First time homebuyers today are waiting longer before entering the market and devoting a larger chunk of their income to homeownership when they do. Median income for first-time buyers averages $54,340 today – about the same as in the 1970s, according to an analysis by Zillow economists. But today’s buyers are paying roughly 2.7 times their income for a median priced home that would have taken 1.7 times their income 40 years ago.
One obvious result of that disparity – it’s taking buyers longer to amass the down payment they need so they are on average older than their predecessors – 33 vs. 30 – and they are renting for a long longer before buying, six years vs. an average of two-and-a-half years in the 1970s.
But today’s buyers are also stumbling over a financial Catch-22 – rents are rising steadily, absorbing an increasing percentage of their income, and making it harder for them to save for a down payment. The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that half of all renters were spending 30 percent of their income on housing costs in 2013, with many (approximately 11 million of them) spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.
Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist, describes the litany of problems first-time buyers face. “We know millennials value home-ownership and want to buy,” she notes in this recent report. “The[ir] next challenge will be figuring out how they can save for a down payment and qualify for a mortgage, especially while the rental market is so unaffordable all over the country. The last hurdle will be finding a home they like amidst very tight inventory, especially among starter homes.”