First-time buyers have not fully returned to the market. So far in 2019, they’ve accounted for only 31% of all home sales, well below the historic market share of around 40%. That’s why home sales are still running at an annualized pace of 5 million, essentially unchanged since the year 2000 even though the U.S. population has grown by 45 million and the number of households by 20 million.
Though affordability has been hurt in recent years by fast-rising home prices, it takes a smaller share of monthly income to own these days than it did two decades ago, when 30-year mortgage rates were in the 8% range.
There are several reasons first-time buyers are struggling to get into the market. Student debt has tripled over the past decade; starter home listings are in short supply because homebuilders have focused on expensive homes; many affordably priced condos are not FHA-certified; and credit score requirements to obtain a mortgage are tighter than historic norms.
As the National Association of REALTORS® works to ensure access to mortgage credit for all qualified Americans, individuals can position themselves for homeownership. For example, military veterans continue to benefit from the loan guaranty program that started 75 years ago. For some in college today, a “gap year” of military service or any full-time job could reduce their student debt.
Then there’s family. NAR research shows that a third of recent first-time buyers received down payment assistance from family members, and that share is likely to grow. Many of those who lived through the Great Depression, or heard their parents’ survival stories, have benefited from decades of careful wealth accumulation. The average net worth of those aged 75 and over stands at $264,800. The lesson for millennials: Be nice to grandma and grandpa. They just might offer the boost the next generation needs to become homeowners.