WASHINGTON - July 13, 2016 - Despite lackluster economic growth and stark home-price appreciation in several parts of the country in recent months, roughly three-quarters of surveyed households still believe it's a good time to buy a home - but there's a considerable morale gap between homeowners and renters, according to the latest installment of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey.

The survey also found that roughly half of young adults with student debt are uncomfortable about taking on a mortgage.

In NAR's second quarter HOME consumer survey, respondents were asked about their confidence in the U.S. economy and various questions about their housing expectations, including whether student debt is tempering their ability and appetite to take on mortgage debt.

NAR's survey found that the share of homeowners and renters who believe it's a good time to buy a home has held steady so far this year, with 80 percent of homeowners (82 percent in March) and 62 percent of renters (unchanged from last quarter) saying it's a good time to buy. However, the share of renters who think so is down from 68 percent in December 2015, and those under 35 were the least confident.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the survey brings to focus the ongoing disparity in buyer confidence between current homeowners and renters.

"Existing-home prices surpassed their all-time peak this spring and have climbed on average over 5 percent nationally through the first five months of the year, and even faster in areas with severe supply shortages," he says. "Most homeowners appear to realize that if they're ready to sell, they'll likely find a buyer rather quickly and be able to use the sizeable equity they've accumulated in recent years towards their next home purchase. Meanwhile, renters interested in buying continue to face minimal choices, strong competition and home prices growing faster than their incomes.

"Given these affordability pressures, it's no surprise respondents earning over $100,000 and those living in the Midwest - the most affordable region of the country - are the most optimistic about buying right now," says Yun.

This HOME survey also found that student debt is causing many potential homebuyers to be uneasy about taking on additional debt: Roughly two-thirds of non-homeowners and half of respondents under 35 with student debt said they aren't comfortable also having a mortgage. Furthermore, of those with student debt, non-homeowners and younger adults were less likely to believe they'd be able to qualify for a mortgage if they applied.

"It's becoming very evident from this survey and our research released last month that the financial and emotional impact of repaying student debt is contributing to a delay in purchasing a home for many would-be buyers," adds Yun. "At a time of quickly rising rents, mortgage rates at all-time lows and increasing housing wealth, a lot of young adults in their prime buying years are struggling to enter the market and are ultimately missing out on the stability and wealth accumulation that owning a home can provide."

 

Attitudes about U.S. economy, personal finances outlook mostly unchanged

About half of all households surveyed believe the economy is improving (49 percent), which is mostly unchanged since the inaugural HOME survey in December 2015. Renters, respondents living in urban areas, and those in the West were the most optimistic.

On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of those living in rural areas don't believe the economy is improving.

When asked if they thought their personal financial situation would be better in six months, the latest survey reflected a little less optimism. The survey's monthly Personal Financial Outlook Index of all households decreased slightly (to 57.7 in June) month-to-month (58.1 in March), but it's unchanged from June 2015.

 

More believe it's a good time to sell

With strong price growth prevalent in most of the country and homes selling at a quickened pace, more current homeowners (61 percent) believe it's a good time to sell compared to the first quarter of this year (56 percent). Respondents in the West were again the most likely to think now is a good time to sell, but they're also least likely to think it's a good time to buy.

"More homeowners acknowledging this pent-up demand may perhaps mean we begin to see more supply come online in the near future," adds Yun.

When asked about their outlook for home prices in their community in the next six months, almost all believe that prices will stay the same or rise (93 percent), which is consistent with last quarter (91 percent). Respondents from the West, those living in urban areas and renters are most likely to believe prices will go up in their communities.