A "for sale by owner" sign stands outside a home in LaSalle, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, June 7, 2013. The Mortgage Bankers Associations weekly mortgage market index, which measures mortgage loan applications for purchases and refinancings, is scheduled to be released on June 12. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Martha C. White
March 17, 2015

The logjam in real estate seems to be coming unstuck, with Zillow.com predicting that 5.2 million renters are going to buy homes in the next year, a nearly 25% jump from last year.

“Many current renters clearly seem to be re-thinking their attitudes toward homeownership, and are expressing more confidence in the overall housing market as a result,” Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries says in a post on the site’s blog. The site finds that the confidence of prospective buyers is on the rise from Dallas to Detroit.

But average down payments have a huge amount of variability across metro areas, new research from RealtyTrac.com finds, and that can be the make-or-break factor for first-time homebuyers. People who expect to buy in top-priced real estate markets like New York City and San Francisco had better bring their checkbooks: The average down payment in San Francisco is right around 30%, while it tops 37% in New York. And in both places, thanks to the high prices of homes in general, that adds up to an eye-popping $300,000-plus — more than the cost of a home in many parts of the country.

The rest of the top five markets with the highest average down payment percentages are more of the same: Marin and San Mateo Counties in the Bay Area, and Kings County — otherwise known as the borough of Brooklyn — in New York.

If that’s not your speed, how do you feel about Ohio or Michigan? Four of the five lowest-priced markets with the lowest down payments by percentage are in those two states, along with Macon, Georgia. In these places, down payment dollar amounts fall in a much more reasonable range, from just under $4,500 to a little over $7,000.

Of course, there are lots of other factors homebuyers have to take into consideration like the availability of jobs and quality of life. RealtyTrac also looked for the lowest down payments in what it calls “millennial magnet markets” where large numbers of young adults have moved over the past several years.

Here there’s a little more variety in terms of geographic location as well as the type of community: Towns in the metro areas of Fayetteville, N.C., Clarksville (on the Kentucky-Tennessee border), Little Rock, Des Moines and the Washington D.C. bedroom communities of Arlington and Alexandria all make the cut. The average down payments range from around 9% to just under 12.5%, and with the exception of the pricier Virginia ‘burbs, the average dollar amounts all clock in below $20,000.

Clarksville and Des Moines also make RealtyTrac’s list of the top markets for first-time homebuyers, along with Durham, N.C., Philadelphia and Davidson County outside of Nashville. All five have average down payment percentages lower than the national average of 14%, and have seen an increase in the number of millennial residents since the end of the recession.


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