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Agent strategies for getting first-time homebuyers across the finish line

HousingWire contributor Jessica Reinhardt provides tips agents can use to help guide first-time homebuyers to the closing table

In August, Zillow‘s 2023 Consumer Housing Trends Report proclaimed that half of all homebuyers are purchasing their first home, the highest share that Zillow has ever recorded.

Up from 45% last year and a notable increase from 37% in 2021, the report also mentioned that this share of first-time homebuyers likely hasn’t been this high since 2010, when there was a first-time homebuyer tax credit.

Zillow research also found that a majority of homeowners with mortgages have locked in a rate below 5%, and are almost half as likely to consider moving.

It’s true that first-time buyers make up a larger piece of a smaller pie, as housing inventory shrinks. However, this rise in first-time buyers helps explain what’s driving demand and keeping upward pressure on prices in a market with mortgage rates currently surpassing 7%.

One of the primary reasons for this surge is the strong presence of millennials in the housing market, particularly those at the peak, around ages 33 and 34. This demographic cohort, known predominantly for its size and influence, is getting married later, having kids later and now embracing homeownership even in the face of higher interest rates. 

But, how do we get them over the finish line when buying a home? Especially when we keep hearing some of these younger first-time buyers lament that they think renting is better overall than buying. (It’s not. It never will be. I’ll explain later.) Not to mention the current mortgage rates at decades-high levels as well as sellers who are locked in with pandemic low rates. 

Here are the following strategies agents can use to guide first-time homebuyers toward achieving this monumental step. 

Get the down-payment conversation straight

We know that one of the biggest hurdles for first-time homebuyers is saving for a down payment. There has long been a misconception that a 20% down payment is required to purchase a home.

But, collectively at the Denver Metro Association of Realtors (DMAR), we all agree that this is really no longer the case and hasn’t been for some time. Instead, we are guiding prospective buyers on more attainable down payment options, such as 5% of the home’s purchase price to get them in sooner.

(Editor’s note: There are conventional mortgage options with down payments as low as 3% and government-insured loans with a low- or no-down-payment requirement.)

For example, if you were to buy a home priced at $500,000 with a 5% down payment, you would need $25,000 upfront. While this may seem daunting, it’s important to remind them that there are many down-payment assistance programs available to help prospective buyers bridge the financial gap.

It’s true that a lower down payment upfront means bigger monthly mortgage payments — but it also means becoming a homeowner sooner and the bigger picture is the appreciation value over time.

Homebuyers using a variety of mortgage loans to finance their home purchase are eligible to use assistance options to help with their down payment and/or closing costs. Check with your local or state housing agency for a list of programs.

Credit repair and management tactics

A healthy credit score secures a favorable mortgage rate. Look at the long-term here and help work with first-time homebuyers to improve their credit scores and establish a solid credit history.

Strategies may include creating a credit repair plan, paying down outstanding debts, and managing credit responsibly.

It’s essential for potential homebuyers to understand that a higher credit score can lead to a lower interest rate, which can significantly impact their monthly mortgage payments over the life of the loan.

Rate buy-downs are another option I recommend in this market. This approach is negotiated in the contract; it’s a seller concession to the buyer for a set amount.

Let’s use $10,000 as an example. The buyer then has the option to use this amount to buy down the interest rate with their lender. Sellers are even using this as a tool to attract buyers. 

This not only reduces the monthly mortgage payment but also makes homeownership more affordable over time. By strategically leveraging rate buydowns, first-time homebuyers can enjoy the dual benefits of a lower monthly payment and a more affordable long-term homeownership experience. 

What budgeting and saving look like right now

It goes without saying that first-time buyers need to prioritize budgeting and saving.

It’s part of our unspoken job to guide individuals in creating realistic budgets that allow for consistent savings toward their down payment and other homeownership-related expenses.

Prospective buyers are encouraged to explore various savings strategies, such as setting up dedicated savings accounts, cutting unnecessary expenses, and considering additional income sources like part-time work (hello, Uber) or bonuses.

Understanding long-term benefits

This is the crux of strategy for first-time buyers: helping them understand their long-term goals.

Agents must work with first-time buyers to mentally get them past the current rate, which is certainly not going to last forever. We need to help them understand that they have the luxury of time. We’re not competing, and inventory out there is now up for some negotiating on things like pricing, inspection, and rate buydowns. 

Additionally, buying a home offers substantial long-term benefits over renting, even if the initial monthly payment may be higher.

We have to help first-time buyers see the bigger picture by highlighting the advantages of homeownership, such as building equity, tax benefits, and potential appreciation in property value. The win, essentially, is the strategy.

Nicole Rueth, Branch Manager and SVP of national mortgage lending company The Rueth Team, recently demonstrated it best. If a Denver area first-time buyer purchases a home at $550,000, it’s true that with factors like the initial closing costs, etc., the immediate gains are nilch, seemingly making rent look more attractive.

But the point is that if you look at the appreciation gains over the next nine years, it’s a totally different story. The gains over time ultimately pan out in tax benefits, year-over-year appreciation and amortization gain of $303,150.

It’s a no-brainer; it’s helping first-time buyers understand that the initial costs upfront will pay them back in rewards. 

In the Denver metro, for example, the standard appreciation rate has historically been around 6%, outpacing the national average. While it’s not there right now, it still means that homeowners have seen their property values grow consistently over time.

Final thoughts

By emphasizing these benefits, organizations motivate first-time buyers to prioritize homeownership as a wise long-term investment.

By providing guidance on saving for a down payment, repairing credit, budgeting and understanding the advantages of buying over renting, these organizations empower first-time buyers to achieve their homeownership dreams.

Moreover, they educate prospective buyers about the realities of today’s housing market, dispelling myths about down payments and emphasizing the importance of strategic, long-term thinking in real estate investment.

In the end, homeownership remains a sound financial decision and a key avenue for building wealth.

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