Here's where to start if you're a first-time buyer, looking to move up, or ready to downsize.

TOP PICKS FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS

In the City
Many first-time buyers crave the convenience, walkability and cachet of the city’s premier urban neighborhoods. But those addresses are becoming out of reach, with average home values soaring above $300,000 or even $400,000 in some cases. The result? First-time buyers are seeking out the “next best thing,” says Jim Deskins, a buyer’s real estate agent.

Can’t get into German Village? Try an up-and-coming nearby neighborhood like Southern Orchards, Hungarian Village or Merion Village. Is Clintonville too expensive? Cross I-71 and find a more affordable option in North Linden, where values have nearly doubled over the past five years, according to Zillow. Real estate agents also say neighborhoods such as Franklinton and Westgate, with similar housing stock to more popular urban neighborhoods, are benefiting from this shift among first-time buyers, too. “They can’t afford, say, Clintonville or the Short North, but they can get that kind of home in Franklinton for a lot less money,” Deskins says. 

In the Suburbs
A similar scenario is playing out beyond Columbus’ borders, with buyers considering less prestigious suburbs such as Whitehall and Obetz—where home values have jumped considerably in recent years—as affordable options have become more scarce in blue-chip communities like Dublin, Westerville and Powell.

When one of Nicole Yoder Barnhart’s clients kept getting beaten out for houses in Dublin and Hilliard, the real estate agent suggested Marysville, where the client found a home with the desired amenities though not the desired address. “I’m finding that people are starting to understand they can’t get all their boxes checked because of the market,” says Yoder Barnhart of HER Realtors. “They’re thinking outside the box and moving a little further out.”

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TOP PICKS FOR MOVE-UP BUYERS 

In the City
Why do people leave their first homes? Often, a growing family precipitates the move—and schools quickly emerge as the key factor in their relocation calculus, which can pose a difficult riddle for devoted urbanists who want to maintain their city lifestyles while also sending their children to high-quality public schools.

If money is no issue, they can buy a roomier home in a place like Victorian Village or Olde Towne East and send their kids to private schools. Another option is to head north to Clintonville, where the neighborhood public schools are stronger than the rest of the Columbus district. But often a more significant compromise occurs—and that can involve a move to suburbanlike Northwest Columbus, an area still inside city borders where many homes fall within the school districts of Worthington, Dublin and Hilliard. “Those are desirable because typically the price of the house is less,” says Jim Deskins, a real estate buyer’s agent. 

In the Suburbs
Despite the common perception of millennials as devoted city dwellers, Columbus real estate agents report they’re adapting quickly to suburban life as they get married and have children. Many are re-creating their childhoods in places like Dublin, New Albany, Powell, Lewis Center, Hilliard, Westerville and Grove City. “They’re going out and buying houses like what they grew up in,” says Jeffrey Ruff of Vutech-Ruff HER Realtors.

That said, Ruff, who specializes in urban homes, says if they can afford it, many move-up buyers coming from the city look first to inner-ring suburbs like Grandview, Upper Arlington and Bexley—all with good public schools and close to the city. “They really want to hang on to living close to the city,” Ruff says. 

TOP PICKS FOR DOWNSIZERS

In the City
Columbus’ urban playground—the Short North, German Village and Downtown—features quite a bit of gray hair these days. Real estate agents report a significant number of empty nesters are downsizing from their suburban homes into condos in these inner-city neighborhoods. “They’ve done the suburban thing and the big house,” says Jeffrey Ruff of Vutech-Ruff HER Realtors, who specializes in urban homes. “They kind of want a whole change of lifestyle, and often it is to an urban setting, whether it’s Downtown or the historic neighborhoods. That is certainly a big portion of my business.”

In the Suburbs
Though a shift to an urban lifestyle is fine for some downsizers, others are more content to age in a familiar suburban setting—and Central Ohio communities are developing options for them. Grandview offers Grandview Yard, the sprawling mixed-use project with a variety of housing options. “You’re close to [downtown] Grandview,” says Jill Rudler of Keller Williams Excel Realty. “You’re close to Downtown [Columbus]. You’re close to the highway. So if you’re from the suburbs and you want to connect to folks, it’s pretty easy access for a lot of different things.”

Rudler also points to several senior-friendly housing options (condos, patio homes or cottages) in communities such as Dublin, Powell, Delaware and New Albany. Nicole Yoder Barnhart, a real estate agent with HER Realtors, and her husband recently downsized—or “right-sized,” her preferred term—to a cottage at Tartan Ridge in Dublin. Their home includes two bedrooms on a second floor, but most of the living space is on the lower level, including a master bedroom, an essential amenity in downsizer-friendly housing. “Definitely the master should be on the first floor,” she says.

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