Meet the first-time homebuyer of 2017

by James McClister

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This year could be the year of the first-time homebuyer. Of course, that’s what experts said last year too. But this year it might actually happen.

Of course, there remain barriers to entry – tight credit, inventory shortages, high and rising prices – but pressure is building behind them. There is a huge pool of renters and “adults” living at home starting to form families. And as we reported last year, prospective first-time homebuyers are now more economically secure than most Americans and have expressed an acute desire to own. For agents, ignoring this demographic could prove a profound mistake.

But what do first-time home buyers want in a home? A survey from realtor.com gave us the answers.

Goals of buying

Above all else, first-time homebuyers want privacy. They’re sick of living in apartments with paper-thin walls, or under the scrutiny of their parents. They want a place of independence, a place where they can quietly raise a family.

Goals of Buying First-Time Buyers
Privacy 18.28
Family 15.5
Financial investment 12.96
Stability 10.56
Physical comforts 8.94
*Based on a 100-point scale

Motivations for buying

It should come as no surprise that first-time buyers are buying because: 1. They’re tired of their current living situation, and 2. They’re getting more serious with their spouse. One of the more telling things from the survey, however, is their preference for a safe neighborhood. Despite the urgency first-time homebuyers are clearly feeling to head out on their own, they’re still putting a priority on security.

Motivations for Buying First-Time Buyers
Tired of current home 34%
Getting married/moving in with spouse 30%
Looking for safer neighborhood 22%
Planning an increase in family size 20%
Increase in family size 20%

Time frame for purchases

While there is a small group of first-time buyers (23 percent) in a rush to purchase, most are content to take their time. Almost two-thirds of first-time buyers expect to wait at least seven months before making a decision on a home.

First-Time Buyers First-Time Buyers
10-12 months 24%
1-3 months 23%
13-18 months 18%
7-9 months 15%
Within 1 month 3%

Most preferred purchases

“Safer neighborhood,” there it is again – a sign that first-time buyers are serious about their safety (and the safety of their newly formed families). Agents, take note.

First-Time Buyers First-Time Buyers
Safer neighborhood 9.693
More living space 8.986
Larger yard 7.844
Quality of construction 7.566
Proximity of good schools 6.954
*Based on a 100-point scale

Location preference

A cursory look at first-time homebuyer preferences might surprise some agents, as relatively few are looking to purchase in an urban area (the places that tend to attract younger crowds). However, a closer analysis – one considering cost – will lend some insight into the table below. First-time homebuyers are looking for not only an affordable place, but one in a safe neighborhood; and for that, they often need to go to the suburbs.

First-Time Buyers First-Time Buyers
Suburbs (closer to urban core) 23%
No preference 21%
Outlying suburbs 20%
Rural area 14%
Urban area 12%
Small town 10%

Property type preference

One of the most unique characteristics of first-time buyers, according to realtor.com’s survey, is their preference for townhouses. They were the only group surveyed that favored them over detached, single-family homes. The explanation is likely price.

First-Time Buyers First-Time Buyers
Townhouse/Rowhouse 39%
Single-family home 32%
Multifamily 15%
Condo/apartment 10%
Mobile 4%

Impediments to purchase

As is expected with first-time homebuyers, their biggest impediments to purchase (apart from the fact that their search is only just beginning) is cost. Ninety-five percent of first-time buyers either can’t afford a downpayment, can’t find a house in their budget, or are having a hard time getting financing because of bad credit.

First-Time Buyers First-Time Buyers
Just starting to explore 41%
Can’t afford downpayment 37%
Can’t find home in budget 30%
Bad credit 28%
Haven’t found a house that meets needs 27%
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