Why October’s the Best Time to Start Looking for Your First Home

Fall may be the best time to look for a house
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As the leaves start to fall and the air gets autumn-crisp, the housing market cools down. But if you’re ready to buy your first home, there may be no hotter time to start the search.

Trulia, an online real estate resource for homebuyers and renters, recently released a report concluding that October is the best month for starter-level home-hunting. The organization found that starter-home supply peaks in October and rises 7 percent in the fall months, compared with the spring. That results in home prices that are 4.8 percent and 3.1 percent lower

in the winter and spring, respectively, than in the summer, the busiest home-buying season.

The Trulia report aligns with an analysis released recently by ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate database. ATTOM reported that home buyers get the best deals in February, when the median home price is 6.1 percent less than the rest of the year, on average. These findings were based on public home-selling data from 2000 to 2016.

Buying a home could be a long process. If you are going to seal the deal in February, you need to be making offers in December or January, which means you should start looking as early as October or November, said Daren Blomquist, ATTOM’s senior vice president.

How the fall housing market aids first-time buyers

The fall house-hunting guidance holds particularly true for first-time buyers, many of whom tend to be young professionals without children, experts say.

“They are not as tied to the school calendar,” said George Ratiu, managing director of quantitative and commercial research of the National Association of Realtors. Conventional wisdom says the fall season is the best time for first-time buyers to look for houses because home prices are likely to drop as more houses come on the market and families with children have either moved or stopped looking.

People searching for starter homes also enjoy more flexibility than existing homeowners looking to move.

“The catch-22 is that if it’s a good time to buy in the fall, it’s a bad time to sell,” Blomquist said. “So it’s kind of a wash for move-up buyers. Whereas first-time home buyers don’t have to worry about the selling of the equation.”

New buyers still face many obstacles

However, it can still be a challenging market for first-time home buyers, and it’s getting tougher, experts say.

Supply and demand

Nationally, housing supply has been shrinking over the past few years. It has tightened even more in 2017 than in previous years. Existing homes available for sale at the end of August fell 2.1 percent to 1.88 million and were down 6.5 percent from last August, according to the NAR.

It would take 4.2 months for the houses on the market to be sold at the current pace, down from 4.5 months a year ago. (Six months is considered a balanced buyer-seller market.)

But the demand for housing has been growing as a result of an improving economy and increasing job opportunities.

“Prices had nowhere to go but up,” Ratiu said. Homebuyers “have more money, but there are not enough homes on the market, and the price of homes has outpaced their income, which makes it hard for them buy.”

Nationally, the August median sales price of existing homes, which starter buyers tend to purchase, was $253,500, 5.6 higher percent than last August, according to the Realtors’ association. Meanwhile, wage growth remained fairly stagnant, at around 2.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

The NAR on Tuesday reported that Pending Home Sales, a future-looking indicator, fell 2.6 percent in August compared with last year — its lowest reading since January 2016.

“When I see pending sales declining, it’s likely sales for the next month will be down,” Ratiu said.

Ratiu said that much of the declining sales was the result of the housing shortage, which indicates that people looking to buy may not be able to find a house. But if they can buy, fall months are still a good time to snag a suitable home, Ritiu said, because the slow sales season gives starter home buyers that edge in a tough seller’s market.

“If first-time homebuyers are competing with buyers who have bigger down payments, which typically you would have with a move-up buyer, they are going to lose out more often than not in that situation,” Blomquist said. “So if they are willing to buy when other buyers are dormant or in hibernation, then they could get an edge and face less competition.”

Tougher lending standards

Tougher lending standards since the financial crisis have have hit hard among first-time buyers, who made up 31 percent of all homebuyers in August, the NAR reported. The median down payment percentage in the second quarter of 2017 rose to its highest in nearly three years, at 7.3 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from last year’s 5.9 percent, according to ATTOM.

This means if you buy a home for $200,000, you would have to put down $14,600 today versus last year’s $11,800.

To put that in perspective, at the peak of the last housing boom in 2006, before the financial crisis, the median down payment percentage for houses sold nationwide was 2.1 percent, Blomquist said.

