America’s roaring real estate boom is leaving millions of would-be homebuyers out in the cold. The problem is most severe in that corner of the market that once propelled the American dream: the small entry level home.
“I would like to a have a space with a yard, like 900 square feet,” says Mat Pergens, 39, who repairs and installs garage doors in and around Reno, Nevada. “Simple cabinets, simple countertops, Shag carpeting. I don’t care. I just want four walls and a roof that I can afford.”
But his aspiration for a modest starter home is completely out of reach. The country is nearly 4 million homes short of demand, according to the mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Pergens and his wife Amanda have a six-year-old daughter and another child due this month. She stopped working as a pastry chef during the pandemic. They rent a small two-bedroom apartment. “We build all these fancy homes,” Pergens says. “Fancy, fancy houses…and low income apartments. And there’s absolutely nothing in between.”
That no-frills entry level home that Pergens describes is just about vanishing in America. Once it was the stepping stone on a path to upward mobility for a huge swath of younger Americans. In 1982, 40% of the country’s newly constructed houses were entry level homes. By 2019, the annual share had fallen to around 7%.
With a few brief exceptions, the decline has been as steady as a metronome, says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “It’s a huge problem if you think about the fact that home equity accounts for the bulk of wealth for the overwhelming majority of Americans.”