A Look at the 20-Year Trend for First-Time Homebuyers

September 4, 2019
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Used to be that the progression into adulthood had marriage preceding the purchase of a house.

According to numbers compiled and crunched by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies, more than one-third of new homebuyers in 2017 were unmarried. Indeed the marital status of new homebuyers was the most notable departure from 20 years ago. The share of married buyers declined from 61% in 1997 to just over half by 2017 and that figure dipped as low as 46% during 2013.

In 2017, more than a fifth of first-time homebuyers formed a new household at the time of purchase. More striking, the study found that between 1997 and 2013, the proportion forming a new household more than doubled, from 12 percent to 26 percent of all first-time homebuyers. Of that, 12 percent came from living with a homeowner, and another 8 percent previously lived with a renter.

The study doesn’t break down who those previous homeowners and renters were. "But what that means, potentially—and this is just an example—there may be more people living with folks and saving up as opposed to previously—maybe 20 years ago—where a couple might rent together and enter homeownership,” says Sean Veal, a research assistant at Harvard who co-authored the report.

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