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First-Timers Shocked by How Much Home They Can Afford

February 22, 2021

Low mortgage rates, financial assistance from parents, and personal savings are helping first-time buyers stretch their housing budgets more than they thought they could, according to a survey from realtor.com® of 1,000 prospective and recent first-time home buyers. More than two-thirds of survey respondents say they are surprised at what they can afford; 47% say their budget is larger than they thought it would be.

“The dramatic decline of mortgage rates in 2020 was a pleasant surprise for many buyers,” says George Ratiu, senior economist at realtor.com®. “For first-time buyers, the drop in the 30-year mortgage rate from 3.65% in March 2020 to a record low of 2.65% in January has provided unexpected leverage. Lower rates allowed many buyers to stretch and buy more expensive homes while keeping their monthly budget the same.”

Still, many first-time buyers acknowledge having to compromise on their recent purchase, and nearly half of survey respondents say they have been outbid on homes they wanted to purchase. Twenty-one percent of respondents had to expand their housing search to less expensive neighborhoods, 20% had to increase their housing budget, and 18% had to eliminate some items on their wish lists, such as a garage, large backyard, finished basement, or pool, the survey shows.

First-time buyers also are saving for a home faster than they expected. Half of recent first-time buyers surveyed say they were able to save for a home in less than three years by putting aside a portion of their paycheck each month, cutting out discretionary spending, and saving lump-sum payments like tax refunds. Also, many first-time buyers are getting help from their family: 52% of Americans who bought their first home in 2020 say they received down payment assistance from friends or family, most notably their parents.

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