First-Time Homebuyers Thrive in Challenging Market
In the face of a challenging and pricey housing market, a noteworthy surge in first-time homebuyers has been observed, constituting approximately one-third of home purchasers, as reported by the National Association of Realtors® 2023 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. This marks an increase from 26% in the previous year to 32% in the current year.
Jessica Lautz, Deputy Chief Economist at NAR, expresses optimism about the return of first-time buyers to the market, attributing their increased presence to rising mortgage rates that prompted less determined buyers to exit the market. Lautz suggests that with reduced competition, first-time buyers had a greater chance of having their offers accepted, although she acknowledges that their numbers remain below the typical 38% representation among buyers.
Despite this positive trend, first-time buyers grapple with challenges, including historically high home prices, mortgage rates briefly nearing 8% in the current year, and a limited inventory of homes for sale. The hurdles are compounded by factors such as inflation, high rents, and the resumption of student loan payments, making the prospect of homeownership more onerous.
The NAR survey, encompassing 6,800 buyers who acquired primary homes between July 2022 and June 2023, provides insights into the financial landscape of first-time buyers. Surprisingly, these buyers were generally in a better financial position compared to previous years, boasting a median household income of $95,900—a substantial 35% increase from $71,000 in the preceding year.
The notable improvement in financial status is attributed to the fact that only first-time buyers with higher incomes could afford to enter the current real estate market, characterized by elevated home prices and mortgage rates. Higher incomes were essential to meet the demands of larger down payments and monthly mortgage payments, making a higher income threshold imperative for navigating the housing market successfully.
Lautz underscores the strategic financial decisions made by first-time buyers, including cutting spending to save for down payments. Their resourcefulness is further evident in leveraging 401(k) accounts, selling cryptocurrency, borrowing from family and friends, and utilizing tax refunds and gifts from family members to fulfill their homeownership goals.
The surge in mortgage rates over the past two years prompted homeowners contemplating a sale to reconsider, contributing to a shortage of homes for sale. However, those who did sell were often driven by life changes, such as relocation for proximity to family and friends or a need for a larger or smaller home due to marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.
Sellers, typically aged around 60 and married, had spent approximately a decade in their properties before listing them. About half of them undertook minor renovations, while 12% opted for major upgrades to enhance market appeal. The typical home sold was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, single-family home in the suburbs, spanning 1,860 square feet and built in 1985.
Buyers continued to prefer detached, single-family homes, constituting 79% of purchases, while townhomes and row houses made up 8%. The majority opted for previously owned homes (87%), with only 13% choosing new construction. Existing homes, known for being more cost-effective and abundant in the market, appealed to buyers who wished to avoid the complexities associated with renovations and potential issues in plumbing and electrical systems.
Geographically, 47% of buyers closed on homes in the suburbs, reflecting an increase from 39% in the previous year. Small towns and rural communities were less favored, accounting for 23% and 14% of purchases, respectively. Conversely, urban areas witnessed a rise in popularity, with 14% of buyers choosing properties in comparison to 10% the previous year. Lautz emphasizes that buyers are adapting to what is available, with a traditional preference for single-family homes in suburban areas, and the median distance of relocation decreasing to 20 miles, down from 50 miles during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic relocations.