Travis Allread wanted to cut his commute-to-work time.

David and Jessica Thielen were looking for a place close to entertainment venues, friends and their workplaces.

Ryan Clark wanted to be in an urban neighborhood with a suburban feel.

All of these young professionals recently bought their first houses, taking the plunge into the uncertain waters of a real-estate market that's similar to what their great-grandparents experienced coming out of the Great Depression.

But they all decided that it was a great time to chuck the rent check and start building equity.

Return to City Living

It's difficult to pigeonhole this group of 20 and 30- somethings, but in general, "if they're single, not yet attached, not starting a family, they like the Hyde Parks, the Oakleys, downtown,'' says Tom Hasselbeck, president of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. "Once they start establishing families, we start seeing them go to the surrounding suburbs. The price range will hold the very youngest away from the lofts (downtown), but city living is coming back."

Ken Warden, president of the Northern Kentucky Association of Realtors, sees the trend toward city living, too.

"The young single professionals with no children are primarily moving to the inner core, redoing some of the older housing stock "” for example, the Mansion Hill area of Newport, certain areas of Bellevue, certain areas of Covington along the river," he says.

"Areas where they can walk to the types of recreation they enjoy: Paul Brown Stadium, Great American Ball Park, Newport on the Levee, or MainStrasse. The young professional couples who are raising a family go to where the school system is of high quality "” places like Fort Mitchell or Fort Thomas, where they can get to downtown rapidly."

After living in an apartment in Clifton's Gaslight District for two years, the Thielens decided to buy a house in Mount Lookout.

Married for two years, the couple does not have children and they wanted an area much like the Gaslight District "” close to restaurants, nightclubs, a movie theater, a grocery store and a library. Proximity to work was also a factor for David, 27, who is a data analyst at Great American Insurance, and Jessica, 26, a registered nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Mount Lookout is centrally located, "a walkable neighborhood," Jessica says. "It's not too far from our places of work."

David says he didn't want to move to a place where he would be stuck in traffic while driving to work.

Also: "We go downtown and to parts of Over-the-Rhine on the weekends," so they wanted to stay close.

"We both wanted to live somewhere in the heart of the action rather than the farther-out suburbs."

Yard and Garage

Clark, 27, a mechanical engineer with Intelligrated in Mason, bought in Oakley.

"I wanted to be around other young professionals," he says.

He attended Purdue University and enjoyed the short walk to the entertainment district. "I like that neighborhood atmosphere. You can have parks nearby and still have a yard and a garage, kind of a suburban feel in an urban environment."

Being close to downtown is also a plus, he says.

He's near a Metro stop and, after he gets established in his new home, he plans to explore using the bus to get to Reds games and entertainment venues.

Median Prices Up

Mount Lookout and Oakley are two of the most stable neighborhoods in terms of price in Cincinnati. Median prices in both were up 2 percent to 3 percent in 2011, compared with five years earlier, at a time when prices in 90 percent of areas "” in the city and suburbs "” fell.

Allread, 25, a pharmacist with Catholic Health Partners, downtown, took a different tack. He considered Hyde Park, but he was attracted by the value in the suburbs, specifically, Amelia.

"I really like the newer neighborhoods with pools, yards and a deck," he says. "I was looking on the East Side, closer to work, and the taxes were so much cheaper in Amelia."

Good Timing

"It was such a good time to buy," with 30-year mortgage interest rates falling into the 3.5 percent to 4 percent range, he says. "It's hard to justify rent when you can build equity."

Homeownership is "still the American Dream," Hasselbeck says. "Home is a vital part of our society.

"What's driving young people back to the table today is you can purchase less expensively than you can rent." -