Homeownership in NEO

Being a twenty-something means occasionally hearing that age-old question: “when will you buy a house?” Renting and owning both have their pros and cons, and people at any stage of life make that decision for themselves!

Northeast Ohio (NEO) residents are lucky enough to have so many choices whether they’re a lifelong renter, buying their first home, or have long been settled into the life of a homeowner.

At 27, I’ve always rented: making a home in Kent State’s dorms, a townhouse in Cuyahoga Falls, a duplex in Cleveland’s Edgewater neighborhood, a bungalow in Canton, and two apartments in Lakewood. Phew! I’ve always enjoyed renting because my landlord handles everything – any updates, renovations, and quick fixes always go straight to them. I’m comfortable knowing that when my fridge goes kaput, or I need a security peephole installed, or a nest of bees suddenly appears above my porch (all scenarios I’ve faced!), I have someone to call!  

Of course, I see a future for myself in NEO for years and years to come, and I’ve turned to find a more permanent place to live. I’d like a townhouse or condo in Gordon Square, Duck Island, or downtown Cleveland… oh, the possibilities!  

With that in mind, I sat down to interview three friends who have recently become new homebuyers:

  • Julie Zook, originally from Toledo, and a newly minted homeowner in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood! She can be found on Instagram at mammothwheat.

  • Next up: Mady Etzel, originally from Edinboro, PA and now a homeowner in Lakewood! She can be found on Instagram at Wanderlust in Ohio, and her photography is available for purchase on Etsy.

  • Last but not least, Allison Waken, a proud homeowner in North Olmsted who grew up there!


Q: What did you look for when buying your home? Amenities, walkability, type of home, etc.


Julie: When I sat down to make my “wish list,” I focused primarily on features of the house. It was really important to find a house that could accommodate guests. Our “musts” were at least 1,300 square feet and 1.5 bathrooms. We also want to start a family in the future, but we didn’t buy a mansion by any means. When my whole family is in town, it still feels a little cramped (must be all of the personalities under one roof), but we have room to grow. 

Mady: A house in Lakewood was the first requirement because of the walkability and closeness to downtown Cleveland. There are so many nearby restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and more. My husband and I weren’t looking for any particular type of home, just one that felt like home when we walked through the door. 

Allison: My husband and I looked for room to grow plus convenience to shopping and highways without being in the hustle and bustle. We wanted a stand-alone home with a backyard, and I wanted a safe neighborhood with good schools and families around. 


Q: Why did you choose the neighborhood where you bought your home?


Julie: When we were house hunting, we had six neighborhoods on our wish list, all of them within close proximity of downtown Cleveland. I would wager to say that we probably toured about 50 houses over the course of two months! We found our spot in the Five Points area of the West Park neighborhood. My particular street has monthly get-togethers during the warm months where we all bring a chair and a drink to someone’s porch to catch-up or get to know the new neighbors. It’s such a welcoming community and also has several restaurants, coffee shops, a gym, a hospital, grocery store and parks within walking or biking distance. I feel so incredibly lucky for how it all worked out.

Mady: Because Lakewood is the best! It’s perfect for walking, going out, being with our friends who live nearby, and the closeness to downtown. We also love that it’s right by the water. 

Allison: Sometimes the house picks you, and we fell in love with it. Although I did grow up in North Olmsted, that’s where we ended up finding our best options and eventually our current home. 


Q: What things are you most proud of in your new home? Favorite room, backyard, etc.

Julie: The kitchen and formal living room are two of my favorite spaces in my house but in terms of pride, I’d have to say the kitchen takes the cake. Immediately when we got the keys, I started prepping the kitchen to paint and quickly found out that somewhere down the line of many prior owners, someone painted over wallpaper! With the gracious help of my mom, we scraped the walls down to the plaster, discovered that she and I were both allergic to the lime/horse hair in the plaster, and ultimately had a professional come in to skim coat the walls to perfection. The kitchen really has come a long, LONG way, and it’s a huge source of pride for me.

Mady: I really love our sunroom that’s filled with plants. It’s where I always sit and drink coffee in the morning. Plus, I have a dedicated space for my photography.


Allison: We revamped our living room with new flooring! The old flooring forced furniture to be placed in certain spots, and we completely rearranged! I take pride that when people come over, they mention how cozy it is and that they feel at home.


Q: Why do you love living in NEO?

Julie: NEO has such a wealth of things to do & places to go. I always tell out-of-towners that Cleveland is the New York City of Ohio, which surprises many, but it’s true! Each neighborhood has a distinct feel to it kind of like the boroughs in New York, and I love boasting to others about our world-class orchestra, art museums, & theatre district among countless other amazing things we have to offer. Cleveland has the feel of a big city without straying too far from home, and I think outsiders don’t realize how great we have it here. I feel a little sorry for them!

Mady: Every neighboring town in NEO has something fun or unique about it, which makes it easy if we ever want to try a new restaurant, bar, or shop. The people are great, and the cost of living here is hard to beat!

Allison: I grew up near Cleveland and love how it’s “just right” in size, and there is plenty to do. I feel like I can go to Cleveland and get that city feel, and we’re not in the “middle of nowhere” as most non-Ohioans probably picture when they think of Ohio. I’m proud to say I’m from NEO, and I plan to be here for a very long time!


Julie, Mady, and Allison took the plunge and are clearly loving the homeowner life! I’ll make it there within the next few years. What about you? Are you a renter forever or are you all about homeownership? No matter what, NEO has the perfect home for you.

Ryan Collins
Ryan Collins

Ryan Collins is a writer and traveler. Currently based in Lakewood, he has lived all across Northeast Ohio. A Kent State University alum, today, Ryan works in admission at Baldwin Wallace University. His work has been published by Cleveland Plus, Belt Magazine and in conjunction with Destination Cleveland. Learn more at www.ryanscollins.com.