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As Homebuyers Struggle To Afford Kansas City, Realtors Point Them To The Suburbs

As housing prices rise, suburban areas become more appealing to homebuyers.

Though affordable housing has become a problem in Kansas City, Missouri, people who want to buy houses have more options if they're willing to look in areas outside the city's official limits.

"As you get outside of the metro area, you can find more affordable housing," said Steve Moyer, president of Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors.

Ahead of Gladstone, Missouri's First Suburbs Coalition Regional Housing Summit on Friday, real-estate industry experts said there are plenty of options in the suburbs, especially for first-time homebuyers.

"The Independence area, I think, is a thriving city," agent Nestor Zuluaga said. "There is a lot of things that are working correctly."

There, the Independence First Time Home Buyer Program works with Missouri Housing Development Commission to provide assistance to new buyers. Qualifying applicants could receive assistance in the form of reduced taxes or cash assistance for down payments or closing costs.

The city touts its self as "rich with jobs that offer wages at or above our per-capita median income," and Independence Works 2025 was created last year to aid regional efforts to address workforce development.

Along with those efforts, Zuluaga said, "their school districts have invested quite a bit in their programs. A lot of my clients sort of gravitate towards that city."

Overland Park, Kansas, has a large selection of newer homes, but they bring some first-time buyers sticker shock. The average sale price in 2018 was over $365,000 for a new home.

"There's very few homes under $200,000, and if you do find them there, you're going to have to give up a lot of things," Zuluaga said.

But if the convenience of nearby shopping and easily accessible highways and interstates is at the top of a buyer's list, Overland Park’s historic homes north of 95th Street have starting prices in the range of $140,000.

Zuluaga said many of his Latino clients find Olathe to be an attractive option; Latinos are the city's second largest ethnicity.

Millennials also find it a convenient place to settle down. In 2016, SmartAssets listed Olathe as the top city where millennials are buying; last year, the personal finance website named it the most livable mid-sized city in the country.

Other suburbs struggle to bring in jobs and commerce when there’s little affordable housing and no greenspace to build.

"Workers can't live in their communities and work in their communities if they're working at lower wage jobs," said Gladstone Mayor Carol Suter, who describes her city's population as predominately middle and lower class.

And suburbs aren't immune from larger challenges when it comes to affordable housing. Rising lumber prices, a shortage of skilled workers and a low inventory of houses in a seller’s market means buyers don't have as much room to negotiate.

"Typically we used to be able to negotiate closing costs, maybe even some repairs," Zuluaga said. In the current market, he said, many homes are selling "as is" and for more than the list price.

He said buyers and their agents should be aware of market trends when looking to purchase. For example, offering asking price right now isn't likely to secure a buyer's dream home. Letting new buyers feel rejection a few times, Zuluaga said, is one way help them understand the market and recognize they have to increase their offers to be competitive.

But Zuluaga also tells buyers: "We need to keep our financial goals very clear over our emotional goals."

Regardless of the location or cost, buyers should start by talking with a real estate agent, Moyer said. "Not on one of the websites, falling in love with a home."

Corrections: A photograph of a historic home originally included with this story incorrectly indicated that it was located in Overland Park. We've removed the photo. Also, SmartAsset's company name was mis-punctuated in the original story.

Nestor Zuluaga and Steve Moyer spoke with KCUR on a recent episode of Up to Date. Listen to the entire conversation here. You can find Carol Suter's conversation on KCUR here.

Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer at KCUR 89.3; you can reach her at elizabeth@kcur.org.