With higher mortgage rates and relentless competition for the few houses on the market, homeownership may feel more elusive than ever for young people in America.
Our latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report found that first-time homebuyers accounted for just 26% of all home purchases in the United States last year. That’s the lowest level in 41 years.
The average first-time homebuyer in America is 36 years old. That’s the oldest age recorded since the association began keeping track of such data.
Some people are waiting longer before buying, especially for more modestly priced starter homes, due to affordability and availability constraints. And a lagging supply of homes for sale is helping keep prices relatively high. In January, for example, there were just 980,000 units on the market across the United States. That’s considerably lower than the pre-pandemic monthly average of around 1.8 million from 2016 to 2019.
January data also indicates that there was a 2.9-month supply of homes for sale, given current sales trends. That’s less than half the supply historically associated with a balanced market.
Given limited supply, and interest rates that are roughly double what they were two years ago, the average annual income needed to afford a home has surged to more than $90,000–a $40,000 increase compared with figures recorded before the pandemic.
Pillars of the middle class–teachers, blue-collar workers, and the like–often can’t reach the income threshold needed to afford a home. A teacher in the Boulder, Colorado, area earning a median salary of $60,000 may be able to afford less than 10% of homes in that market.
Homeownership remains extremely attractive–not least because it serves as an important form of long-term wealth creation. A home purchase made relatively early in life can allow Americans to accumulate tens–even hundreds–of thousands of dollars more in equity.
Given the challenges inherent in today’s market, real estate professionals must be prepared to equip homebuyers, especially first-timers, with the knowledge and resources that can be the difference between owning and renting.
To prevail in today’s real estate market, first-time buyers need to be aware of the many programs that have been created specifically to help them achieve the American dream of homeownership.
For example, many state and local governments sponsor down payment assistance programs for first-time buyers. Federal Housing Administration loans, offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, can allow first-time buyers to put down as little as 3.5% of a home’s purchase price.
HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher homeownership program can also help people of modest means afford a home of their own. And many lending institutions offer special grant and down payment assistance programs, particularly to those from groups that have historically been marginalized. Some programs even offer mortgages with no closing costs.
Finally, first-time buyers can find support through free, educational programs, like those offered by many state governments. Through its Housing Opportunity Program, the National Association of Realtors offers resources, grants, and training for real estate agents to help residents of their communities find affordable and comfortable residences.
In today’s market, first-time homebuyers could use a hand. Realtors are there to lend it.
Kenny Parcell is the 2023 president of the National Association of Realtors and a realtor from Spanish Fork, Utah. He is the broker-owner of Equity Real Estate Utah.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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