The affordable home challenge: See what a Utah homebuyer can find for $350K

Feb 15, 2022, 12:33 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 4:31 pm

SALT LAKE COUNTY — Paige Hansen is chasing the American dream on a budget, at a time when home costs are rising faster in Utah than almost anywhere else in the country.

“I want to have a home for me and my girls and my dog. I want to have that,” she said.

But what few homes are in her price range, already have multiple offers by the time she can take a tour.

“I’ve realized I can’t be too picky right now,” she said.

Realtor Suzanne Gallegos calls the current home market a “sticker shock situation.”

According to the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, homebuyers need to earn more than $100,000 a year to afford a median-priced home in Salt Lake County. That median price has nearly doubled in the last six years to $460,000.

So, we decided to take the $350,000 challenge: What could a Utah home buyer get for $350,000?

“If you want to stay right in the city or the suburbs, you’re probably not going to find anything in that price range,” Gallegos said.

And indeed, home listings show a bleak picture. Though they change daily, the Multiple Listing Service on the day we checked showed:

  • Zero homes under $350,000 available in Summit, Wasatch or Washington counties
  • 1 in Utah County
  • 10 in Salt Lake County
  • 3 in Davis County
  • 4 in Cache County
  • 16 in Weber County

Expand your search

The first suggestion from realtors to find an affordable home is to expand your search.

Since COVID-19 has changed work and commute situations for many Utahns, consider looking beyond the major cities, or even the Wasatch Front.

This 870-square foot cottage built in 1894 in Salt Lake’s Avenues is out of our price range at $400,000.

But according to UtahRealEstate.com, $350,000 would get you three and four bedrooms in Magna; a three-bedroom, one bath in Sunset; and four Tooele homes to choose from under 1,500 square feet.

Farther south, $350K will get you two bedrooms in Spanish Fork, three bedrooms in Cedar City and 3-5 bedrooms in Beaver.

“A few years ago, you could say, I want these specifics in this specific neighborhood. Today, you have to be a little bit more flexible,” said Bryan Burnett, a realtor in St George.

He’s seen an extreme version of “expand your search.” St. George homebuyers are not only looking at Mesquite and Cedar City, but Burnett says, many are moving to Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia.

“That’s something I’ve never seen before. St. George is a destination. And now I’m seeing people move because they can sell for a higher price and be debt-free,” he said.

Be flexible

Realtors recommend being flexible not only on location, but on what you’re looking for.

“At first we told our realtor, no townhomes, no condos,” said Tanner Wagaman.

But he and his wife Sarah compromised and found a darling townhome in our challenge price range, in their desired neighborhood of Cottonwood Heights. It had Sarah’s dream bathtub.

“It just worked out perfect. We like it a lot,” said Sarah.

Work with professionals

The Wagamans also credit working with good professionals.

Their realtor and loan officer helped them find a first-time home buyer plan that would allow them to borrow the cost of the down payment.

“Instead of spending every dime we have on the house, and not have anywhere to sleep or a dining room table to eat at,” said Tanner.

Make a human connection

Market experts also say making a human connection can often be what gets your offer accepted. Ace Allak, vice president of People’s Home Equity Mortgage, urged buyers to talk to builders or have their loan officer call the selling agent.

“Remember, it’s not all about making money and taking the best offer. It’s about providing housing to people who also might need a hand,” said Allak.

Finally, don’t get discouraged. Realtors point out, they’re still finding homes for people, it just might take a little longer.

“We get people into homes every day, so it is doable,” said Gallegos. With a little patience, Paige Hansen will find a home for her daughters and dog and turn her home challenge into mission accomplished!

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The affordable home challenge: See what a Utah homebuyer can find for $350K