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Delay a home? Not Utahns

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When you're 25 in America, you might choose to live unfettered by responsibility. You're free to switch jobs, move around. And even if you did want something heavy like a 30-year mortgage, you probably couldn't afford the payments on a decent-size home.

Except in Utah, where those assumptions don't hold true.

According to the 2000 Census, the Beehive State has many more young homeowners — in their 20s and early 30s — than surrounding states. Across the age spectrum, in fact, the younger crowd is one of the largest groups of Utahns with their own homes. Residents 34 and younger comprise 14 percent of homeowners in the state. In New Mexico and Nevada, that share is only 9 percent.

Lori Lawrence, 25, and her husband, Miles, 23, give two reasons why they bought their three-bedroom house in Tooele just three months after their wedding.

"This is a nice place to raise children," Lori said. "It's a smaller town, and we don't have huge traffic." The other factor: "The houses here are so affordable. People come over from Salt Lake, and they are amazed."

In September, after a brief house hunt, the Lawrences found their place, and with scant credit history and a Federal Housing Administration loan, they moved in for $131,000.

That was higher than the Tooele County average of $121,000, but the house is a rambler with a front yard, a back yard and a basement that can be finished into three more bedrooms. A similarly sized home in Albuquerque would be closer to $200,000, while in Reno or Denver it would run to $225,000.

Some other Utah communities are more expensive to buy into, but their median house prices still fall below those in New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. The average price of a Salt Lake County house in 2000 was

$174,608, while the average condominium cost $122,300. Those prices have risen during the past year, but not tremendously: in the first quarter of 2001, the average Salt Lake house sold for $176,679 and the average condo $136,732.

Park City has long sat atop Utah's housing heap, with average prices reaching $584,195 in 2000.

At the opposite end of the house-price range are Carbon and Emery counties, but their average sale prices climbed, from $74,572 in early 2000 to $90,254 this year.

In Utah County, where Provo and Orem form the 10th-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, housing isn't cheap by Utah standards. Average house prices there crept past the state average in the past year, to $178,541.

Housing prices across America have soared out of sight, especially for young people at the bottom of the pay scale. One rather extreme example is the median price for a house in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco, aka the Silicon Valley. That price has increased 26 percent in three years, to $391,000.

Meanwhile, 1990 and 2000 census figures hint that Utah still has affordable choices. The number of homeowners in the Beehive State has grown slightly in the past decade, with 68 percent of Utah housing units occupied by homeowners in 1990, and 71 percent in 2000.

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com