The shift means that people need bigger down payments to make the transition to home ownership. At the same time, they face obstacles that make it harder for them to save, such as student loan bills, higher rent costs and more expensive child care.
People have to strive for more expensive homes today than they did in the past because home prices have appreciated over time while wages have stayed mostly flat, says Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow. “We’re seeing that first-time home buyers are renting for longer,” Gudell says. “Homes are more expensive so it takes them a while to get to that stage in their life.”
Consider, the typical home purchased by first-time home buyers cost a median $140,000 between 2010 and 2013, up from an inflation adjusted $87,300 in the 1970s, the study found. Meanwhile, the median income for first-time home buyers was $54,000 in 2013, about the same as it was in the 1970s, Zillow found.
As a result, aspiring home owners now spend more time than ever renting while they save up for the big purchase. Workers rent for six years on average before buying their first home — more than double the time spent renting in the 1970s, the report found. The median age for first-time home buyers is also up to 33, from 30 in the 1970s. Home buyers are also less likely to be married today.
In the meantime, rental costs are rising, making it harder for people to save for a down payment. About half of all renters spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2013, according to a report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. About 11 million of those households used up more than half of their pay to cover housing costs, the study found.
Once people have enough cash saved for a down payment, they’re having a hard time finding a house they can afford, Gudell says. Many of the cheapest homes that were available in the early years of the recovery were taken off the market by investors and converted into rental units. Many millennials with steady jobs may also live in larger cities, where homes are typically more expensive, Gudell says.
Another way that rising home prices are hurting first-time buyers: Some home owners who would usually be ready to upgrade to a bigger home are holding off from selling on the chance that their homes will appreciate a little more, Gudell says. That’s restricting the amount of homes up for sale, she says.
Still, putting off home buying until they have more savings may be a smart call for millennials, says Bill Emmons, senior economic adviser at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Since many millennials entered the workforce with more student loan debt than their parents and grandparents, taking the time to build up investments outside of their homes could set them up for more financial stability later on, he says.