First-time homebuyers are shying away from their plans to purchase this spring, according to a recently released report by realtor.com®, due to the surge in mortgage rates in the last two months of 2016. Though rates have deflated since the end of the year, they remain hovering above 4 percent—high enough to scare off first-timers this spring, now down to 44 percent from 55 percent in October.
"The rise in rates is associated with an anticipation of stronger economic and wage growth, both of which favor buyers," says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com. "At the same time, higher rates make qualifying for a mortgage and finding affordable inventory more challenging. The decline in the share of first-time buyers since October suggests that the move-up in rates is discouraging new homebuyers already."
First-time homebuyers affording a 20 percent down payment on a median-priced home at the current average 30-year rate would be responsible for an additional $720 in interest each year, according to realtor.com's report.
Record-high home prices will tamp down first-time homebuyers, as well. The median list price in December 2016 matched the median list price in July 2016: $250,000. Inventory in December 2016, in addition, remained limited, setting the new year up with the lowest inventory since the recession. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) expects single-family construction to grow 10 percent in 2017.
The rise in rates is not stifling demand overall, though, according to realtor.com's report—in fact, repeat homebuyer activity has continued, as buyers, uncertain about the future, take advantage of still-low rates. Consumers recently surveyedby Fannie Mae believe now is a good time to buy a home, but also believe mortgage rates will rise in the year ahead.
"Last fall, we saw a large jump in the number of first-timers planning home purchases, which was very encouraging because their market share is still well below pre-recession levels," Smoke says. "But, as evidenced by their decline in share, first-time buyers are really dependent on financing, and affordability is one of their largest barriers to homeownership. This number could continue to decline with anticipated increases in interest rates and home prices."