Nestled in Peoria County, the picturesque riverfront city of Peoria holds the distinction of being the oldest European settlement in Illinois. With its charming Old-World architecture and 21st-century amenities, Peoria offers residents and visitors alike a unique opportunity to experience the best of both worlds.
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the state, Peoria is a wonderful city to put down roots in. Our blog serves as a comprehensive guide for first-time home buyers interested in relocating to Peoria. Read on as we delve deeper into the city’s culture, lifestyle, and real estate market.
WELCOME TO PEORIA, ILLINOIS!
Peoria is the largest city along the Illinois River and the eighth-largest in all of Illinois. Its downtown area offers scenic riverfront views that make shopping, dining, and strolling a refreshing experience.
The entire city has a total span of 50.23 square miles, with around 48 square miles composed of land. Peoria Lake bounds the area to the east, separating it from East Peoria. Meanwhile, various communities and townships surround its northern, southern, and western borders, including Bartonville, West Peoria.
, and Brimfield.
As of the 2020 census, more than 113,000 call Peoria home. A thriving job market and a wide network of college campuses have attracted a large population of undergraduate students and young professionals looking to expand their horizons. That’s why the area is a popular place to study, network, and socialize. Peoria is an excellent place to raise children, too, with families making up around 58% of all households.
WHAT YOU’LL LOVE ABOUT LIVING IN PEORIA, IL
From a thriving cultural scene to mind-blowing museums, Peoria has it all. Here are just a few of the spots you’ll want to check out.
- The local arts and culture
Peoria’s love for the arts can be seen in its impressive cultural establishments. The Peoria Art Guild and Galleries displays the best of local contemporary art and hosts the annual Fine Art Fair, a grand exhibit that consistently attracts visitors around the country.
If you want to learn a new skill or immerse yourself in modern shows, the Contemporary Art Center of Peoria holds instructional art, yoga, dance, and tai chi sessions, as well as curated art exhibits and open-mic events.
- A world of sports and physical activities to enjoy
Peoria is home to many sports facilities and parks. Dozer Park, previously known as O’Brien Field, is the city’s premier baseball field. There are also eight golf courses nearby, including the Kellogg 18-hole championship golf course, Madison par-69 course, and Newman Golf Course.
If competitive running is more your speed, you’ll have a grand time at the Steamboat Classic, an annual event held every June with three main racing events, one of which is described as the world’s fastest four miles. The Steamboat Classic is hailed as Central Illinois’ premier running event, welcoming competitors of all backgrounds and skill levels.
Meanwhile, those who prefer the thrill of hiking can go trekking on the Illinois River County Nature Trail, which begins at Princeton – a city only over an hour north of Peoria – and ends at Havana. Be warned, though, that the 27-mile journey isn’t for the faint of heart. However, adventurers who wish to see magnificent views of the Bald Mountain and Illinois River Valley will find the challenge more than rewarding.
- Rich history
There’s no better place to explore Midwestern history than in one of the oldest settlements in Illinois. Founded in 1691 by Henri de Tonti, a French explorer, Peoria has plenty of museums and historical homes that take visitors back to the 19th century. Contemporary attractions are also available. Must-see attractions include:
- Abundant parks, nature, and wildlife
Peoria boasts over 9,000 acres of parkland, all well-maintained and enjoyed by families and visitors alike. Worth a visit is Peoria Park District, the first in the city and the largest in Illinois.
The Peoria Zoo and nearby Wildlife Prairie Park allow children and adults to interact with hundreds of animals from all over the world, including birds, fish, lions, wolves, and Illinois natives like bison and elk. The park is also known for its hiking, biking, and fishing spots.
- Diverse attractions
One will be amazed by the abundance and diversity of attractions found in and around Peoria, from decades-old wineries to museums and festivals.
Peoria is an excellent tourist base thanks to its central location. From here, three renowned wineries are nearby: Mackinaw Valley Winery and Vineyard, Kickapoo Creek Winery, Inc., and Willett’s Winery and Cellar – all of which are excellent venues for sampling the region’s finest reds.
The Peoria Farmers Market brings locals a taste of the area’s best produce and artisanal goods. Located at Metro Centre and the Peoria Riverfront Market, residents can indulge in Peoria’s agricultural bounty while farmers can show off a variety of local fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy, meat, and baked goods.
