The Federal Reserve’s new data show reluctance, if not stubbornness, on the part of first-time homebuyers to hit the mortgage market. Key reasons include a lousy return on home equity and minimal opportunities to "flip" their homes in a few years.
The numbers certainly show that first-time homebuyers are shying away from the real estate market. According to the Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance Monthly Survey of Real Estate Market Conditions, a nationwide survey of 1,500 real estate agents, first-time homebuyer activity “dropped sharply” this summer. That’s not a big surprise, given the end of the federal government’s first-time homebuyer tax credit in April.
But perhaps there’s more to the story. Another study suggests potential homebuyers have taken a good look at the possible return on investment in buying a home and concluded home ownership may not be worth the effort. American Dream of America Obsession: The Economic Benefits and Costs of Home Ownership, from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank and Fed Reserve analysts Wenli Li and Fang Yang, argues that the professional class is wondering whether Americans' love affair with home ownership is drawing to an end.
“The financial crisis that started in 2008 has prompted the government to spend even more on preserving homeownership, despite the fact that the financial crisis itself was led by the meltdown of the U.S. housing market,” the authors write. “In light of these developments, an increasing number of academicians and media reporters are now questioning the previously unquestionable: Has the American dream turned into an American obsession?”
Regular Americans echo the sentiment.
"One thing that is certain, is that homeownership is not for everyone, and thus, based on economic benefits, the case for trying to achieve a nation of homeowners needs to be rethought," the authors note.
A big reason why Americans are souring on homeownership is the flatlining of U.S. home values. First-time homebuyers clearly don’t believe that their investment in a new home will increase significantly over time. Another is that the prospect of "flipping" a new home — i.e., buying it and selling it over the short term for a quick profit — has lost its luster.
Many home-flippers took a financial bath during the Great Recession, and their experiences resonated with potential homebuyers. Sherrill Zenie, a Delray Beach, Fla., resident who dabbled in residential real estate investments, says she was burnt badly by her flipping experience. "I wanted to follow the American Dream," she told CNBC recently. "I wanted to be an entrepreneur and make some money — not a killing, but some money. Instead, I got a kick in the rear."
With home values down, and the prospect of making a big profit on a home-flip falling by the wayside, more and more first time homebuyers are looking at the American Dream of home ownership and saying “thanks — but no thanks.”
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