These 5 Traits Define Homebuyers in 2016

by Peter Thomas Ricci

This is who you’ll be doing business with this year.


The National Association of Realtors’ “Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends” report is among the most detailed examinations of the nation’s consumers and their real estate experiences. From demographics, to intentions, to technological methods, the report is vast in its exploration of what makes the homebuying and selling public tick.

And the association’s 2016 report is no exception. Below, we’ve spotlighted the five trends that best define who real estate agents will do business with this year.

1. Rise of the Millennials? – Although the typical homebuyer remains older at 44 years old, the Millennial generation (aged 35 and younger) comprised the greatest share of homebuyers, making up 35 percent of all buyers; Baby Boomers came in second at 31 percent, while Gen Xers followed at 26 percent. (See Figure One)

That marks the third straight year that Millennials have been the dominant group of homebuyers, and though it is tempting to conclude that such stature contradicts recent reports on the economic hardships of Millennials, it is worth remembering two key facts: one, that Millennials are by far the largest generation America has ever produced, so it stands to reason they would also be the largest group of homebuyers by a simple matter of proportions; and two, that the aforementioned reports do emphatically show that Millennials, thanks to stagnant wages, high student debt and persistent unemployment/underemployment, are not buying to their true potential.

In fact, the young adult homeownership rate, according to the NAHB, has fallen 10 percentage points since 2006, and the NAHB recently reported that two million Millennial households are missing from the current market, such are the numbers of young adults living at home.

2. First Timers MIA – First-time homebuyers remain atypically low, making up 32 percent of all homebuyers. That is not only down from 33 percent last year (and far below the historical average of 40 percent), but also the smallest first-time buyer market share since 1987.

There are two main reasons behind the low amount of first-time buyers, one financial and the other personal. On the financial side, first-time buyer earnings are down from the past. Research from Zillow has found that earnings for first timers are up just 2.9 percent from the early ‘70s, while home prices are up 60.0 percent; furthermore, 58 percent of first-time buyers, according to NAR, have reported delayed purchases because of student debt.

On the personal side, Americans are waiting longer to marry, and consumers typically wait to buy a home until their are wed. A recent NeighborWorks survey found that 43 percent of consumers will not buy a home until they are married, and since 2000, the median age for first marriages has risen 2.5 years for men and 1.9 years for women.

3. Married Couples and Single Women – Married couples were by far the most common composition among homebuyers, comprising 67 percent of the field. NAR also found some interesting nuances to single-female homebuyers. Since 2011, single females’ share of homebuyers has fallen from 18 percent to 15 percent, but among the Baby Boomer generation, single females are much more common. According to NAR’s research, among Younger Boomers, single females comprise 20 percent of buyers, and among Older Boomers, they comprise 19 percent; that’s compared to just 13 percent among the Millennial and Gen X generations (See Figure Two).

4. Multi-Generational Living – Multi-generational households are on the rise, and NAR’s research showed that such arrangements are equally common among older generations. Sixteen percent of Younger Boomer and Silent Generation homebuyers purchased a home for multiple generations, as did 15 percent of Gen Xers and 13 percent of Older Boomers; caretaking of aging parents was a compelling reason for nearly all generations, especially Gen Xers (26 percent of those buyers cited that reason).

5. Racial Diversity Among Homebuyers – At 85 percent of all buyers, the overall pool of homebuyers remains overwhelmingly white; 6 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are black, 5 percent are Asian and 2 percent are “other.” The most diverse generation of buyers, interestingly, was not the most diverse generation in the country’s history – the Millennials – but rather, Gen Xers. Among that generation’s buyers, 76 percent were white, 10 percent Hispanic, 8 percent black, 7 percent Asian and 3 percent “other” (See Figure Three).

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