Cindy: Renaming the Humble “Starter” Home

Stereotypical “Starter Home”

A commenter on my last High-Rise Buyer’s Guide column lamented my use of the word “starter” to describe the final two columns in the series that’ll cover Dallas’ lower-priced high-rise options.  He felt it was demeaning to those for whom one of these economical homes wasn’t a “starter,” but a destination. The result of many years of saving and planning. My gut reaction was an eye-roll, but thinking about it, it began to make sense … but not because I thought it was demeaning, but because “starter” was no longer accurate.

In real estate, the word “starter” has been used for decades within the single-family home realm to describe one’s first home from wedding day until the first one or two kiddies popped out. At that point, conventional wisdom had those buyers trade-up to a more spacious home.  “Starter” literally meant the home you started your married life and family in. Not coincidentally, these homes tended to be smaller and less expensive, mirroring the careers of their buyers … a first rung on a property and career ladder homeowners were supposed to climb.

Today, many still follow this script, but many don’t.  For example, ever-growing numbers of first-time homebuyers are single.  As our own Heather Hunter reported in April, single Texas women represent 19 percent of home buyers along with nine percent of single men (another “girls are smarter than boys” moment).

Each of these could be a “starter” condo

When you add condominiums into the mix, the descriptive value of “starter” becomes even murkier.  After all, large numbers of first-time high-rise buyers are far from being first-time homebuyers.  The vast majority have owned multiple homes of every stripe in their past.  For some, a “starter” condo might be a $2 million unit at the Stoneleigh or a simple pied-à-terre. I live in a high-rise that would, by pricing measurements, be considered a “starter” building. But I’ve owned and own other property, I’m not waiting to start a family, and yet, I live in a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom unit.  There are eight units, 20 bedrooms, and 10 residents on my floor. And no one is “starting” anything.

So while “starter” used to be a descriptor to define both a price point and a home’s size, it also had an element of pigeonholing the stage in life of a buyer.  It may hold more truth in the single-family market, especially in tract developments in the sticks, but that equation simply isn’t true in high-rises.

Is this somewhat pedantic?  Perhaps, but people use all sorts of shorthanded phrases that are at once understood and outmoded. Records haven’t had “B-sides” since CDs came along 35 years ago and yet we refer to non-hit songs as B-sides.  Smartphones retain “phone” even though it’s possibly the least-used function today. Ticker tape parades haven’t used actual ticker tape in 60 years.

That said, I find the commenter’s suggestions of replacing “starter” with “affordable” or “good price point” equally off-putting. “Good price point” is too long while using the word “affordable” in Dallas real estate circles conjures images of Section 8 housing and … gasp! … poor people.

Maybe a Brady Bunch theme?  Expensive = Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. Starters become Cindy buildings.  Ever in the middle, Jan takes the center slot.

Even on TV, everyone aspired to be a Marsha

I believe the words I used were “cheap” and “dump” when speaking with my Realtor about my parameters, so clearly I’m no help. If anyone has a better word, toss it in the comments … and no, some riff on Boaty McBoatface is not gonna cut it.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

5 Comment

  • All I know is if I am 50 something and looking at selling or buying a 2 bedroom condo and it’s the third property I’ve purchased in my lifetime; telling me it is a “starter” will make me do an about face and walk away from you because you basicly made me feel like a slow learner. At 50 something I am not starting anything but maybe early retirement, second home or third marriage.

  • From a Silent Gen’er (even older that a Boomer) and retiree who’s tentatively looking–How about “Super Rich”, “Rich,” “Wealthy,” Gettin’ There,” “As Good As It’s Gonna Get.” (AGAIGG: sort of a gagging sound when realizing nothing is in your price range), “Poor,” and “Dirt Poor.”

  • Other new possible realtor terms:

    Endless possibilities replaces a scrapper

    Imagination required replaces this home needs to be gutted

    Taken to the studs means overspent on the remodel

  • How about keeping with the 3-option theme but switching to Starbucks drink sizes, because no-one ever feels the size of drink they order at Starbucks is incorrect. Also speaking brand-Italian makes it seem more fancy.