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First-time Home Buyers Dominate the Market

April 30 2010

In some areas of the country, housing is selling like hotcakes, driven higher by the first-time home buyer segment of the market. Typically, first-time home buyers average about  40% of all home buyers, but in 2009, they composed an unprecedented 47%, according to the just-released National Association of REALTORS® 2009 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

Affordability was among the most cited reason for buying a home. Incomes decreased from 2007 to 2008, and tax incentives, particularly the first-time home buyer tax credit – promising up to $8,000 in tax rebates, or as additional funds to pay toward closing costs and down payments, played a key role. 

Among key characteristics found:

• More than half of first-time buyers were between the ages of 25 and 34. The median first-time home buyer is 30.

• The median income for first-time home buyers is $61,600. Most first-time home buyers make between $35, 000 and $44,999 (14%) and $55,000 to $64,999 (also 14%.)

• Non-traditional households outnumber traditional households for first-time home buyers. Forty-nine percent of first-time home buyers are married couples. Twenty-five percent of first-time buyers were single females; twelve percent are male, and 12% unmarried couples. One percent is classified as “other.”

• Most first-time buyers moved to their new home from a rented apartment or house (78%) and 18% from living with parents, friends or other relatives, reflecting the affordability of owning vs. renting.

• The number one reason cited by first-time buyers for buying a home was the desire to own (62%.) The second reason given was affordability (10%.)

• Among the reasons cited for buying now, first-time home buyers reported that it was “just the right time” – (40%), affordability improved (27%), and mortgage financing options were available (14%.)

Between 2008 and 2009, many areas of the country reported some of the largest inventories in decades, providing home buyers with plenty of options. What did first-time home buyers choose to buy and why?

• First-time buyers prefer detached single-family homes with no shared walls (74%) but 26% chose attached homes that have at least one wall shared with another home. The larger number of singles may account for a greater attraction to and acceptance of attached home lifestyles and shared amenities.

• Fifty-two percent of first-timers chose a suburb, while 22% chose urban areas. One quarter chose either small towns or rural life.

• The median priced home purchased by first-timers was $156,000. Most first-timers spent between $125,000 and $148,999 (16%), followed by $150,000 to $174,999 (13%.)

• The median home purchased by first-time buyers was 1,600 square feet and built in 1991. Size mattered most to first-timers (20%) followed by price (19%) and distance to job and lot size (tied at (16%.)

• The median length of time first-time buyers expect to occupy their homes is 10 years.

Readiness to buy is the primary reason people buy homes, but the quality of the neighborhood remains the most important factor in which homes they choose to buy.