What Do Today’s Homebuyers Really Want?

Homebuyers are getting older; their incomes are growing; and more of them are investing in second homes, according to the National Association of Realtors’ latest Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.

The association’s survey of Americans who purchased homes between July 2013 and July 2014 also revealed:

  • The share of buyers who purchased their first homes during the survey period is at its lowest level since 1987. Last year, 33% of buyers were first-timers, while the historical norm is 40%.
  • For 55%, their search for a home began online, by either looking for properties or by gathering information on how the homebuying process works. And 92% consulted the Internet at some point during their home search. Half relied on a mobile website or app.
  • The majority of every kind of homebuyer—singles, unmarried couples, married couples with children—purchased single-family homes.
  • Shoppers are making quicker decisions: The typical buyer viewed 10 homes and searched for 10 weeks—two weeks less than buyers reported a year earlier.

The breakdown

The NAR profile breaks homebuyers into four main groups: married with kids, single females, single males, and unmarried couples.

Married with kids.

In 2014, 65% of all homes sold to survey participants were purchased by married couples, and 35% of home sales went to buyers with children living at home.

The median age of the married-with-children homebuyers was 36. The median income among those homeowners was $103,300. More than 80% of them bought an existing home instead of a brand-new dwelling, and more than 90% bought single-family homes.

Couples with children had a single priority when house-hunting in 2013 and 2014: quality schools. They told researchers that their proximity to a good school district trumped the quality of the neighborhood or the distance they had to commute to work. And they said they would not compromise on quality or distance when it came to schools.

This group of homebuyers most typically chose larger houses than any other kind of property, with an average of four bedrooms and two bathrooms. And 13% of them opted for a “multi-generational” home with room so that their adult children or aging parents could share the house.

Single women

Single women accounted for 16% of home sales between July 2013 and July 2014, down from 22% in 2006 and 20% in 2010.

The oldest of any of the homebuyer groups identified in the report, the median age of single female buyers in the survey period was 52. Their median income was $54,800, and 35% of them bought their first homes ever last year. More than 60% bought single-family homes.

These women looked for neighborhoods near the ones where their friends and family lived. And most considered a home to be a better investment than stocks, although they admitted they had to make financial sacrifices so they could afford to buy.

Single men

The share of single men who bought homes also dropped: from 12% in 2010 to 9% in 2014.

They weren’t as concerned about living near friends and family as other groups of buyers, the survey noted. Instead, they placed a higher importance on living near entertainment and leisure activities.

The median age of single male buyers during the survey period was 47, and their median income was $65,800. Almost 70% of them bought single-family homes.

Unmarried couples

Accounting for just 8% of homebuyers between July 2013 and July 2014, unmarried couples said they believed, more than any other group, that their homes were a good financial investment. Most of them used savings for their down payments.

The median age of unmarried couples who bought homes was 33, and their median income was $80,800. Nearly 80% of them bought single-family homes, and 90% bought pre-owned houses. For 39% of these couples, this was their first home purchase.

First-time buyers

The share of homebuyers who purchased their first-ever homes during the survey period was 33%—the lowest percentage since 1987, the survey revealed. And 75% admitted that these starter houses weren’t their dream homes: They either skimped on space, price, or both so they could afford to buy.

Three-quarters of the purchasers in this age group bought single-family homes, and 69% bought their places with a spouse or domestic partner.

Their median age was 31, and their median income was $68,300.

The survey also collected data on repeat buyers; those who purchased multi-generational housing; seniors who chose homes in active adult communities; homeowners who bought another place in order to downsize; and buyers who made commuting costs a priority when selecting a location.

Sharon O'Malley is a contributing editor for ConstructionDive.com, a website featuring the latest construction industry news in 60 seconds.