The ‘Missing Link’ in Housing

For years, first-time home buyers have made up around 40 percent of all buyers. However, since the recession, this percentage has been shrinking. In 2015, they made up just under 30 percent of the market share, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

The decrease of first-time home buyers will have broad economic implications, housing analysts say. Without first-time home buyers, an entire cycle of home ownership is stalled. Current home owners are usually unable to sell their homes and move up. And without move-up transactions, many older people can’t sell and downsize for retirement.

“In terms of the real-estate recovery, the missing link is first-time home buyers,” says Rob Chrane, founder and CEO of Down Payment Resource. “They’ve been at record lows. Part of it is legitimate reasons. Part of it is just ignorance.”

It’s not that millennials don’t show an interest in home ownership: according to a survey conducted by Fannie Mae, 56 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 plan to buy a home next time they move.

But housing analysts say that the real estate industry has an important part in bringing them into home ownership by driving home the financial benefits and teaching them about ways to make homeownership possible.

“Ignorance about the process, concern about the economic outlook, and some skepticism about ownership are all hobbling the return of first-timers,” according to a recent article by MarketWatch.

Only 23 percent from Fannie Mae’s survey said they were familiar with low-down payment programs, such as those offered by the Federal Housing Administration. Consumers believed on average that they need 16 percent for a down payment in order to qualify for a mortgage, according to the survey. Lower-educated and lower-income consumers, renters, African-Americans, and seniors were more likely to assume they needed a higher down payment to qualify for a mortgage.

But in reality, homes can be purchased with as little as a 3 percent down payment. Rules enacted in 2015 that decreased the amount of mortgage insurance borrowers must pay on FHA loans and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lowering down payment minimums may have boosted first-time participation slightly, say housing analysts.

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