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Who are the new homebuyers?

By Judy Martel ·
Monday, September 26, 2011
Posted: 4 pm ET

Homebuying conditions look great on paper, but a bunch of factors is preventing traditional first-time buyers or those looking to trade up from getting into the game. Consequently, the new buyers are more often investors with cash or cautious buyers of spec homes.

We're currently enjoying "the best housing affordability conditions in a generation," according to Ron Phipps, president of National Association of Realtors (NAR). Home prices continue to sink and mortgage rates are below 5 percent, setting up a perfect storm for buyers with good credit. Trouble is, many homeowners can't sell their existing home because they owe more on the loan than the home is worth. And tighter lending standards mean first-time buyers are having difficulty obtaining financing.

As a result, mortgage activity has been steadily dropping since 2008. Federal Reserve data gathered from 7,900 lenders showed 7.9 million home mortgages -- including new home loans and refinance loans -- were completed last year, compared with 9 million in 2009 and an all-time high of 21.5 million in 2003. This is despite the fact that 30-year-fixed mortgage rates in the latest Bankrate survey averaged 4.29 percent.

More buyers these days are ignoring lenders and coming to the table with cash (29 percent in both July and August) and the bulk of the all-cash buyers are investors.

Spec homes are also making a comeback, according to CNBC. Up until the housing bubble burst, builders would construct homes on "spec" (short for speculation) with the knowledge that buyers were out there to snap them up before they sat on the market too long. Deep into the housing crisis, builders backed away from that strategy, fearing they'd be left holding the financing if the home failed to sell. Now, buyers who are afraid to sign a contract on a new house without the relative certainty they'll sell their current home, are waiting to sell and then seeking nearly-completed or completed spec homes to buy. Builders, desperate for any buying trend that gets them working, are cautiously responding by building more spec homes in high-demand areas.

Still, the scarcity of buyers will hurt the housing industry and builders for some time to come. Most homebuyers need mortgages, so until lending standards loosen and the economy strenghthens, the situation isn't likely to improve anytime soon.

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September 27, 2011 at 11:58 am

I'm one of those. If I could get out of my house, I would build new. But I can't, so I'm staying and putting more into retirement.

September 27, 2011 at 8:59 am

So sorry to hear that the financially unsophisticated investing in a liability for capital gains consideration are having difficulty. What part of "if you invest in a liability, there better be some positive cash flow is confusing?

The "flippers" have learned an important lesson - if they are paying attention. Real Estate does not ALWAYS increase in value, especially considering rapid devaluation of the dollar.

When there is so much speculation by those not in a position to take the "bumps" that cable channels make reality shows out of it, get ready for the crash.

September 27, 2011 at 7:17 am

"Most homebuyers need mortgages, so until lending standards loosen and the economy strenghthens, the situation isn't likely to improve anytime soon."

Wonderful Catch-22, isn't it.
Homebuyers need mortgages, but so do banks, but the banks aren't loosening those standards anytime soon... so that's not going to help the economy any.

At one point, something's got to give.

I'm sure a lot of those homebuyers are people wanting to buy and then rent them out.