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Fierce competition in real estate market is holding back first-time homebuyers

Parts of the City of Buffalo and suburbs are experiencing the kind of enviable problem unthinkable in many areas a short decade ago: high demand for housing.

Plenty of millennials and other would-be first-time homebuyers are sometimes having to wait one or two years before finding the perfect match.

Some houses fly off the market before other prospective homebuyers can get a foot in the door. Other houses receive multiple bids and price out anyone unable to engage in a bidding war.

News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein profiled some wannabe buyers last weekend.

Jennifer Mueller made all the right moves. She signed up for a first-time homebuyer program through a local bank. She got prequalified for a mortgage, which helped her set her sights on the right price point, and found a real estate agent. Still, that was 15 months ago and so far she has looked at 20 homes and is still looking. One of the homes she liked went for $3,000 more than the asking price.

Welcome to the new normal in Buffalo real estate. The past couple of years have been heady, and perhaps another indicator that the tide is finally turning toward more – not less – prosperity and a gradual return of young homebuyers.

It wasn’t too long ago that there was more inventory than interested buyers. A decade ago there were a few hot spots – places like Allentown and the Elmwood Village – but nothing like now. These and a few other neighborhoods are the places people want to be, and for good reason.

Elmwood Village and Allentown are chock-full of bars, restaurants, shops and craftsmen and women, and there is always something going on. North Buffalo has Delaware Park, the Buffalo Zoo and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. The Theater District brings people downtown. The project to restore traffic to Main Street will boost the shops and restaurants, old and new, along the way.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is creating another center of development. Next year the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and the University at Buffalo Medical School will be completed, joining the new Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Clinical Sciences Center and Conventus Center for Collaborative Medicine.

The waterfront has been rejuvenated and turned into a year-round destination. Catch a concert during the summer or hop aboard a party sailboat or powerboat, rent a kayak or canoe or just go for a stroll or a bicycle ride. You can even use the popular bike ferry to get to the once-unreachable Outer Harbor. During the winter, skate outdoors or head to the HarborCenter and skate indoors.

The Lower West Side is undergoing its own steady transformation, including restaurants and coffee shops. It all invites a crowd of vibrant, young people who want to settle down and be a part of the change.

Some suburbs – Amherst, Clarence and Orchard Park – have stayed hot. They offer excellent schools and a different vibe than the city.

Seldom have we seen so many wonderful places to throw down roots, but that creates a challenge for new homebuyers because demand is up. There are plenty of houses out there and Buffalo remains one of the more affordable markets in the nation, particularly for starter homes, according to media company Trulia.

But that’s cold comfort to would-be buyers like Jennifer Mueller. The competition is stiff, and the search can be discouraging. Perseverance, and maybe an adjustment in target area, will get first-timers on the wave that continues to build.