3 Big Obstacles to the Housing Recovery

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Do these economic trends pose problems for housing’s future?


America’s housing market is at a crossroads. In addition to the usual real estate entities that impact its progress – Realtor associations, homebuilders, lending institutions – housing is also privy to the wider economic trends at work, from consumer debt, to employment, to shifting generational preferences.

All those elements combine to impact how housing does (or does not) grow, and the “America at Home” survey from NeighborWorks America is a particularly detailed study of how lesser examined factors all play a role in housing’s future.

Here were the three most notable findings from NeighborWorks’ survey:

1. The Student Debt QuagmireStudent debt is a constant topic in our online coverage, and the America at Home survey only emphasizes its growing impact on housing. Fifty-seven percent of the survey’s respondents acknowledged that student loans were either “very much” or “somewhat” of an obstacle, up from 49 percent in 2014. Furthermore, 28 percent of respondents know someone who has delayed a home purchase because of student debt (up from 24 percent last year), and 55 percent worry about student debt either some of the time or most of the time – 11 percent worry all the time.

2. Mortgage Illiteracy – The 30-year FRM averaged just 3.82 percent for the week ending Oct. 15, which marked the 12th straight week of sub-4 percent mortgage rates. Despite such historically low rates, NeighborWorks found that a large swath of consumers are unaware of how affordable mortgages are in today’s market, with nearly 40 percent of respondents stating they received “nothing at all” in terms of information about down payment assistance programs for middle-income homebuyers. In addition, 60 percent indicated they are either “somewhat” or “very” unlikely to consult a housing counselor, and 40 percent are unlikely to meet with a mortgage lender.

3. Delaying Marriage – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age for first marriages since 2000 has risen from 26.8 to 29.3 for men, and from 25.1 to 27.0 for women; in 1959, the ages were 22.5 for men and 20.2 for women. Such statistics may seem, on the surface, to bear no influence on housing. However, one surprising finding in the NeighborWorks survey hints otherwise: 43 percent of respondents plan to purchase a home when they marry or move in with a life partner. That statistic was part of a broader question on what milestones would precipitate a home purchase, and marriage was by far the most pivotal event in respondents’ homebuying decision; by comparison, only 9 percent cited graduating college as cause to buy a home.

“It’s clear the housing market is directly affected by many factors, and these forces identified in our survey are putting strong downward pressure on growth,” said Paul Weech, the president and CEO of NeighborWorks America. And one series of stats in the survey directly speaks to the impact those forces have: only 13 percent of survey respondents plan on buying a home at some point in the next year; 29 percent will wait for at least three years; and 32 percent have no such plans.

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