Contrary to popular belief, first-time homebuyers are indeed alive and kicking; buying homes at essentially the same rate as they were before the first-time homebuyers credit stimulated demand two years ago. Data suggests that rates could be higher, however, if first-time buyers take advantage of the low mortgage rates and purchasing costs stimulated by today’s economy.
The first-time buyer market between the months of January and July have remained in a range of 32 to 36 percent of existing home sales this year, according to the National Association of Realtors monthly survey of 1300 members.
Another survey of real estate brokers, the Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance survey, found that the first-time market share wavered between 35 and 37.7 percent through January to August this year. According to the survey, the first-time homebuyer share of short sales peaked in November of 2009 at 54.1 percent of all short sale transactions, right before the scheduled expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit.
The 32 to 38 percent range we see today is not so far off from the 40 percent market share first-time homebuyers were privy to in 2003 and 2004 – right before the boom pushed prices out of reach and the tax credit created an artificial, temporary demand.
Surprisingly, the higher down payments, tougher credit requirements and mortgage approval delays have not been the deal breakers for first-time buyers as many assumed they would be.
First-time homebuyers have uncovered ways to manage the costly down payment requirements. The Federal Housing Association’s (FHA) 3.5 percent down market has raised from 3 to 30 percent since 2006, despite the higher credit standards and fees implemented last year. This has made the FHA the primary choice of most first-time buyers seeking financial assistance.
Other first-time buyers have found the no down payment United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guaranteed loan program to be an optimal choice. Although the USDA recently raised fees, the program has a $12 billion-a-year budget to guarantee loans. Credit and documentation requirements today are not so much tougher that they were twenty years ago.
Some interpret today’s all-time low rates, where prices are 30 percent below where they stood four years ago, and where distressed sales inventories are discounted way below market value, to be a rare time of great opportunity for first-time buyers.
That said, why aren’t first-time buyers taking full advantage of the scenario? Fannie Mae’s most recent National Housing survey offers a few clues.
Findings from report demonstrate that consumer attitude towards the economy has hampered the real estate market. Doug Duncan, vice president and chief economist of Fannie Mae said, “The lack of a sense of urgency to buy homes, given expectations for further declines in home prices and continued low mortgage rates, coupled with general pessimism regarding their own personal finances and the economy, bodes poorly for the recovery of the housing market.” Although prices are low, and are expected to go lower still, many would-be first-time homebuyers are not taking advantage of the current once-in-a-generation opportunity available to homebuyers.