KellerINK Newsletter: Behind The Book — Your First Home
The American Dream
There’s something thrilling about firsts — whether it’s the first time you ride a bike, share a kiss, or drive a car. The adventure of buying your first home is no less memorable. And, when the papers are signed, the keys are in your hand, and you’re standing inside the place that is yours, it can feel immense, powerful. Owning your first home is a true life-changing event.
Homeownership is often seen as a huge achievement, particularly in the United States. From our colonial origins through present day, the ability to own property has been bound up with American aspirations. It has also been a story of American identity and values. By literally allowing individuals to purchase the land and buildings that make up their communities, the legal policies and rights around homeownership reflect America’s image of itself. And, like the nation, this has evolved over time, too.
When we originally published Your First Home in 2008, the book began with the story of Stanley and Wini Reben, homeowners who purchased their first home after WWII in Levittown, New York, for the incredible price of $8,000 down.
What was so special about this story at the time was that it highlighted how each individual or family can make a home their own. Every home in Levittown was built to look exactly the same, as it was one of America’s first planned communities, yet over time, homeowners changed details and aspects of their homes to match their needs and personalities. The Rebens’ first home story, and the way that the community of Levittown evolved to show their personalities through their property, seemed to encapsulate the American Dream of homeownership.
New Perspectives, Found Truths
Recently, when the KellerINK team began to revisit Your First Home, we wanted to identify places where not only could we provide an up-to-date portrayal of the technical aspects of the home-buying process (for example, the internet wasn’t a huge part of searching for homes in 2008 where it is instrumental in the 2020s), but also make sure that the book was also in line with today’s first-time home buyer. To help us modernize the content, we asked several agents from different geographical areas and backgrounds, mortgage experts, and experts in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative to review an early draft and provide us with feedback. Several noted that Levittown had layers to its past that now made it a questionable choice to showcase the American Dream.
When Your First Home was written in 2008, Levittown’s wider legacy was largely focused on its pioneering planning; it was one of the first master-planned communities in the United States. However, a decade later, Levittown’s legacy has shown to be more complicated. From its founding in the 1950s and well after, Levittown had an "unofficial" policy of not selling to minorities. Discriminatory practices like these are often called "redlining," and they are universally condemnedin the real estate industry.
In a book that serves as a welcome guide to homeownership, we did not feel that continuing to showcase Levittown as the "American Dream" was in line with our values, or with the audience we hoped to help. So, like many of the first-time home buyers who will come to this resource, we began an adventure.
A New Beginning and New Trends
When our research team and authors Gary and Jay thought about what made the original Levittown story so compelling, we had three aha’s. First, the story introduced readers to real-life first-time home buyers, giving them someone to identify with. Second, the community of Levittown showed how even identical properties became unique homes due to the personalities and needs of their owners. And, finally, Levittown also illustrated how a home could be a wise long-term financial investment. (That $8,000 house from the 1950s would now be worth an average $560,000 for the area). So, we set out to find people whose home-buying stories would reflect what it may be like for those beginning the homeownership journey today.
What does home buying look like in the 2020s? The answer is that it can be as unique as the home buyers themselves.
A Home Can Be More Than a House
It’s not unusual for today’s first-time home buyers to look for properties that are different from the traditional single-family stand-alone house. For some, this shift is financial. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports that over the past year, the median sales price of a single-family residence rose in 99% of markets and the average home price nationally rose 16% to $363,700. For others, different kind of properties like condominiums and townhouses offer buyers the ability to have the privacy and equity of owning a home with benefits of amenities like community pools and gyms and without having to be responsible for things like mowing the lawn. So, as we set out to collect new stories, we kept our eyes open for people who had made the leap into homeownership in these "nontraditional" properties.
More Kinds of People Are Buying
If you asked most people to guess what first-time home buyers looked like, you’d likely hear them describe a young couple, possibly engaged or just recently married, who are hoping to find a place to begin the rest of their lives. However, NAR reports that more than a quarter (27%) of first-time home buyers are single and the amount of that percentage of first-time buyers that are single women has increased to 18% in the last year. Single males and unmarried couples also buy their first homes at about 9% of the total first-time home sales.
These trends point to the fact that more and more people are looking to own homes and that the type of property they may be looking for can be just as unique as they are.
What’s Evergreen? The Fact That a Home Is a Great Investment
As Gary and Jay write in Your First Home, "Home isn’t only where your heart is, it’s where your money is too." While some trends have changed over the last decade, one simple fact hasn’t: a home can be a remarkable investment. Nationwide, the average sales price of a house increased 16% in the last year alone.
To help illustrate the long-term benefits that come with homeownership, our research team looked at cities and areas all over the country. Then, we reached out to agents and friends, trying to find out the fates of their first home purchases. Even though the stories we listened to varied wildly in terms of whether the first property was a duplex, a detached house, or something else – the one constant was that each first-time homeowner found that when it came time to sell, their home had gone up in value. These anecdotes are supported by industry research. As Gary and Jay write, "There is never a wrong time to buy the right home."
When our research team collected all these stories and insights, we returned to Your First Home and, just like a new homeowner, renovated. Alongside the search for single-family homes, we installed the dramatic discovery of a duplex. Among the families and couples, a few new faces looking to find a place on their own showed up. More than anything, the energy began to change. We wanted our associates and their clients to feel welcome, excited, and curious as soon as they turned the first pages. We hope that when we can share these new stories with you, you’ll feel right at home.