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Starter homes remain scarce in Boise area

Lots of younger folks are reading this right now and saying, “What in the world is a starter home? Do those even exist?” The answer is, not so much anymore.

BOISE, Idaho — The market for starter homes in Ada County is all but gone and disappearing elsewhere in the Treasure Valley. But there are things local leaders can do to help.

Some of you can still remember those first homes you bought. They might have been a little small and in need of fixing up, but buying one of those homes was a huge step in building your life. Lots of younger folks are reading this right now and saying, “What in the world is a starter home? Do those even exist?” The answer is, not so much anymore. That is, of course, a huge problem.

Tracy Kasper, a long-time REALTOR® from Nampa and the National Association of REALTORS® President-Elect puts it into perspective: "You buy that first house, that's what leverages you into the next one and into the next one," she said. "So, finding that point of entry for those first-time homebuyers is pivotal."

But recently, the dream of home ownership for first-time buyers in the valley has stayed a dream, instead of turning into a reality.

"The affordability piece is the big piece that we are not filling,” Kasper said. “For a first-time homebuyer at 5.5% or even 6% interest, they need to be in that high 100s, low 200s, mid 200s, and we just don't have that."

Let's look at November 2017 in Ada County. According to the Intermountain MLS, 346 homes were sold for less than $250,000. Five years later, in November 2022, the number of homes sold for less than $250,000 totaled one. That's right, there was only one home that sold for less than $250,000 in Ada County that month.

As Kasper said, starter homes are essentially nonexistent right now. But she also says, there is hope, and cities and counties can help by making it easier to get starter homes built.

"So that's a piece that I think every municipality can say, ‘What do our codes look like? What does the red tape look like? What does the length of time look like?’ Because that's the one piece government can control," Kasper said. "It shouldn't take two years to get a project off the ground."

Cities are trying to do exactly that. For instance, Boise is in the middle of rewriting their code to help expedite affordable housing projects. Kasper says it will also take more collaboration with developers who want to build affordable housing,

"There are investors that are looking at our area and saying, 'There is a gap.' They know it. Let them come in, and let's work with them and see what we can do to fill that," Kasper said.

Another element of people being able to buy starter homes, is the credit of the buyer. Kasper talked about credit reporting services allowing folks to use rent payments, utility payments, and phone payments to build or improve their credit. Better credit, or building any sort of credit, will help folks get into that first home.

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