PhotoSingle women continue to make up a significant segment of home buyers, but lately there have been fewer consumers buying their first home.

Those are two major housing trends that emerged in the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

Single women made up 18 percent of home buyers during the study period, the same as last year. That group was the second-largest segment of the market, right behind married couples.

But the percentage of homes purchased by first-time buyers fell from 34 percent last year to 33 percent. Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, says rising home prices and mortgage rates have combined to reduce affordability at a time when inventory levels are extremely low.

Fewer entry-level homes for sale

"With the lower end of the housing market – smaller, moderately priced homes – seeing the worst of the inventory shortage, first-time home buyers who want to enter the market are having difficulty finding a home they can afford," Yun said.

Yun says available homes still sell very quickly, and there are still bidding wars among competing buyers in some markets.

"These factors contributed to the low number of first-time buyers and the struggles of would-be buyers dreaming of joining the ranks of home ownership," he said.

Though still low, housing inventory has been slowly climbing in recent months, due in large part to a slowdown in sales in some of the nation's hottest housing markets. But Yun says young buyers, who make up a significant portion of first-time home buyers, are also struggling with student loan debt, limiting what they can afford to pay.

Thirteen percent of buyers said saving for a down payment was the most difficult part of the buying process, and 50 percent of them said their student loan debt was a major obstacle. Forty percent of first-time buyers said they had student loans, with a median balance of $30,000.

"Even with a thriving economy and an abundance of job opportunities in many markets, monthly student loan payments coupled with sky-high rents and rising home prices make it exceedingly difficult for potential buyers to put aside savings for a down payment," said Yun.

Bigger down payments

The report also shows down payments are getting larger. Buyers made a median down payment of 13 percent of the purchase price, up from 10 percent last year and the highest since 2005, just before the housing bubble burst.

Even first-time buyers put more money down, at a median of 7 percent -- up from 5 percent in the previous report.

The report also suggests baby boomers have become more active in the housing market, either by downsizing or relocating. The median age of repeat home buyers increased to 55, an all-time high.


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