Homebuyers’ down payments rise as US home prices climb

LOS ANGELES — Even with mortgage rates hovering near all-time lows, rising home prices are putting more pressure on buyers to come up with a bigger down payment.

In the April-June quarter, the median down payment on a single-family U.S. home was $13,955, a 15.3% increase from a year earlier, according to industry tracker Attom Data Solutions. In the first three months of 2020, it vaulted 29% from the same period in 2019.

The trend follows a steady climb in U.S. home prices this year. As of August, they were up 5.2% from a year earlier.

The rise in home prices is stretching the limits of affordability for many Americans already struggling to save for a down payment.

“Home values are increasing approximately twice as fast as typical incomes,” said Chris Glynn, senior economist at Zillow. “There’s this divergence between home values and the salaries and incomes that buyers have to keep up with that.”

That divergence shows no signs of easing, given the combination of extremely low inventory of homes on the market and fierce competition as more millennials look to transition from renting to owning.

Demand for homes has been strong this year, despite a brief slowdown in the early days of the pandemic. Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes surged 9.4% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.54 million, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The thin inventory of homes helped drive up the median selling price to $311,800, up 15% from a year earlier, according to the Realtors association. In the Bend area, the median price for a single-family home in September was $547,000, according to the Beacon Appraisal Group of Redmond. It was fueled, in part, by sales of homes between $700,000 and more than $1 million, according to Beacon.

A closely watched measure of home values, the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, has also been clocking rising home prices. In August, its most-recent snapshot available, prices climbed 5.2%, accelerating from a 4.1% gain in July.

Ultra-low mortgage rates have been a key driver for the housing market. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was at 2.81% last week, little changed from the all-time low of 2.80% the previous week. The rate averaged 3.78% a year ago. While low mortgage rates have made monthly home loan payments more affordable, they don’t alter the fact that most down payments are indexed to some percentage of the sale price of a home. So, higher prices lead to bigger down payments.

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