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Rising home prices, stagnant wages squeeze home buyers

  • Home ownership remains elusive for many Americans a decade after the collapse of the real estate market set the U.S. economy in a tailspin.
  • The price of buying a home has accelerated since about 2011 after tanking in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis.
  • Meanwhile, real wages have grown less than 10 percent in that period, even for those employed full time.
A couple are shown a property for sale in Newport Beach, California.
Jamie Rector | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Home ownership remains elusive for many Americans a decade after the collapse of the real estate market sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

More than one-third of Americans ages 18 to 34 said they are likely to opt out of home ownership over the next decade, according to an annual survey conducted by the U.K.-based consumer credit reporting agency Experian. About a quarter of Americans of any age also said they were likely to opt out of home ownership in that period.

The number of Americans who said they are likely to opt out of homeownership increased 8 percentage points in this year's survey, compared to 2016.

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The price of buying a home has accelerated since about 2011, after tanking in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis. The median home price last month was about $320,000, according to government data, more than 20 percent higher than the pre-crisis peak set in March 2007.

Meanwhile, real wages have grown less than 10 percent in that period, even for those employed full time.

"There's a mismatch," said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. "Even over the last five years, home prices have easily exceeded income and wage growth."

Yun was not involved in the Experian survey.

The top reason for opting out of home ownership is the desire for flexibility, according to the survey. The other leading factors were not wanting to carry debt, not wanting the responsibility of maintaining a home, and worries over rising interest rates.

More than 10 percent of those who said they are likely to opt out of a home purchase said that "real estate is not as valuable anymore."

Home buyers are also getting older, particularly first-time buyers. The typical age of a first time buyer in 2016 was 32 years old, the highest since 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"The inventory availability is very limited, and that does not excite the buyer." -Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors

For repeat home buyers, the median age got slightly younger, dropping to 52 years old from 53 in 2015.

Yun said that tight inventory is to blame for soaring home prices, but that construction is moving in the right direction.

"The inventory availability is very limited, and that does not excite the buyer," he said.

Inventory isn't just a coastal problem. Housing inventories across the country are at record lows.

The problem is particularly acute for the least expensive homes.

"For-sale housing inventory, especially of starter homes, is currently at its lowest level in over ten years," researchers at Freddie Mac wrote in an April article.