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5 Surprising Trends on How Homebuyers are Financing their Purchases

by Peter Thomas Ricci

There’s very little that’s conventional in terms of how homebuyers today finance their purchases, as 2014 draws to a close.

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In our most recent story on NAR’s 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, we looked at how consumers nowadays have a laundry list of requests when looking for that perfect home – though they still prefer detached homes a suburban setting, they are also quite conscious of  commuting costs, walkability and environmental impacts, and they desire homes with strong traces of those elements.

Once homebuyers find that perfect residence, though, how on earth do they go about financing it? NAR’s finding on that front were quite interesting, and we’re organized the survey’s stats around five main trends:

1. Sacrifices Abound – Quite a few homebuyers must make sacrifices to buy their home; NAR found that included reducing spending on luxury items, entertainment and clothing.

Though it’s understandable that consumers would have to cut back one some discretionary spending, we can’t help but think back to another study that involved sacrifices – The MacArthur Foundation’s “How Housing Matters” survey, which found that more than half of all homeowners make some sacrifice to cover their housing costs; furthermore, of the 27.3 percent of homeowners who pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for housing, 27 percent stopped saving for retirement; 23 percent cut back on healthcare expenses; and 23 percent accumulated credit card debt. We’re not saying the two are necessarily connected, but they do make a striking comparison, especially for housing’s long-term health.

2. A (Student) Debt Haunting – Speaking of debts, 12 percent of homebuyers admitted that saving for their down payment was the most difficult aspect of the process, though among those buyers, the chief cause of the difficulty varied from credit card debt (48 percent) to student loan debt (44 percent) to car loans (36 percent).

Student loan debt was a particular problem for first-time homebuyers; of the 23 percent who had trouble saving for their down payment, 57 percent said student loans delayed their savings, up from 54 percent in 2013 (that’s hardly surprising, given our recent coverage).

3. Outside Sources of Financing – The average savings rate for Millennials is negative, so it’s also no surprise that first-time buyers often needed outside assistance to cover their down payment, whether it was gifts from friends/relatives (26 percent), the sale of stocks/bonds/401(k) funds (10 percent) or loans from friends/relatives (6 percent).

4. The Demise of FHA Financing – Okay, that may be hyperbole, given that more than a third (35 percent) of entry-level buyers are still financing their purchases with FHA financing; yet, that’s down from 39 percent in 2013 and 56 percent in 2010, and is the clearest sign yet of how the FHA’s higher premiums have damaged its market share.

5. We Don’t Need No Education? – We’re not quite sure how the message is getting out that lending has eased (on our end, we’ve reported on how standards for purchase loans have worsened as of late), but homebuyers continue to be surprised by how “difficult” it is to get a loan; in fact, 26 percent of buyers found the mortgage application/approval process somewhat more difficult than they expected, while 18 percent found it much more difficult – so in other words, 44 percent of buyers are still surprised by today’s lending standards!

Lending is unlikely to loosen anytime soon, so make sure your clients are prepared for a detailed, demanding mortgage process.

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