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First-Time Buyers by the Numbers

genworth-canada-newWith 35-50% of home sales attributed to first-time buyers (depending on the year and survey), it’s vital for mortgage marketers and industry watchdogs to understand the traits and risks of this demographic. That includes understanding how well prepared young Canadians are to buy a home, and to handle rate hikes, price corrections and unemployment.

Genworth and Environics polled some 1,800 first-time homebuyers recently to get a handle on these questions. We delved through their report to pull out the meatiest data. Here are six findings of note about first-time buyers:

  1. They’re paying more than ever
    • The numbers: The median price paid by a first-timer is now $293,000 nationwide ($420,000 in Vancouver)
    • As prices increase, so do the minimum down payments and default insurance premiums. Sixty-three percent of today’s first-timers get insured mortgages with the median down payment being $34,000 (12%)
    • In big cities in particular, countless young borrowers wouldn’t have a hope of home ownership were it not for default insurance, gifted down payments and borrowed down payments. Nationwide, 28% use a gift or loan to bolster their down payment. Contrast that with 40% in Vancouver
  2. Big lump-sum prepayment privileges often go to waste
    • The numbers: Just 1 in 4 first-timers (26%) made a lump-sum prepayment in the past year
    • Some pay 10-20 basis points more for mortgages with bigger prepayment options. In many cases that’s a complete waste of money. Five or ten percent lump-sum prepayments are more than ample for the vast majority of first-timers
  3. It often takes two 
    • The numbers: 62% of first-time buyers purchased with a spouse/partner
    • That means there’s generally two incomes (roughly $90,000 to $100,000 total on average, says Genworth), helping them qualify for a bigger mortgage and better absorb potential rate hikes
  4. They’re going to have kids
    • The numbers: Almost 6 in 10 (59%) are planning for children in the next five years and another 17% aren’t sure
    • This implies that many will need to up-size their property. In fact, half refer to their purchase as a “starter” home
    • That heightens the importance of picking a mortgage with either good refinancing terms or a fair penalty calculation (in case they have to increase and/or break the mortgage early)
  5. Debt ratios are mostly conservative
    • The numbers: The average Genworth-insured borrower has a 34% total debt service (TDS) ratio
      (Thank you, Genworth, for providing this data, which has been hard to come by. We have no idea why CMHC doesn’t do the same.)
    • The ratio has “crept up gradually over the last couple of years,” which is a function of rising home prices, says Genworth CEO Stuart Levings
    • Once you start getting up to 40%+ TDS, that’s “high,” Genworth says
    • About 8% of Genworth’s portfolio is in the 42%+ range. These tend to be folks with higher earning potential–many of them professionals
    • There’s a large buffer between the average (34%) and the maximum allowed (44%), which acts as a shock absorber for rate hikes
    • Genworth estimates the average first-time homebuyer’s debt ratios would increase 2 points (e.g., from a 34% TDS ratio to 36%) for every point that interest rates increased.

Young couple looking at their new houseOther notable first-time buyer stats:

  • 80%+ choose fixed rates
  • 73% rated mortgage brokers/specialists as important sources for mortgage info (31% consulted a broker and 66% consulted a lender’s specialist)
  • 66% rated bank/credit union representatives important sources for mortgage info
  • 61% rated personal finance websites and media websites as important info sources
  • 80% of respondents bought an existing re-sale house
  • 20% bought new construction
  • 55% bought a fully detached home
  • 17% bought a condo (47% in Vancouver, 40% in Montreal and 39% in Toronto)
  • 16% don’t plan to have kids
  • 20% were born in another country
  • 73% rented before buying
  • 24% lived with parents/other relatives before buying
  • 39% strongly (10%) or somewhat (29%) agree that they are concerned about making ends meet month to month
  • 61% pay off their credit cards in full each month
  • 7% pay only the minimum balance on their credit card
  • 86% of millennials “want to own a home” (Source: Royal LePage survey)

Here’s Genworth’s statistics presentation for those who want to delve deeper into the numbers.