How long does it take to buy a house? Here’s how much time and money you need to become a homeowner.

Happy young african american couple tenants give high five celebrate moving day in own house hold bo...
ByJames Dennin
Originally Published: 

Renting is tough. In a city like Philadelphia, for example, it can take 60 hours of work each week at the average income to make rent, according to a recent review by SmartAsset, and nearly 90 hours in even more expensive metros like San Francisco. It’s no surprise then that buying a home is the dream for many people tired of handing hard-earned pay to their landlords.

The only problem? Turning that dream into reality requires saving a big pile of cash for the down payment, which might be about $40,000 based on typical rates and current median home values in the United States (or far more in a popular city). And that’s not even counting the other costs you never had to worry about as a tenant — like homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and routine repairs, if the washing machine breaks down or roof springs a leak.

If you’re single, saving for a house therefore takes awhile: about 11 years on average, according to a new report from real estate site Zillow, which assumes a 20% down payment and uses 2016 U.S. home price and income data. That’s more than twice the time it takes a couple to save enough, Zillow found.

To reach its findings, Zillow also assumes you’re saving 10% of your income annually toward the down payment and are buying the most expensive home you might afford. Here’s a calculator you can use to figure out how much house you can handle based on your current income and savings.

Of course, these are very conservative estimates. There are luckily lots of ways to cut the time to ownership down, from combining your income with a spouse who has also been saving to researching low or no down payment options, including the Federal Housing Authority, Veterans Affairs and United States Department of Agriculture loans. You could also move to a more affordable city where housing prices are lower and the market is less competitive.

Zillow /Zillow

What’s really striking is how much more affordable even “expensive” cities become when you buy as a couple. In Boston, for example, barely 10% of the housing market is within reach to single households, but that figure soars to more than 70% for two-person households.

Part of the reason for the imbalance is that the market for affordable homes is competitive. Zillow estimates that the typical home buyer who spends less than 30% of the national median income on housing can afford a home of up to $176,100, which is unfortunately less than the median home value. But with two incomes, 80% of the total housing market is within reach.

Another reason why single people, particularly women, have such a hard time saving for a home? The wage gap. Because women earned just $0.81 on the dollar compared to men in 2016, they have to save longer to afford a down payment in their area. In particularly crowded markets like Los Angeles or New York, it can take as much as an extra decade to save up.

Zillow /Zillow

Try these hacks to buy a home faster

If homeownership is a goal, there’s a payoff to locking in a price and a mortgage rate sooner rather than later. Thanks to the Federal Reserve, both interest rates — which affect the price of your mortgage — and home prices are both on the rise, though projections suggest that home appreciation will be more modest this year than it was in 2017.

As you save, you should lean in on improving your credit score, even if you’re already in good or “excellent” territory. While small bumps to your credit won’t make or break you when applying for smaller loans or credit cards, the lower interest rate you’ll earn over the course of a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage can add up to nearly a hundred thousand dollars in savings.

Particularly in a competitive market, you might also consider enlisting the help of a realtor who can help you navigate the neighborhood and tread the line between your budget and what’s available, or provide a much needed reality check and direct you to a market that is more in your range.

Just be mindful that realtors can also be incentivized to sell you more home than you can potentially afford. That’s why it’s always good to first talk to friends you trust who have been through the homebuying process with a realtor and can offer a personal referral.

And if you still can’t find a good enough home within your range? It may be time to take a hard look at your budget to see if you can find more ways to save. Once you’ve allocated aside extra cash, try automating some savings with into an interest-earning account, while keeping an eye out for other opportunities to earn a higher yield.

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