First-Timers Shocked / Market Update January 2021

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First Time Homebuyers Shocked by How Much Home They Can Afford

February 23, 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.

Buyers Snatch Up New Listings as Quickly as They’re Available

Home sales could easily be 20% higher if more homes were for sale, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of REALTORS®. Existing-home sales—completed transactions for single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and co-ops—rose 0.6% in January compared to December 2020 and are up nearly 24% over a year ago, the National Association of REALTORS® reported Friday. All four major regions of the U.S. recorded double-digit annual gains for home sales in January.

“Home sales continued to ascend in the first month of the year, as buyers quickly snatched up virtually every new listing coming on the market,” Yun says. Seventy-one percent of homes sold in January were on the market for less than a month, according to NAR’s report.

While most of the economy has felt the toll of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the housing sector has remained a bright spot, Yun adds. Sales remain high and home prices have continued to rise, adding equity to home sellers.

“Home sales are continuing to play a part in propping up the economy,” Yun says. “With additional stimulus likely to pass and several vaccines now available, the housing outlook looks solid for this year.” Yun predicts employment to increase, which could spur even more homebuying over the coming months. He predicts existing-home sales to reach at least 6.5 million in 2021.

Here’s a closer look at key indicators from NAR’s existing-home sales report, reflecting January sales data:

Home prices: The median existing-home price for all housing types in January was $303,900—a 14% jump over a year ago.

Inventory: Total housing inventory at the end of January was 1.04 million units, down nearly 26% from a year ago. Unsold inventory sits at a 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace.

Days on the market: Properties typically remained on the market for 21 days in January, down from 43 days a year prior.

First-time buyers: First-time buyers comprised 33% of sales in January, up slightly from 32% a year earlier.

Cash sales: All-cash sales accounted for 19% of transactions in January, down from 21% a year ago. Individual investors or second-home buyers tend to make up the biggest bulk of cash sales. They accounted for 15% of sales in January, down from 17% in January 2020.

Regional Breakdown

Here’s how existing-home sales fared in January across the country, according to NAR’s report:

  • Northeast: Existing-home sales dropped 2.2% in January, but are up 24.3% compared to a year ago. Median price: $361,400—up 15.8% from January 2020
  • Midwest: Existing-home sales rose 1.9% last month, a 22.7% jump from a year earlier. Median price: $227,800—a 14.7% increase from January 2020
  • South: Existing-home sales increased 3.2%, up 25.1% from January 2020. Median price: $263,300—a 14.6% increase compared to a year ago
  • West: Existing-home sales fell 4.4% compared to a month earlier but are still up 21.3% compared to January 2020. Median price: $461,800—up 16.1% from a year earlier

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