Nov 20, 2023 - Economy

America's homebuyers are getting older

Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. housing market has shattered the stereotypical American dream, as the dominant group of homebuyers ages and moves without young children.

Why it matters: The median homebuyer age has jumped 10 years — to 49 —  in two decades, new data shows, as the housing affordability crisis deepens.

  • Repeat buyers were a median age of 58 in 2023, while first-time buyers were 35, per National Association of Realtors annual data released this week. The data analyzed transactions between July 2022 to June 2023.
  • "We're talking about a different profile of homebuyer today," Jessica Lautz, NAR deputy chief economist, told Axios, referring to older and more affluent purchasers.

The big picture: The age of first-time, repeat and overall homebuyers hit an all-time high in 2022 since the NAR began collecting data in 1981.

  • Household income increased nearly $20,000 to $107,000 for all buyers in the 2023 report, compared with last year's.
  • "We are pushing out anyone who may be looking for an affordable property," Lautz said.

By the numbers: The median age of all buyers increased from 31 in 1981 to 49 in 2023. Its record high was 53 last year, compared to 42 a decade ago.

  • First-time buyers were a median of 35 in 2023 —  up from 31 in 2013 and 29 in 1981.
  • Repeat buyers were 58 — up from 52 in 2013 and 36 in 1981.

State of play: Demographic info for homebuyers has also changed, possibly because of declining American birth rates and marriages.

  • 70% of buyers didn't have a child under 18 living with them, per latest data— the highest share ever recorded by NAR.
  • The repeat buyer category likely includes people with adult children, per Lautz.

Married couples have represented less of overall buyers in recent years.

  • They made up 59% of buyers as of the latest data, compared with 65% in 2013 and 73% in 1981.
  • Single women made up 19% of homeowners in 2023, while single men were 10%.

Yes, but: Homebuyers continue to be mostly white, per NAR.

  • "It's very difficult to enter into the home buying market unless you can pull from financial assets or perhaps the bank of mom and dad, which is not available to every American," Lautz said.
  • Mortgage rates also shot up over the last year.

Of note: First-time buyers made up 32% of sales, following a record low of 26% last year. But this is mostly buyers with capital.

  • "As competition in the market receded due to higher borrowing costs, first-time buyers had an opportunity to enter the market," the NAR report said.

Zoom out: Younger homebuyers have faced structural challenges that prevent many from entering the housing market, said BankRate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick.

  • Rising costs of higher education, shaky job security, less tenure in employment and shepherding the burden of retirement savings "have made it more difficult for younger people to establish a foothold with their personal finances," he said.

Go deeper: You have to earn $115,000 a year to afford a typical house now

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