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First-time homebuyers a big presence in Massachusetts real estate, report says

They accounted for 45 percent of purchases in 2019—despite higher prices and scarcer inventory

A row of three-story houses close together. Shutterstock

First-time homebuyers accounted for 45 percent of homes sales in Massachusetts in 2019, according to new numbers from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. That was well above the national share of 33 percent.

The sizable share of first-time buyers came despite rising home prices in the commonwealth and a general dearth of inventory, especially in the Boston area. Another realtors report pegged the Boston region’s median sales price for detached single-families at $605,000 in December—a record high for the month.

The median price of a Boston-area condo was $542,250 in December, up nearly 8 percent from the same time in 2018. And the average sales prices per square foot for both single-families and condos were up December, too, to $330 a foot for single-families and $568 for condos.

As for the inventory of available homes for sale, signs of relative scarcity abounded toward the end of 2019. The number of active listings for detached single-families was down more than 30 percent in December compared with the same month in 2018, according to the realtors association, and the number of active condo listings was down nearly 17 percent. Both were down from November by double-digit percentages as well.

Still, first-time buyers took the plunge in sizable numbers statewide.

“Despite the record-low number of home homes for sale and near record-high prices, the percentage of Massachusetts first-time buyers was again higher than the national average,” Kurt Thompson, president of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and a broker at Keller Williams in Leominster, said in a release. “Our state is in demand. This is a trend we want and need to continue, but we still need more homes for sale to ensure that first-time homebuyers of all income levels have the same opportunity to live here.”

The realtors’ report also sought to sketch the typical Massachusetts homebuyer, first-time or otherwise. The median age of homebuyers was 32 in 2019, compared with 47 nationally. The median household income of homebuyers was $119,600 last year, up from $106,900 in 2018. Nationally, the median household income for buyers was $93,900.

Nearly all Mass. homebuyers—88 percent—financed their purchases, compared with 86 percent nationwide. And, of the first-time homebuyers who told the realtors association that saving for a downpayment was the most difficult step, 60 percent cited student debt as an obstacle to that saving, compared with 65 percent in 2018.