Housing inventory is at an all-time low. Realtor.com just reported that there are 39% fewer homes for sale today than there were last year. At the same time, buyer demand remains strong. In a recent newsletter, research analyst Ivy Zelman explained:
“Although the headwind of severe supply constraints in most markets has contributed to slight moderation in seasonally-adjusted and year-over-year new pending contract growth for two consecutive months (albeit still growing strongly), the underlying strength of buyer demand, particularly for this time of year, remains apparent.”
Whenever there’s a shortage in the supply of an item that’s in high demand, the price of that item increases. That’s exactly what’s happening in the real estate market right now. As a result, home values are surging.
This is great news if you’re planning to sell your house. On the other hand, as either a first-time or repeat buyer, this may instead seem like troubling news. Purchasers, however, should realize that the price of a house is not as important as the monthly cost. Here’s how it breaks down.
There are several factors that influence the cost of a home. Two of the major ones are:
- The price of the home
- The mortgage rate at which a buyer can borrow the funds necessary to purchase the home
How do these factors impact affordability?
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) produces a Housing Affordability Index which takes these factors into account and determines an overall affordability score for housing. According to NAR, the index:
“…measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home at the national and regional levels based on the most recent price and income data.”
Their methodology states:
“To interpret the indices, a value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index above 100 signifies that family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment.”
So, the higher the index, the more affordable it is to purchase a home. Here’s a graph of the index going back to 1990:The blue bar represents today’s affordability. We can see that homes are more affordable now than they were from:
- 1990 to 2008
- 2017 to 2018
Buying a home today is just a little less affordable than it was last year, but still very affordable compared to historical housing market trends.
Note: During the housing crash from 2009 to 2015, distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) dominated the market. Those properties were sold at large discounts not seen before in the housing market.
Why are homes still affordable today?
The number one factor impacting today’s homebuying affordability is record-low mortgage rates. There’s no doubt that prices are on the rise. However, mortgage rates have fallen dramatically. Last week, Freddie Mac announced that the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 2.72%. Last year at this time, the average rate was 3.68%.
If you’re considering purchasing your first home or moving up to the one you’ve always hoped for, it’s important to understand how affordability plays into the overall cost of your home. With that in mind, buying while mortgage rates are as low as they are now may save you quite a bit of money over the life of your home loan.
At this point, home purchase affordability is still in a historically good place. However, we need to watch price increases going forward. As Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American, noted in a recent post:
“Faster nominal house price appreciation can erode, or even eliminate, the boost in affordability from lower mortgage rates, especially if household income growth doesn’t keep up.”
The Truth About Down Payments
If you’re planning to buy your first home, saving up for all the costs involved can feel daunting, especially when it comes to the down payment. That might be because you’ve heard you need to save 20% of the home’s price to put down. Well, that isn’t necessarily the case.
Unless specified by your loan type or lender, it’s typically not required to put 20% down. That means you could be closer to your homebuying dream than you realize.
As The Mortgage Reports says:
“Although putting down 20% to avoid mortgage insurance is wise if affordable, it’s a myth that this is always necessary. In fact, most people opt for a much lower down payment.”
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the median down payment hasn’t been over 20% since 2005. In fact, for all homebuyers today it’s only 15%. And it’s even lower for first-time homebuyers at just 8% (see graph below):
The big takeaway? You may not need to save as much as you originally thought.
Learn About Resources That Can Help You Toward Your Goal
According to Down Payment Resource, there are also over 2,000 homebuyer assistance programs in the U.S., and many of them are intended to help with down payments.
With so many resources available to help with your down payment, the best way to find what you qualify for is by consulting with your loan officer or broker. They know about local grants and loan programs that may help you out.
Don’t let the misconception that you have to have 20% saved up hold you back. If you’re ready to become a homeowner, lean on the professionals to find resources that can help you make your dreams a reality. If you put your plans on hold until you’ve saved up 20%, it may actually cost you in the long run. According to U.S. Bank:
“. . . there are plenty of reasons why it might not be possible. For some, waiting to save up 20% for a down payment may “cost” too much time. While you’re saving for your down payment and paying rent, the price of your future home may go up.”
Home prices are expected to keep appreciating over the next 5 years – meaning your future home will likely go up in price the longer you wait. If you’re able to use these resources to buy now, that future price growth will help you build equity, rather than cost you more.
Keep in mind that you don’t always need a 20% down payment to buy a home. If you’re looking to make a move this year, reach out to a trusted real estate professional to start the conversation about your homebuying goals.
Strategic Tips for Buying Your First Home
Buying your first home is a big, exciting step and a major milestone that has the power to improve your life. As a first-time homebuyer, it’s a dream you can make come true, but there are some hurdles you’ll need to overcome in today’s housing market – specifically the limited supply of homes for sale and ongoing affordability challenges.
So, if you’re ready, willing, and able to buy your first home, here are three tips to help you turn your dream into a reality.
Save Money with First-Time Homebuyer Programs
Paying the initial costs of homeownership, like your down payment and closing costs, can feel a bit daunting. But there are many assistance programs for first-time homebuyers that can help you get a loan with little or no money upfront. According to Bankrate:
“. . . you might qualify for a first-time homebuyer loan or assistance. First-time buyer loans typically have more flexible requirements, such as a lower down payment and credit score. Many help buyers with closing costs and the down payment through grants and low-interest loans.”
To find out more, talk to your state’s housing authority or check out websites like Down Payment Resource.
Expand Your Options by Looking at Condos and Townhomes
Right now, there aren’t enough homes for sale for everyone who wants to buy one. That’s pushing home prices up and making affordability tight for buyers. One way to deal with that issue and find a home right now is to consider condos and townhomes. Realtor.com explains:
“For many newbies, it might just be a matter of making a shift toward something they can better afford—like a condo or townhome. These lower-cost homes have historically been a stepping stone for buyers looking for a less expensive alternative to a single-family home.”
One reason why they may be more affordable is because they’re often smaller. But they still give you the chance to get your foot in the door and achieve your goal of owning a home and building equity. And that equity can help fuel your move into a larger home later on if you decide you need something bigger in the future. Hannah Jones, Senior Economic Analyst at Realtor.com, says:
“Condos can help prospective homebuyers who perhaps have a smaller budget, but who are really determined to get a foothold in the market and start to accumulate some equity. It can be a really great entry point.”
Consider Pooling Your Resources To Buy a Multi-Generational Home
Another way to break into the market is by purchasing a home with friends or loved ones. That way you can split the cost of things like the mortgage and bills, to make it easier to afford a home. According to Money.com:
“Buying a home with another person has some obvious advantages in the mortgage department. With two incomes in the mix, buyers can likely qualify for a larger mortgage — a big help in today’s high-cost market.”
By exploring first-time homebuyer assistance, condos, townhomes, and multi-generational living, it can be easier to find and buy your first home. When you’re ready, connect with a local real estate agent.
Achieve Your Dream of Homeownership with Condos and Townhomes [INFOGRAPHIC]
- If you’re trying to buy a home but are having a hard time finding something in your budget, here’s something that can help: consider condos and townhomes.
- They may better fit your budget, can help you start building equity, and tend to require minimal upkeep and less maintenance.
- Looking at condos and townhomes can make it easier to find and buy a home. When you’re ready, connect with a local real estate agent.
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