First time homebuyers like Azula–Altucher are often surprised by the true costs of home ownership, from necessary repairs to ongoing maintenance. A study by real estate site Zillow found that, on average, homeowners pay more than $6,000 a year on unavoidable hidden costs like homeowner's insurance, property taxes and utilities.
In addition, many people are currently making smaller down payments when they buy homes, so they have less flexibility to adjust their finances to accommodate life's ups and downs.
Some 27 percent of homebuyers purchased homes with down payments of 3 percent or less in the first quarter of 2015, according to market research firm RealtyTrac, the highest share in nearly two years. And the 14.8 percent average down payment in the first quarter of 2015 was the lowest since the first quarter of 2012. (Azula–Altucher said her down payment was less than 10 percent of the $250,000 she paid for her home.)
Homebuyers' finances have improved since the financial crisis: In 2013, at nearly all income levels, fewer of them were devoting more than 30 percent of their income to housing costs, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard. But even so, more than 20 percent of homeowners with incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 were in that group, as were nearly 10 percent of those with incomes of $75,000.
Small wonder, then, that Census Bureau data indicated that the rate of home ownership in the third quarter of 2015 was just 63.7 percent, down from 64.4 percent a year earlier, while renting continues to become more common.