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Whatever Happened to the Starter Home?


Today in some parts of the country there’s hardly anything in the marketplace for under $300,000 resembling the American starter home of the last 70 years. In Raleigh, N.C., entering this weekend there have been 17 such single-family homes with a minimum of two bedrooms listed on the market. Across the Denver metro, there have been six; around Salt Lake City, three.

In Houston, Felecia Ellis has been driving around on lunch breaks from a dental clinic searching for such a house within the $200,000-$250,000 range.

“Driving through a neighborhood, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that is a ravishing home, I do know I can afford it,’” Ms. Ellis said. Then she pulls out her phone within the hopeful ritual of the first-time home buyer. The reply within the listing, as a rule, is that, actually, she will be able to’t afford it.

“And I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” she said. “‘This home is $425,000.’”

The starter home has at all times done loads of work. It builds equity, creates stability, gives shelter from landlords and inflation. It has been an incubator of small businesses and community institutions like day care centers. And in an earlier form and time, it was more adaptable. Just add a rest room when indoor plumbing arrived, a second unit to gather rental income, a garage once cars became common.

“It’s flexible, it’s malleable, and it allows for improvement, investment and alter over time,” said Marta Gutman, dean of the City College of Recent York’s Spitzer School of Architecture.

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