- Lively festivals
Illinois is an all-American state known for its vibrant, community-oriented festivals and events, many of which are held only a few minutes away from the Peoria city proper.
The Morton Pumpkin Festival (held in the village of Morton, roughly 12 minutes southeast) is held every fall and – as its name suggests – celebrates the harvest of locally produced pumpkins. When winter arrives, the Festival of Lights in East Peoria draws in residents from all across the county.
- Vibrant dining and nightlife
- Want to try drinking beer in church? Blasphemous as this may sound, it’s possible in Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery. In this renovated church, you can partake in drinks and elevated pub food. It also has breezy outdoor seating.
- For top-notch seafood, The Fish House serves a little bit of everything and makes a seafood gobbler out of anyone. New England clam chowder, crab cakes, tilapia, and crab are just some of the mouthwatering dishes offered.
- One World Café is a quaint breakfast and lunch place serving breakfast pizzas, sandwiches, Belgian waffles, fish, and burgers.
- Alexander’s Steakhouse gives customers a chance to play chef by letting them choose and cook their own steak over a live charcoal grill. Alexander’s also serves non-steak items like chicken and lobster.
- Drink like the Irish at Kelleher’s Irish Pub, a beloved local watering hole that has been catering to guests for more than two decades. Apart from beer and whiskey, Kelleher’s boasts a seasonal cocktail menu, as well as a world of delectable food.
- Stellar educational opportunities
Living in Peoria means living in proximity to reputable schools of all levels. The following top-ranking colleges have campuses in and around the area:
HOMES FOR SALE IN PEORIA, IL
As of June 2023, median home price is $139,000. However, much attention has recently been given to Peoria’s housing market, given the growth in its healthcare, manufacturing, and agriculture and food processing industries. For one, construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar has its roots here. Modern product-testing facilities are also present in the area, thus opening up the local economy and attracting both investors and those who want to build their careers in Peoria.
With all the possibilities present in Peoria, demand for housing has spiked, essentially turning the city’s housing market into one dominated by sellers. That said, buyers should brace for bidding wars and prepare an offer that will give them an edge over the rest. A reliable local Realtor’s help in the home-buying process can be the edge they need to snag the home of their dreams in Peoria.
Property prices in Peoria can be varied, as well. At the entry level, expect to find homes listed in the $50,000 range – typically 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom properties with approximately 1,000 square feet.
Mid-range homes offer the most value for your dollar, with plenty of sizable properties in the $120,000 to $150,000 category. For this cost, you can find anything from modest 2-bedroom homes to spacious 5-bedroom abodes with over 5,000 square feet.
High-end homes are worth their premium. Gorgeous 6-bedroom estates with acreage can go for less than $900,000 to a little over $2 million. Many of these properties showcase Neoclassical and Classical architecture, as well as updated features like cobblestone driveways, manicured shrubbery, private decks, marble flooring, wet bars, chef’s kitchens, heated pools, and private sports facilities.
TIPS FOR EVERY FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER
- Determine your budget
Before you start looking at homes, it’s important to set a budget. This will help you avoid falling in love with a home that is beyond your financial capacity. Consider your monthly income, expenses, and savings. You can also use online calculators to help you figure out how much home you can afford. Don’t forget to factor in closing costs, property taxes, and maintenance expenses.
Once you have a budget in mind, stick to it. Don’t let yourself get talked into buying a home that you can’t afford in the long run.
- Research neighborhoods
Consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, and amenities. You can research neighborhoods online and read reviews about the place, but it’s even better to visit the area and get a firsthand feel for it. Finally, don’t be afraid to take your time and explore different neighborhoods as this can help immensely with preventing buyer remorse in the long run.
- Work with a local real estate agent
Partnering with a local agent can be extremely beneficial for first-time home buyers. These agents have firsthand knowledge of the local market and can help you navigate the home-buying process with professional guidance. They can also provide valuable advice on neighborhoods, home values, and negotiating tactics.
When choosing an agent, it’s crucial to select someone with experience and an unblemished reputation. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and check online reviews – research pays off.
- Get pre-approved for a mortgage
Securing a mortgage pre-approval letter is an essential step in the home-buying process. Not only will getting pre-approved give you an idea of how much you can afford to spend on a home but it will also make you an exponentially more attractive buyer to sellers. To do so, you must provide your lender with the necessary financial information, including income, expenses, and credit score. They will then determine how much you can borrow and the corresponding terms.
