditions and the "community environment." All the cities analyzed had "no data limitations."

Charleston and North Charleston were the only two cities listed in South Carolina.

In determining the municipalities' attractiveness to first-time home buyers, the finance network studied 17 measurements "ranging from median house prices and real estate taxes to median home price appreciation and price-to-rent ratios." Those findings were grouped into the affordability, market and environment categories but only for organizational reasons and were not factors in the overall rankings, the company says.

WalletHub ranked Charleston 66th best for first-time home buyers, including 71st in affordability, 74th in real estate market and 151th in community environment.

By comparison, North Charleston landed 156th best overall, including 102nd for affordability, 49th for real estate market and 294th in community environment.

The analytical group did not publicly break out all the measurement scores for cities surveyed, although it did note that certain indicators were given more weight than others.

Nationwide, the top five cities for first-time homebuyers were in the same Southwestern geographic region: Broken Arrow, Okla., at No. 1; Allen, Texas, 2; Norman, Okla., 3; Denton, Texas, 4; and Frisco, Texas, 5.

At the other end of the scale, the least desirable places for people purchasing homes for the first time were Richmond, Calif., 300; Newark, N.J., 299; Salinas, Calif., 298; Patterson, N.J., 297; and New Bedford, Mass., 296.

As part of the report, WalletHub writer Richie Bernardo described the economic importance of first-time homebuyers. He noted that 38 percent of primary-residence homebuyers in 2013 were first-time homebuyers, just below an historical average of 40 percent.

"Buying a home for the first time is an exciting and important milestone in most people's lives. At least it was traditionally until the housing market experienced the most destructive upheaval in its history nearly a decade ago," he says. "Many Americans are still trying to recover from the collapse of the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession."

Meanwhile last year, the National Association of Realtors noted that "tightened credit standards for home buyers have suppressed the level of first-time buyers in the market," he says.

As a result, homebuyers these days "are more stressed and skeptical as ever in the wake of the economic crisis, especially given the drastic variations in the pace of recovery across the United States," Bernardo says.

The study highlighted the gap between the top and bottom cities in various categories. It found:

- Housing affordability stands 14 times higher in Flint, Mich., than in Santa Barbara, Calif.

- The real-estate tax rate ranks 12 times higher in Waukegan, Ill., than in Honolulu.

- Property crime rate per capita is eight times higher in Miami Beach, Fla., than in Mission Viejo, Calif.

- The price-to-rent ratio is six times higher in Santa Barbara than in Detroit.

- Median household annual income (adjusted for cost of living) is five times higher in Frisco, Texas, than in Paterson, N.J.

- The average energy cost per household is three times higher in Honolulu than in Denton, Texas.

"For those planning to relocate or purchase a new home in the near future, the findings of this study will help them navigate the real estate landscape," Bernardo says.

For more information and to see the whole report, visit www.wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-cities-for-first-time-home-buyers/5564/.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.