NerdWallet 2021 Home Buyer Report: What optimistic buyers need to know

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Optimism isn’t new to the NerdWallet Home Buyer Report, having been a theme since 2018. But with 2020 challenging even the most positive thinkers, it may be a surpise that 11% of Americans (out of 2,000+ surveyed) told NerdWallet they plan to buy a home in the next 12 months.

Extended across the American population, 11% would amount to 28 million homebuyers. Only about six million homes were sold per year for the past five years, so many of those people will likely end up not buying this year.

Still, with so many people feeling hopeful, we want to provide homebuyers with the info they need to take step after step until they finally meet their goal, whether they buy a home this year or next year or in five years.

What can we do to help people get ready to buy?

Looking at the reasons people gave to NerdWallet regarding what’s holding them back is a starting place.

Not enough saved for a down payment

The most common reason for not moving forward with buying a home is not having enough saved for a down payment.

Did you know that 20% down is no longer the norm? Most loan programs today allow for less, and conforming loans (which many homebuyers use) can start at only 3-5% down.

When you put less than 20% down, you will pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) for a period of time. Many people are scared off by this payment, but it can be a valid choice. Aside from getting you in the door to homeownership, putting down less than 20% may actually result in better terms on your mortgage. And the monthly payment may not be as steep as you think.

Read more from our mortgage expert

Credit score

We often hear from people who want to improve their credit score to qualify for better mortgage rates and higher lender credits.

First, ask yourself if you’ve fallen for any credit score myths. For example, many people think closing a credit card will raise their score. The opposite can actually be true. “Credit utilization ratio,” how much of the credit you’re using vs. what’s available to you, plays into your score. So if you lower the amount of credit available by closing a card, your ratio will increase, which could ding your credit score.

After you dispel credit myths, think about the steps to improve your credit score. In the short term, one key step is to look for errors in your report. For example, we’ve seen people find banks accidentally mark them delinquent on payments. Mistakes are more common than you think and your score may actually be higher than reported.


Reducing debt is a huge step toward being ready to buy a home. We put together the 2021 Financial Self-Care Challenge to help folks take small, manageable steps to get on top of their debt and savings.

Looking to take big steps sooner? Check out our financial health articles. There’s even one on budgeting for people who don’t want to budget.

Competitive market

Competition is a reality in the real estate market. Many of our homebuying clients come to us after losing offers to other buyers. We’ve developed offer strategies that can compete.

One of our top tips: better terms, such as a shorter closing time, can convince a seller to choose your offer … even if it’s not the highest price. We see this happen over and over. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of offering certainty to a home’s seller.

Check out the Forbes article 3 Tactics For First-Time Homebuyers In An Outrageous Market for more tips from pros, including Flyhomes COO Ryan Dibble.

We’re excited to see homebuyers make it happen in 2021 and beyond!

See the full NerdWallet report.

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