It’s worth noting that pre-approval doesn’t guarantee approval for a mortgage. You’ll still need to go through the formal application process and provide additional documentation.
- Review the contract carefully
Once you find the home that lives up to your expectations and make an offer, it’s important to review the contract carefully. This will ensure that you understand the terms of the agreement and that there are no surprises down the line. Be sure to pay close attention to the closing date, contingencies, and any fees associated with the sale.
If you’re not comfortable reviewing the contract yourself, consider hiring a real estate professional to help you. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask your agent or lawyer for clarification – they will be more than happy to explain everything.
- Schedule a home inspection
A home inspection can uncover hidden issues and defects and provide you with valuable information about the condition of the property, including the safety of the structure, plumbing, and electrical systems. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed decisions about the purchase and negotiate with the seller for repairs.
- Consider closing costs and other “hidden” expenses
Closing costs are an essential consideration when buying a home as they can significantly impact the total cost of the transaction. These expenses typically include fees for title searches, appraisals, inspections, and legal fees. They can add up quickly and potentially cost you thousands of dollars out of pocket.
By factoring in these costs ahead of time, you can avoid unpleasant surprises and budget more effectively. Understanding the closing costs can also help you negotiate a better deal with the seller or explore alternative financing options.
FIRST-TIME HOME BUYER PROGRAMS IN ILLINOIS
One of the many benefits of buying a home in Illinois is the plethora of first-time home buyer assistance programs available.
If you have a 20% down payment, you’re in a great position to secure a conventional loan with a low interest rate and avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). However, if you don’t have that kind of money saved up, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of low down payment mortgage programs available that can help you get your new home with as little as 3% or even 0% down.
- Conventional 97. Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae offers this loan, which requires only a 3% down payment and a minimum credit score of 620. You won’t need to pay mortgage insurance after a few years of acquiring this loan, thus making it a solid option for those who are planning for the long term.
- FHA Loan. This loan is offered by the Federal Housing Administration and requires just a 3.5% down payment and a minimum credit score of 580 – significantly lower than the requirements for a Conventional 97 loan. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll need to pay mortgage insurance premiums until you relocate, refinance, or pay back your loan.
- VA Loan. This loan is exclusive to active members of the military, veterans, reservists, and members of the National Guard. This is considered one of the best mortgages offered – no down payment is required and you won’t need to pay mortgage insurance premiums after closing. The minimum credit score typically depends on the lender but is usually 620.
- USDA Loan. This loan is often recommended for low-to-moderate-income buyers purchasing in rural areas as it requires zero down payment and has very low mortgage insurance premiums. Expect a minimum credit score of 640, although this usually varies per lender.
- IHDA Mortgage. The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) provides multiple assistance programs for first-time homebuyers, one of which is the IHDA first mortgage. This program bears a resemblance to a conventional mortgage and requires a credit score of at least 640. An income limit of $97,000 for single-unit residences applies in most counties, including Peoria County.
How much down payment is needed to buy a home in Peoria, Illinois?
In Illinois, you need to prepare a down payment of at least 3% of the total purchase price. Home buyer assistance programs usually help cover these costs.
Do I need to get prequalified for the loan program?
Getting prequalified for a loan is important since this will give you an idea of the interest rates and premiums you have to pay. Consider consulting with a loan officer to find out how much you’re able to borrow based on your financial standing and loan eligibility.
How do I know if I’m considered a first-time home buyer?
The following are the requirements to be considered a first-time home buyer in Illinois:
- Credit score of at least 640
- Debt-to-income ratio not exceeding 45%
- A lender approved by the specific loan program
- A first mortgage from IHDA
- Income not exceeding the program’s limits
- A completed home buyer education course
A home buyer education course is an important step to acquiring financial assistance from government programs. The course should meet certain standards set by either the National Industry Standards for Homeownership Education and Counseling or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
FIND YOUR DREAM HOME IN PEORIA WITH TOUCHSTONE REAL ESTATE GROUP
With over 40 years of combined real estate experience, Touchstone Real Estate Group offers real estate services to the Greater Peoria Area. Founded by Peoria natives, we at Touchstone have assisted countless families and first-time home buyers in their journey toward homeownership.