We still can’t afford housing in Utah

Eskic, who recently bought his first home and is a senior research fellow at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Garner Policy Institute, notes homeownership is declining for Utahns. In 2010, 57 percent of Utah households owned a home. The most recent numbers indicate that in 2020, that figure dropped to 51.8 percent.

“Another stat we can look at is how many Utahns cannot afford to buy the median-priced home,” Eskic says. “Pre-pandemic, that was 48 percent in 2019. Today, it’s about 71 percent, meaning they are pretty much priced out. If you’re a renter, your income tends to be lower.”

Before prospective homebuyers feel like all is lost, there is some good news. “We’re returning to a more normal market,” Anderton says. “A year ago [around] this time, we had 2,000 or 3,000 homes for sale in the whole state of Utah. Now, there are 9,500 homes for sale on utahrealestate.com.”

On the building side, more residential building permits were issued in 2021 in Utah than any other year in the history of Utah for all things residential—single-family homes, apartments, condos, and townhomes, Anderton says, continuing, “Our housing deficit is declining. It’s swinging back. I wouldn’t classify it as a buyer’s market yet, but it’s definitely not the seller’s market we saw in ‘20 and ‘21.”

In southern Utah, homebuyers experienced similar trends in the last couple of years. “Washington County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country,” says Emily Merkley, CEO of the Washington County Board of Realtors. “It’s super great in terms of employment, outdoor activities—all those things that draw people to Washington County. St. George sees a lot of vacation home/second home purchases, which means local buyers are competing against buyers who have cash. That has slowed a little bit in Washington County, but I don’t see that going away.”

Merkley says the median home price in Washington County in July was $523,000, up 11 percent from July 2021. For buyers in a lower price range, she says, “We still see some properties coming up on the MLS for $300,000 or less.”

Andrea and Greg encourage young homebuyers not to give up hope. They suggest meeting with lenders and realtors early in the process to get an idea of what buyers can qualify for and how much to save for a down payment. They point to FHA loans, which allow first-time homebuyers to qualify with a lower down payment (as low as 3.5 percent of the home’s value) and a lower credit score (580) compared to conventional loans. 

They also recommend working with attentive lenders and realtors who can advocate for buyers, asking sellers for concessions like covering part of the closing costs or paying down interest rate points. (Mortgage interest rates reached as high as 16.64 percent in 1981 when inflation was similarly high; so hey, the glass is half-full on today’s 5-6 percent rates.)

They also recommend looking at a range of options to fit specific budgets. “If you’re hell-bent on staying on the east side [of the Salt Lake Valley], you’re going to get more of a fixer-upper that’s smaller in square footage and have to do some work on the house,” the Summerhays suggest. “If you’re willing to go to Eagle Mountain or Saratoga Springs, you’re able to get a new house for the same price or close.” 

Above all, Andrea says to think of homes in terms of chapters: the condo or townhome followed by the first three-bedroom house, then the house with the sizable backyard and more bedrooms for a growing family, and finally the patio home for the empty-nest years.

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