First-time home buying reaches 20-year high

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With the economy and job market both healthy before the COVID-19 crisis, first-time homebuyers took advantage of low mortgage rates and hit their highest volume in two decades.

First-time buyers purchased 2.09 million properties in 2019, up from 2.07 million and 2.06 million the prior two years. It marked the most homes for this group of buyers since reaching 2.26 million units in 2000, according to Genworth Mortgage Insurance.

"The housing market is in the middle of a multiyear boom in the first-time homebuyer market," Tian Liu, chief economist at Genworth Mortgage Insurance, said in a press release. "The market has exceeded 2 million first-time homebuyers each year for the past three years, which is unprecedented in the past 26 years. In part, this represents a long overdue rebound from the trough earlier in the decade."

Consumers buying their first house accounted for 38% of total home sales and 56% of all purchase loans in 2019. The ongoing trend of aging in place and lack of movement hampered both first- and second-time homebuyers, but should reverse course in the coming years.

"A prolonged depression in the first-time homebuyer market between 2007 and 2015 led to a sharp decrease in the pool of potential second-time homebuyers, resulting in lower homeowner mobility. But the strong growth in the last few years predicts that the repeat-buyer market and mobility should recover over the next five years."

Millennials who were shut out for so long, coupled with Gen-Z coming to home buying age continue to expand the pool of potential first-timers. However, the deficit in attractive inventory — notably those close to work — remains an impediment.

"The sheer size of the market and the delay in expanding housing supply means that a first-time homebuyer's paradise, a place with abundant job opportunity and highly affordable housing, is difficult to find," said Liu. "Markets with abundant job opportunities and acute affordability challenges also are markets with the most opportunities to expand supply and policy intervention. In the meantime, first-time homebuyers may have to compromise between job opportunities and housing affordability."

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First time home buyers Purchase Housing inventory Housing market Housing affordability Genworth
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