Business

Without parents’ help, many could not buy their first home

Last year, 27 percent of those purchasing a home for the first time received a cash gift from relatives or friends to come up with a down payment.
REUTERS/Larry Downing/File
Last year, 27 percent of those purchasing a home for the first time received a cash gift from relatives or friends to come up with a down payment.

WASHINGTON — The Bank of Mom and Dad is playing a growing role as lender of last resort for a housing recovery struggling to provide more traction for the US economy.

Last year, 27 percent of those purchasing a home for the first time received a cash gift from relatives or friends to come up with a down payment, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That was up from 24 percent in 2012 and matched the highest share since the group began keeping records in 2009.

Those numbers will probably keep growing this year as younger Americans remain constrained by student debt, a job market that’s tough to break into, and stricter mortgage-lending rules that require more cash up front. At the same time, rising stock and property values give many baby boomer parents the ability to assist children who want to lock in mortgage rates that are near record lows.

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‘‘Without them, the [housing] recovery’s not sustainable,’’ said Anika Khan, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C. Anything that gets more money into first-time buyers’ hands ‘‘just moves the housing recovery along,’’ she said.

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Inability to come up with a down payment was the top reason for renting rather than buying property, according to the Federal Reserve’s report on the 2013 economic well-being of households, issued in July.

The report also said that 10 percent of those leasing apartments last year were looking to buy a house.

Fifty-four percent of first-time buyers in 2013 said their purchases were delayed because the burden of student loans prevented them from saving enough for a down payment, according to the NAR survey. First-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of purchases of previously owned homes in July, compared with about 40 percent historically, data from the agents group show.

Deborah Baisden, a realtor with Prudential Towne Realty in Virginia Beach, Va., is witness to the pickup in cash gifts, particularly among parents who are assisting children.

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‘‘We’re finding more and more parents are gifting money,’’ Baisden said. ‘‘Because of student debt and because of kids having a tough time finding jobs, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to be able to buy homes. We’re turning into a country of renters.’’

Paychecks are also shrinking for younger Americans. College graduates from 18 to 34 years old working full time had a $3,300 drop in average annual earnings, adjusted for inflation, from 2007 to 2012, according to a Progressive Policy Institute analysis of Census Bureau data.

Younger buyers have also had to compete with an influx of investors scooping up properties, often with all-cash offers.

But as fewer deals and less inventory prompt investors to retreat, the field may soon open up for first-time buyers as sellers look to expand the market, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist.

‘‘With the investors stepping away, for some first-time buyers and millennial buyers, they have less competition,’’ Yun said. ‘‘So it would be an opportune time to enter the market.’’

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Cash gifts appear to be ‘‘happening even to a greater extent this year,’’ he said. The NAR will release its 2014 survey data on Nov. 3.

Amanda Woolley, 31, got a little family help to close on a two-bedroom home in Seattle in July. She accepted about half the cash she needed for the down payment and closing costs from her parents, though she would have preferred to do it on her own.

‘‘I was really resistant. I actually didn’t want to take any money from them,’’ said Woolley, who is seeing this firsthand as a communications manager at the real estate website Zillow. ‘‘But after looking at all the programs and looking at what my mortgage payment would be, it actually made the most sense to take a little bit from them.’’