There are good reasons why the down payment percentage rose, but it puts a huge financial burden on college graduates and young professionals coming into a pricey real estate market while carrying an average student loan debt of more than $35,000, experts say. (On that topic, here are some important things to know if you have student loan debt and are buying a house.)

Trulia reported that first-time homebuyers need to allocate nearly 40 percent of their monthly paycheck to buy a starter home, up from 31 percent in 2013.

Factors to consider when buying your first home

Seasonality is just a piece of the puzzle in homebuying — the biggest factor people should consider is affordability, Blomquist said.

“You’ve got to look at your finances and determine if it’s a good financial decision for you to buy a home,” he said.

Also recommended: Weigh the pros and cons of buying versus renting, as it sometimes makes sense to rent, depending on your long-term plans. If you are looking to buy your first home in the coming months, you can check out this guide for first-time homebuyers to help you through the long and complicated process.

The post Why October’s the Best Time to Start Looking for Your First Home appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Best Cities in America for Buying a Starter Home

buying-a-starter-home

We’ve written a lot recently about the disappearing starter home. A combination of rising prices, aggressive investors, and flat incomes are turning America into a nation of renters … and making things very hard on young people just starting out.

But there are still communities where plenty of starter homes are for sale — hundreds of them, around the country. Working with data provided by RealtyTrac, Credit.com has crunched the numbers and developed a robust list of ZIP codes where nearly all homes cost less than $200,000, well below the national median list price of $250,000. In fact, there are 515 ZIP codes in the U.S. where at least 95% of homes sold between January and May this year were under $200,000, according to the data. (And more than 1,000 where at least 90% were sold for $200,000 or less).

Price alone doesn’t indicate affordability, however. In some places, $200,000 sounds ridiculously cheap; in others, it’s out of reach even for folks earning more than the local average. So we fine-tuned the list by requiring that the local median income was 125% of the national median income ($53,657). In other words, we found places with cheaper-than-average homes and higher-than-average incomes.

And even by those high-income standards, there are still more than 60 places in the U.S. — most east of the Mississippi — where the vast majority of homes sold cost under $200,000.

Places like Magnolia, Delaware, near Dover, make the cut. There, the median sale price this year has been around $162,000, while the median income is around $74,000. And Manchester, Pennsylvania, near York, with homes selling for close to $129,000, and incomes are at around $73,000. Racine, Wisconsin, made the list, too (homes about $97,000, incomes about $67,000). Smaller towns near Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Philadelphia are also on the list.

“Certainly the list is a demonstration that there are plenty of affordable housing markets in the country, just most of them east of the Mississippi. Maybe the message from this is ‘Go east, young homebuyer,'” said Daren Bloomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

As you look at the list, here’s a general rule to keep in mind. Places were the ratio of home price to income is greater than 4 begin to become unaffordable, while a ratio of 3 would be considered very affordable. So if median prices are $225,000, but income in $53,000, the average earner is going to struggle to buy a home. On the other hand, if homes cost $150,000, but incomes are $50,000, that’s pretty attainable for the average-paid worker.

All hope is not lost for sub-$200,000 home seekers out West, however. If you dial down the criteria, more sub-$200,000 places appear all across the U.S. — even in California. For example, if you expand the list to include ZIP codes where only 75% of home sales were sub-$200,000, but maintain the 125% income standard, 648 ZIP codes fit the bill. Most are still in the East or the South. But Pueblo, Colorado, makes the cut ($129,000/$73,000). So does Bakersfield, California ($160,000/$73,000) So, by the way, does Pittsburgh ($142,000/$72,000), a place we’ve written about before in our Real Cost of Living series as does Hebron, Ohio, near Columbus, which we’ve also spotlighted ($143,000/$68,000).

All income data, was taken from the 2014 U.S. Census.

Here’s 25 of the 61 ZIP codes that make the list.

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Remember, having a good credit score can make buying a home more affordable — it’ll help you qualify for the best interest rates, so it’s a good idea to see where you stand if you’re looking for a mortgage. (You can view two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.)

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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