Rating the Suburbs 2011: The Starter Home

Tom and Lindsey Lange, Berea

It's been a big year for Tom Lange. He's 23, in a new job, newly married, expecting his first child this summer and now a first-time homebuyer.

"We just took the next five years of our lives and condensed it into six months," Lange says.

He and wife Lindsey had been living in a one-bedroom Parma apartment when they found out she was pregnant. The rental suited this young couple but not their expanding family.

Both are die-hard West Siders. Lange grew up in Strongsville, where his parents still live, and wanted the same kind of suburban lifestyle for his children that he'd experienced.

"It's an area I know well, and with a baby boy due in July, we wanted to be close to my parents," he says.

The couple looked at 100 homes in the southwest suburbs with a target budget of $100,000. Lindsey wanted an updated kitchen with new cabinets, flooring and appliances. Tom favored open floor plans and larger lots their family could grow into.

Gradually, their focus narrowed to Berea, where the Langes found a quiet, college-town environment, beautiful parks and a good school system.

"It offers many of the same amenities that drive people to more upper-class suburbs but at a price first-time homebuyers can afford," Lange says.

After a long search for a place they could agree on, the Langes found a 1,717-square-foot split-level home that scored both Tom's and Lindsey's approval.

Lindsey fell in love with the kitchen cabinets, custom-built by the previous owner, who was a skilled woodworker. He'd also recently updated the floors and added a tile backsplash. Tom was drawn to the home's basement, rare among houses in their price range, which allowed him to create a workout room, and the 2 1/2-car garage where he can pursue his car restoration hobby.

Lange says they were fortunate to find a home that met all their needs.

"We got the size I wanted, and she got her kitchen," Lange says. "Walls can be painted; bathrooms can be redone. But location is the most important thing that people often

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