First-time Buyers Fall Again in Annual Buyer and Seller Survey

Increasing rents and home prices are impeding the ability of first-time buyers to save for a down payment.

A new survey released by the National Association of Realtors® show the share of first-time buyers declining for the third consecutive year, which puts it at its lowest point in nearly three decades.

The 2015 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers continues a long-running series of large national NAR surveys evaluating the demographics, preferences, motivations, plans and experiences of recent home buyers and sellers; the series dates back to 1981. Results are representative of owner-occupants and do not include investors or vacation homes.

In this year’s survey, the share of first-time buyers declined to 32 percent (33 percent a year ago), which is the second-lowest share since the survey’s inception (1981) and the lowest since 1987 (30 percent). Historically, the long-term average shows that nearly 40 percent of primary purchases are from first-time home buyers.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing recovery’s missing link continues to be the absence of first-time buyers. “There are several reasons why there should be more first-time buyers reaching the market, including persistently low mortgage rates, healthy job prospects for those college-educated, and the fact that renting is becoming more unaffordable in many areas,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there are just as many high hurdles slowing first-time buyers down. Increasing rents and home prices are impeding their ability to save for a down payment, there’s scarce inventory for new and existing-homes in their price range, and it’s still too difficult for some to get a mortgage.”

Yun says this year’s survey perhaps offers additional clues to why fewer first-time buyers are reaching the market. “First-time buyers reported that debt (all forms) delayed saving for a down payment for a median of three years, and among the 25 percent who said saving was the most difficult task, a majority (58 percent) said student loans delayed saving,” he said. “With a median amount of student loan debt for all buyers at $25,000, it’s likely some younger households with even higher levels of debt can’t save for an adequate down payment or have decided to delay buying until their debt is at more comfortable levels.”

More highlights from the 2015 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers are available online.