Depending on the age and knowledge of the new pet owner, there are several great choices for a first timer. Most people think turtles require the least care and choose them for a first reptile pet. That is actually a poor choice. The following, however, are two excellent options.
A corn snake is a wonderful first snake or reptile for a newcomer to the reptile realm. Corn snakes are generally docile and are hearty eaters, which can be a problem in some of the more advanced species. The biggest problem with corn snakes is escape. Cage lids must be secure as snakes are excellent escape artists. Most corn snakes will take frozen-thawed prey, which is an alternative to feeding live or fresh-killed for those who are squeamish about such things. Frozen-thawed food items are actually recommended as freezing will kill some parasites, and will cause the cell walls to burst, which some believe helps in digestion.
Corn snakes come in a wide array of colors and patterns. The price is right with corn snakes as well. They range, depending on color and pattern, from twenty dollars to a few hundred. Hatchling corn snakes are about as wide as a pencil and a bit longer. Adults can get as long as 5 ft., but most fall short of that length. Corn snakes live about 20 years.
Leopard geckos are another good choice. They stay small and can live their entire lives in a small enclosure. A 10-gallon aquarium is fine for one adult. Their downfall is that they eat live insects. Keeping insects add to the responsibility of the pet owner.
These animals are almost always tolerant of gentle handling. They are nocturnal, so they are more active at night. Some people balk at that.
There are a lot of different color morphs and patterns of the leopard gecko. Albinos are very popular. Prices for leopard geckos start at about $25 and go up from there depending on color and pattern. Leopard geckos live about 20 years.