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First-time home buyers face difficulties

New homes are seen at the Pulte Homes Fireside at Norterra-Skyline housing development on March 5, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.

President Obama will speak in Phoenix today, talking up homeownership for the middle class. But there is tension between Obama's message and the reality for many first time home buyers in the area who are facing low inventory, rising prices, and competition from investors.

In the month of June, 24 percent of homes in Phoenix’s Maricopa County were bought by investors, who often use cash to flip the properties or rent them. According to real estate researcher Michael Orr from Arizona State University, investors are interested in mostly inexpensive properties, buying 42 percent of the homes that sold for less than $150,000 in June.

"If you want to make a certain cash-on-cash return, the most favorable areas are the cheapest, where you can buy very inexpensive homes, but you still get quite a decent rent out of them," Orr said, explaining why inexpensive property appeals to investors who intend to become landlords.

For this reason, first time home buyers often find themselves competing with investors for homes in the lower-price ranges. And with small down payments and the baggage of an FHA loan, these first time buyers are often struggle to have their offers considered by sellers or are outbid, said Phoenix realtor Renee Slagter.

"There’s a lot of frustration because they know that if they wait too long they will no longer be able to afford a home in this market," she said.

Slagter and Orr say higher inventory would stabilize prices, and construction is picking up in Phoenix, however most new homes being built are aimed at higher-priced buyers.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.
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