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Most First-Home Shoppers Misunderstand Their Budgets

Most Americans shopping for their first home were surprised, for better or worse, at what they were able to afford.

Forty-seven percent were surprised because their budget was larger than expected, and 21% were surprised because it was less, making more than two-thirds (68%) of shoppers seemingly under-informed about their financial situation as it relates to what they can afford when buying a home, according to a January 7-11 survey by realtor.com via HarrisX.

"The dramatic decline of mortgage rates in 2020 was a pleasant surprise for many buyers," said realtor.com Senior Economist George Ratiu. "For first-time buyers, especially, the drop in the 30-year mortgage rate from 3.65% in March 2020 to a record-low 2.65% in January has provided unexpected leverage. Lower rates allowed many buyers to stretch and buy more expensive homes while keeping their monthly budget the same."

Ratiu, in his article, emphasizes the number of millennials entering the homebuying market. "The wave started in 2020, with 4.7 million millennials turning 30, an age when many people consider buying a home," he said. "This wave continues in 2021, with another 4.8 million members of the Gen Y generation turning 30. The generational progression will peak in 2022, 2023, and 2024 when 4.8 million people will turn 30, each year." And he goes on to bullet the factors that go into affordability for this demographic. Those include:

  • The willingness to compromise on wish-list features or budget: " Twenty-one percent surveyed had to expand their search into less expensive neighborhoods. Twenty percent had to go up in budget to get it all, and 18% had to eliminate some wish list features — namely a garage, large backyard, finished basement, and pool — to stay in budget," Ratiu said.
  • Ability to endure a bidding war: "Even with shortened wish lists or expanded budgets, nearly half (49%) of recent first-time homebuyers and more than a third (39%) of prospective first-time homebuyers said they fell in love with a home last year that they were outbid on or later learned they couldn't afford," the economist wrote.
  • Support from family: "Half of recent first-time home buyers were able to save for a home in less than three years, mostly by setting aside a portion of their paycheck each month (50%), cutting out discretionary spending (33%), and saving lump sum money like tax refunds (32%)," Ratiu noted. "Plus, help from family could get you there: 52% of Americans who bought their first home in 2020 said they got help with their down payment from friends or family. The number one lender? Their parents."



About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media/Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning news, among others. Contact Christina at [email protected].

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