First-time homebuyers are being shut out of the market like never before

If you bought your first home during the past year, consider yourself one of the fortunate few.

Skyrocketing home prices and climbing interest rates pushed the share of first-time homebuyers to an all-time low, according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors. And those first-time buyers were the oldest they have ever been, as the growing lack of affordability forced people to wait longer to reach life milestones like buying a home.

First-time buyers made up just 26% of all homebuyers in the year ending June 2022, down from 34% the year before, according to NAR’s 2022 report on homebuyers and sellers. That was the lowest in the survey’s 41-year history. The share of buyers purchasing a first home has sat between 30% and 40% over the past decade and reached as high as 50% in 2009.

The age of a first-time homebuyer also rose, with the typical age reaching 36 years old, up from 33 last year. The typical repeat buyer’s age also climbed, reaching 59 years old, up from 56. Both are all-time highs.

As home prices soared and mortgage rates rose, buyers’ income dropped, the report found.

The median household income for first-time buyers slipped to $71,000 during the year ended in June, down from $86,500 in the previous 12-month period. Meanwhile, repeat buyers had a median income of $96,000, down from $112,500 the previous year.

Buyers typically purchased their homes for 100% of the asking price, the research showed, with 28% paying more than the asking price.

“For first-time homebuyers, the lack of affordability is playing a key role in holding them back from homeownership,” said Jessica Lautz, NAR’s vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. “They don’t have the equity that repeat buyers have for a down payment or to buy in cash. They have to save while paying more for rent, as well as student debt, child care and other expenses, and this year were facing increasing home prices while mortgage rates are also climbing.”

The time period covered by the research, from July 2021 to June 2022, included some of the steepest home price increases, reaching a peak median home price of $413,800 this past June. Inventory, hampered by decades of underbuilding, was at record low levels, which kept the competition to buy a home frenzied and pushed prices higher. By April of this year, mortgage rates began to surge past the 5% mark. But, after the Fed embarked on a series of interest rate hikes in order to tame inflation, they climbed to as high as 7% by late October. On Thursday, mortgage rates dipped slightly to 6.95%.

Together these factors have made for one of the most challenging and least affordable housing markets in decades.

Fewer Black and Asian buyers

Economists and housing advocates have cautioned that the increasingly unaffordable housing market is locking many potential buyers, especially buyers of color, out of homeownership.

The research showed there were fewer Black and Asian homebuyers during the year studied, while the share of White and Hispanic buyers grew.

During the year ending in June, the overwhelming majority of buyers, 88%, were White, up from 82% the previous year. Of all home buyers, 8% were Hispanic, up from 7%. Meanwhile, 3% were Black and 2% were Asian, both dropping from 6% a year ago.

This is likely to exacerbate the racial homeownership gap, in which 72% of White Americans are homeowners while only 43% of Black Americans own a home, according to NAR.

“We have been talking about the impacts, but this year we are seeing it realized in the data,” said Lautz. “Unless we have substantial homebuilding at affordable prices, we will continue to see first-time homebuyers held back.”

Lautz said that prior NAR research has shown that would-be Black homebuyers have lower incomes, higher debt and less likelihood of family support for a down payment than other groups. The data also showed that Black renters are also more squeezed, with a larger share paying more than 30% of their income to their landlord.

“With the rise of rents and how that is hitting first-time homebuyers, it impacts Black buyers more than it would any other group,” said Lautz.

Buying smaller homes, farther away

Because of the affordability crunch, homebuyers seemed less able or interested in buying in the area where they currently live. The median distance between a buyer’s current home and their newly purchased home was typically 15 miles between 2018 and 2021. The typical distance during the year ending in June 2022 was 50 miles.

Lautz said the research showed buyers faced hard decisions to close the deal on a home they could afford.

The typical home purchased was 1,800 square feet, had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was built in 1986, the NAR report found. That is a smaller and older home than in previous years.

“For a lot of people something had to give in the equation: their location, the condition of the home or its size,” said Lautz.

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