Fear Motivates First-Time Homebuyers

Worried about predictions of rising mortgage rates, additional increases in home prices and new costs for FHA borrowers, first-time homebuyers are kicking off the spring buying market in years, despite skimpy inventories and late winter weather across much of the nation.

According to the latest Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey, first-time buyers accounted for 34.5 percent of home purchase transactions in February based on a three-month moving average, the second monthly increase for first-time homebuyers.

First-time homebuyer traffic surged in February. The HousingPulse Homebuyer Traffic Diffusion Index for first-time homebuyers, an indicator of future home purchases, hit a four-year survey high of 66.4% in February. Any score above 50 percent with the index reflects an increase in home shopping traffic.

“First-time homebuyers are the wildcard in the upcoming spring-summer homebuying season,” said Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys. “We see strong first-time homebuyer traffic, but it’s still not clear that the traffic will translate into increased purchases, because first-time homebuyers are dependent on low-downpayment financing, such as FHA mortgages, and announced FHA program changes will take effect this spring.”

In the April to June timeframe, FHA will be increasing its Monthly Insurance Premium and require payment of the MIP for the full term of the loan.

While first-time homebuyers represented the fastest growing category of home purchasers between January and February, purchases by current homeowners saw the biggest drop fell from 44.3 percent to 42.5 percent. That was the lowest market share for current homeowners recorded by the HousingPulse survey since last June.

The Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance findings are similar to data released by Realtor.com last week that suggests buyers are getting an early start this year (See Early Bird Buyers Try to Beat Tight Inventories).

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