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Nearly Half of Couples Split Home Down Payment, NerdWallet Survey Finds

Home Affordability, Mortgages
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When it comes to purchasing a home, 41% of Americans who bought their current home with a partner* reported that both partners contributed equal amounts of money toward their down payment, according to a new NerdWallet survey.

NerdWallet commissioned an online survey, conducted in June 2016 by Harris Poll, of more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The poll delved into how homeowners sourced their down payments and what their common disagreements and fears were during the process.

Key takeaways

Among Americans who bought their current home with a partner:

  • 11% of women contributed all or more to the down payment than their partner.
  • 29% of adults in the Northeast contributed all or more of the down payment than their partners did, while only 17% of adults in the West contributed all or more than their partners.

Our survey found that homeowners who recalled how much they saved for a down payment on their current home individually saved an average of $1,078.50 monthly for that purpose. However, 60% of homeowners said that they weren’t sure how much money they individually saved on a monthly basis, which might suggest a lack of budgeting and planning.

Other savings trends we found:

  • It took homeowners who needed to save an average of three years before purchasing their current home.
  • One in four homeowners saved money individually, on a monthly basis, to put toward the down payment of their current home.
  • 42% of millennial homeowners (ages 18-34) saved individually, on a monthly basis, for a down payment when they purchased their current home, while only 29% of Gen X homeowners (35-54) did the same.
  • More than half (52%) of millennial homeowners needed to save money before purchasing their current home.
  • Significantly more male homeowners needed to save before buying a home (47%) compared with female homeowners (32%).

In addition to saving for a down payment, another substantial hurdle that homebuyers have to overcome is the lack of affordability, says Chris Ling, head of homebuying and mortgages for NerdWallet.

After three straight years of declines, the total number of housing-cost-burdened households — renters and homeowners paying more than 30% of income for housing — rose to 39.8 million in 2014, according to the 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. “Driving this increase is the growing number of cost-burdened renters, which jumped from 20.8 million in 2013 to a record 21.3 million in 2014,” the study said.

Furthermore, the median existing-home sales price in May reached a record high of $239,700, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“Homebuyers should work closely with their real estate agent to find properties that aren’t at the top of their budget to keep affordability in check,” Ling says. “Also, working on a consistent savings plan for a down payment and closing costs, as well as addressing any outstanding credit issues, will increase homebuyers’ chances of qualifying for better mortgage rates.”

Homebuying can uncover deeper fears about relationships, money

It’s natural that buying a home seems like a scary undertaking with the amount of money at stake. Roughly seven in 10 Americans (71%) said they have had fears about buying a home, including the long-term commitment to their partner (9%), the home needing repairs (36%), not having enough money for other expenses (35%) and the financial commitment of homeownership (35%).

Our survey found that 20% of millennials have had fears of the long-term commitment to their partner, as represented by homeownership, and that they are much more likely to feel this way than are adults 35 and older (4%). To break it down further, 34% of millennial men expressed this fear compared with only 10% of millennial women.

The number of commitment-phobic men doesn’t surprise Olivia Mellan, a financial coach, author and psychotherapist who provides financial therapy to couples in Washington, D.C. Buying a home can put a couple’s communication skills to the test and bring out deep-seated reservations, Mellan says. Her suggestion for making it work: Slow things down.

“Have a rule that you’re not going to talk about what you like or don’t like about a home when you’re walking through it; save the discussion for when you get home,” Mellan advises. “In those discussions, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and listen to their points without interrupting. Show empathy.”

Tips for getting a mortgage you can afford

After asking yourself “How much house can I afford?”, you’ll need to focus on finding the right house within your budget. Here are some practical ways to get a home loan that won’t break the bank:

  1. Clean up your credit — To help boost your score, address any errors on your credit report, make on-time payments, and don’t make large purchases (such as buying a car or other item you have to finance). You can request a free copy of your credit score at annualcreditreport.com.
  2. Look for homes at the lower end of your budget — Just because a lender says you qualify for a $300,000 loan doesn’t mean you can afford one. Looking at homes at the bottom of your price range instead of squeezing by at the top will give you more breathing room in your monthly budget.
  3. Shop around for the right lender — It’s a good idea to compare quotes from a variety of lenders, and definitely ask for referrals from people you trust who have used the company before. Make sure you ask the right questions to get the lowest rates and best terms, and don’t let anyone rush you into a decision until you’ve weighed all your options.
  4. Consider the costs of owning a home — Being house poor will leave little room in your budget for other things, such as emergency home repairs, fixing cosmetic blemishes and home maintenance costs, especially if you’re not the do-it-yourself type. Make sure you have enough cushion in your budget to set aside money each month for these inevitable issues.
  5. Focus on needs, not wants, in your home search — It’s rare that you’ll find a home that’s 100% perfect, and your budget might not allow for it. In other words, make a list of what is absolutely necessary to have in your home versus what would be nice to have. You might have to sacrifice those flashier wants (such as a soaking tub or brand-new appliances) to find an affordable home.

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from June 27-29, 2016, among 2,019 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, among whom 1,295 currently own a home, 880 of whom bought their current home with their spouse/partner. This online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Maitri Jani.

* “Partner/partners” refers to homeowners who purchased their current home with a partner or spouse.

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Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.