When Is the Best Age to Buy a Home?

Young woman with moving boxes and furniture
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There’s no “right” age to buy a home, but it’s smart to evaluate where you are in life as you decide whether or not to buy. A home purchase is the most significant investment in many peoples’ lives, and your status as a homeowner can help you or hurt you financially. Perhaps most importantly, your living situation affects your quality of life.

Key Takeaways

  • The median age for first-time homebuyers in 2017 was 32, according to the National Association of Realtors.
  • The best age to buy is when you can comfortably afford the payments, tackle any unexpected repairs, and live in the home long enough to cover the costs of buying and selling a home.
  • Legally, you must be at least 18 in most states to buy a home.

When Should You Buy?

Buying a home can potentially benefit you at any age, young or old, as long as the conditions are right. You might be ready to buy when, at a bare minimum, you:

  • Can comfortably afford the monthly payments and other recurring expenses of homeownership
  • Can get approved for a good loan (or better yet, pay cash)
  • Plan to keep the home long enough to recoup transaction costs from buying and selling, as well as recover from any price declines (that’s assuming prices do recover)
  • Can afford the risks, including surprise maintenance expenses or your home losing value in a weak market
  • Are ready for the responsibility of owning and maintaining a home

None of that is meant to suggest that you’re irresponsible if you don’t buy a house by a certain age. Owning a home can be an expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating endeavor. Renting comes with its own set of challenges, but it’s significantly easier to pack up and leave when your only obligation is a six-month lease.

At What Age Do Most People Buy?

It’s crucial to live your own life, but it might be helpful to know when others typically buy. There may be good reasons behind the fact that homeownership rates increase with age. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, homeownership rates by age in late 2020 were:

Age Range Homeownership Rate
35 to 44 years old 61.0%
45 to 54 years old 69.8%
55 to 64 years old 76.0%
Age 65 and over 80.2%

The National Association of Realtors reports that the median first-time homebuyer in 2017 was 32 years old. But those buyers had a median income of $75,000, making them relatively more fortunate than most.

Reasons for Buying Young

If you want to buy when you’re young (and you have the resources to do so), there could be several potential benefits of getting an early start.

Build Wealth

Assuming that things go well, owning a home is a route to increasing your net worth. The “forced savings” of your monthly payments helps you build equity in the property, which you can use for another property or other needs later in life. Instead of giving 100% of your monthly housing payment to a landlord, you “save” a portion of each payment.

Price Appreciation

There is no guarantee that your home will gain value, but that is what happens in many cases—over the long term. Real estate can help hedge against inflation, assuming that your property keeps pace with rising prices. Especially in strong markets with plenty of potential, price appreciation might contribute to your wealth accumulation. But it’s safest to buy a home as a “home” that you want to live in—not as an investment.

A Place of Your Own

When you own a home, you’re in charge. You can customize the appearance or the layout to suit your style, make improvements that add value, and grow deeper roots in the community you live in. You don’t need permission from a landlord, and you don’t need to undo all of the great things you did in order to get a security deposit back. That said, local rules and HOA restrictions could affect what you can do, so research any potential limits before buying.

Reasons for Waiting

If you’re not feeling rushed, that’s okay. Waiting to buy can pay off in several ways. Making a home your own and moving can be a pain, and you generally pay transaction costs every time you sell. 

You may prefer to minimize the number of times you buy and sell. Every transaction takes time, emotional energy, and money.

More Certainty

As you get older, you develop a clearer picture of your ideal home. The future is always uncertain, but you gain more clarity on several crucial factors as you age:

  • Your work location, or your ability to work remotely
  • Your income available for housing payments
  • The size of your family, if any
  • What you really need, and what you’re willing to live without

Financial Strength

Many (but not all) people earn more money as they get older. As you enter your higher-earning years, it’s easier to buy exactly what you want—without making major sacrifices. Instead of being “house poor” and dealing with your property in your 20s and 30s, you can spend those years saving for a big down payment, traveling, or doing anything else you want. What’s more, you can build credit over those years, making it likely that you'll qualify for the best loan possible.

Things to Consider

Local Markets

Local conditions may steer you toward buying or waiting. For example, if your monthly rent is extremely expensive, but purchase prices are quite reasonable, you may choose to buy sooner to keep your housing costs affordable.

Down Payment

A down payment can help you minimize monthly payments and interest costs. You can also avoid paying extra private mortgage insurance (PMI) and reduce your risk by putting down at least 20%. But some loans allow you to buy with a small down payment, which makes it easier to buy at a young age. Evaluate the tradeoffs before you jump at the chance to buy with a minuscule down payment.

Career

Will your income or location change over time? For example, some medical professionals start out with significant debt burdens, but they earn high incomes later in life. If a career change is imminent, figure out how that could impact the appeal of buying. Other careers range from relatively stable (e.g., a job with a university) to unpredictable (e.g., a job with a startup).

Logistical Issues

When you own a home, you’re responsible for everything. If there’s a lawn, you get to mow it, rip it out, or pay somebody to do so. If there’s a leak, you need to address it before it causes severe damage. Consider your willingness to take on those tasks. Will you do everything yourself (with the help of YouTube) or pay somebody? If you plan to hire out the work, do you have the funds, and is it easy to find reliable help in your area? 

Even if you hire contractors, you’ll probably find yourself with less free time after you buy a home. You need to find help, schedule estimates, provide access to the property, and more.

Risk

Buying a home can be risky. You’re committed to repaying a huge loan, and you can suffer significant losses when you buy property. On the one hand, you may be in a position to take risks when you’re young, because you have the rest of your life to recover, and you might not have anyone depending on you financially. On the other hand, it might become easier to absorb financial losses when you’re older.

At What Age Can You Buy a Home?

Most states require that you reach the age of majority (typically 18) to complete legal agreements. Buying real estate and getting a loan both require that you sign a contract. But you can potentially own property as a minor as long as someone of legal age signs the contracts.

If you’re anxious to start early, get help from local experts who can explain your options and provide guidance on what’s best. You may be able to own property with an adult or have an adult transfer ownership under a custodial or trust arrangement. Other options may also exist, and a skilled real estate attorney can help you evaluate the alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What's the first step to buying a house?

In most cases, the first step to buying a house is determining whether you're financially ready. This might involve reviewing your credit history and credit score and taking steps to improve if your score isn't where you would like it. It also means having enough funds to make a down payment, your earnest money deposit, and closing costs. You also may need moving funds, funds to furnish your home, and you'll want funds to cover any repairs or improvements that need to be made right away.

What is the average down payment on a house?

The median down payment as of the second quarter of 2021 was $25,000, which is 7.4% of the median sales price of homes, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. In the first quarter of 2021, it was 6.1%, and it was 5% the previous year. Median is different from average, and it represents the middle of all the down payments made. Half of all down payments were higher than 7.4%, and half were lower.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services or advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.