First-Time Buyers at Lowest Level in Decades

November 3, 2014

Despite an improving job market and low interest rates, the share of first-time buyers fell to its lowest point in nearly three decades, according to an annual survey released today by the National Association of REALTORS®.

NAR's Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers dates back to 1981. The average rate of first-time buyers during that time has been around four out of 10 purchases. In this year’s survey, the share of first-time buyers dropped 5 percentage points from a year ago to 33 percent, representing the lowest share since 1987 (30 percent).

“Rising rents and repaying student loan debt makes saving for a downpayment more difficult, especially for young adults who’ve experienced limited job prospects and flat wage growth since entering the workforce,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “Adding more bumps in the road is that those finally in a position to buy have had to overcome low inventory levels in their price range, competition from investors, tight credit conditions and high mortgage insurance premiums.”

When asked about the primary reason for purchasing, 53 percent of first-time buyers cited a desire to own a home of their own. Most in this group say they plan to stay in their home for 10 years and they are 10 percent more likely to purchase a townhouse or a condo than repeat buyers. The median age of first-time buyers was 31, unchanged from the last two years, and the median income was $68,300 (up from $67,400 in 2013).  The household composition of all buyers responding to the survey was mostly unchanged from a year ago; 65 percent were married couples, 16 percent single women, 9 percent single men, and 8 percent unmarried couples. Thirteen percent of survey respondents were multi-generational households, including adult children, parents and/or grandparents.

The typical first-time buyer purchased a 1,570 square-foot home costing $169,000. The survey also found that 47 percent of first-time buyers said the mortgage application and approval process was much more or somewhat more difficult than expected (an increase of four percent over last year). Among 23 percent of first-time buyers who said saving for a downpayment was difficult, more than half (57 percent) said student loans delayed saving, up from 54 percent a year ago.

In addition to tapping into their own savings (81 percent), first-time buyers used a variety of outside resources for their downpayment. Twenty-six percent received a gift from a friend or relative, with 6 percent receiving a loan from a relative or friend. Ten percent sold stocks or bonds, or tapped into a 401(k) fund. Ninety-three percent of entry-level buyers chose a fixed-rate mortgage, with 35 percent financing their purchase with a low-downpayment Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage (down from 39 percent in 2013), and 9 percent using the Veterans Affairs loan program with no downpayment requirements.

“FHA premiums are too high in relation to default rates and have likely dissuaded some prospective first-time buyers from entering the market,” says Yun. “To put it in perspective, 56 percent of first-time buyers used a FHA loan in 2010. The current high mortgage insurance added to their monthly payment is likely causing some young adults to forgo taking out a loan.” 

Source: "NAR Annual Survey Reveals Notable Decline in First-time Buyers," National Association of REALTORS® (Nov. 3, 2014)