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

If you bought your first home in the last year, consider yourself one of the lucky few.

Skyrocketing house prices and rising interest rates pushed the proportion of first-time buyers to an all-time low, according to a new report from the National Association of Estate Agents. And these first-time buyers were the oldest they̵[ads1]7;ve 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 home buyers in the year ending June 2022, down from 34% the year before, according to NAR’s 2022 Home Buyers and Sellers Report. It was the lowest in the survey’s 41-year history. The proportion of buyers buying a first home has hovered between 30% and 40% over the last decade and reached as high as 50% in 2009.

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

As home prices rose and mortgage rates rose, buyers’ incomes fell, the report found.

Median household income for first-time buyers fell to $71,000 in the year ended 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 year before.

Buyers typically bought 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 plays 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 cash. They have to save while paying more for rent, as well as student debt, child care and other expenses, and this year they faced rising house prices while mortgage rates are also rising.”

The time period covered by the research, from July 2021 to June 2022, included some of the sharpest home price increases, reaching a peak median home price of $413,800 in June. Inventory, hampered by decades of underconstruction, was at record lows, keeping the competition to buy a home frenzied and pushing prices higher. In April this year, mortgage interest rates began to rise above the 5% mark. But after the Fed embarked on a series of rate hikes to tame inflation, they climbed to as high as 7% in late October. On Thursday, mortgage interest rates fell slightly to 6.95%.

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

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

The survey showed that there were fewer black and Asian home buyers during the year studied, while the proportion of white and Hispanic buyers grew.

During the year that ended in June, the overwhelming majority of buyers, 88%, were white, up from 82% the year before. Of all home buyers, 8% were Hispanic, up from 7%. Meanwhile, 3% were black and 2% Asian, both down from 6% a year ago.

This is likely to worsen the racial gap in homeownership, where 72% of white Americans are homeowners while only 43% of black Americans own a home, according to the NAR.

“We’ve talked about the consequences, but this year we’re seeing it materialize in the data,” Lautz said. “Unless we have significant housing construction at affordable prices, we will continue to see first-time home buyers hold back.”

Lautz said previous NAR research has shown that future black homebuyers have lower incomes, higher debt and are less likely to have family support for a down payment than other groups. The data also showed that black tenants are also under more pressure, with a greater proportion paying more than 30% of their income to their landlord.

“With the increase in rents and how it affects first-time home buyers, it affects black buyers more than any other group,” Lautz said.

Because of the affordability crisis, homebuyers seemed less able or interested in buying in the area where they now 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 June 2022 was 50 miles.

Lautz said the survey showed buyers faced difficult decisions about closing 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. It is a smaller and older home than in previous years.

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

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