Before beginning the hunt for their first house, Tennessee residents Brittany and Craig Murphy pared their student debt, saved for a down payment and got an income boost from her new job. The major hurdle was what came next.
In the last month, the couple lost two bidding wars on Nashville homes to competitors willing to pay more than 10 percent above the asking price.
“I was not expecting the actual finding of the house to be the difficult part,” said Brittany Murphy, a 26-year-old Web designer whose husband, 27, is a software developer.
Steady job growth, low mortgage rates and record apartment rents are turning millennials like the Murphys into homebuyers — if they can find a house. As the key U.S. spring sales season gets under way, robust real estate demand is being outweighed by a persistent lack of lower-priced supply that’s poised to limit transactions and worsen an affordability crunch for young people. They’re faring worse than purchasers at the higher end of the market, where inventory is piling up.
Rising interest in home tours indicates prospective buyers are coming out in droves. An index by Redfin that measures requests for property visits rose in the first two months of the year to the highest level since at least 2012, when the data began.
“As soon as a house hits the market, it will be eaten by the huge demand appetite,” said Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist.
Surging homebuying interest won’t necessarily translate into a big jump in sales. Prices will rise while limited inventory will put a cap on transactions, said Doug Duncan, chief economist of Fannie Mae. He estimates that U.S. single-family home prices will climb 5 percent this year, about the same as in 2015, while sales will increase 3 percent. That’s a slowdown from 2015, when existing-home purchases jumped 7 percent.
“Affordability is a challenge this spring,” Duncan said. Prospective buyers “would have gotten their credit in shape and they’ll have a job. But they will be frustrated because, in their market, there simply won’t be affordable homes.”