Top 20 Counties to Watch: Millennial Homebuyers Are Settling Down

First-Time Home Buyers Account for Greater Share of Mortgage Applicants in 2020

By Archana Pradhan AND Selma Hepp Consumer Behavior, Mortgage Finance

First-time home buyers have been a growing share of the home buying population, a trend that accelerated in 2020. According to CoreLogic Fraud Consortium Loan Application data, the share of first-time buyers surged to 39% in 2020, up from 30% in 2016 (Figure 1).[1]

Figure 1 The share of first-time home buyers among purchase-loan applicants jumped in 2020
Figure 1 The share of first-time home buyers among purchase-loan applicants jumped in 2020
Source: CoreLogic Fraud Consortium Loan Application data
© 2021 CoreLogic,Inc., All rights reserved.

While it may seem that first-time homebuyers have been highly encouraged by the onset of the pandemic and ensuing drop in mortgage interest rates, , our previous analysis suggests that the wave of first-time buyers was imminent irrespective of the pandemic as the largest cohort of millennials were settling down and approaching the median first-time home buying age of 32.[2]

Still, homeowners, and by extension real estate agents, are facing incredible acceleration in finding the dream home. Coupled with rising home prices across the United States and a newly virtualized homebuying experience, prospective homeowners and their agents are grappling with new challenges.

The following analysis explores the representation of first-time home buyer applications by geography to shed a light on where first-time buyers are finding opportunities to purchase a home, and where the share of first-time buyers in 2020 may have increased.[3]

Top 20 Counties with Highest Share of First Time Buyers

While the overall share of first-time buyers reached 39% in 2020, the presence of first-time buyers relative to repeat buyers is higher in some geographies. Out of the 500 counties with most mortgage applications in 2020, Figure 2 lists the top 20 counties with the highest share of first-time buyers.

Figure 2: Top 20 Counties with Highest Share of First-Time BuyersSource: CoreLogic Fraud Consortium Loan Application data
County Name  Average Home Price Paid by First-Time Buyer  First-Time Home Buyer Share in 2020 Change in First-Time Buyer Share from 2019
(in percentage points)
Ranking in 2019
Bronx, NY  $490,245 71 6.8 1
Queens, NY  $665,779 66 5.4 3
Hudson, NJ  $642,803 65 5.3 7
Richmond, NY  $564,502 63 4.8 11
Philadelphia, PA  $298,167 63 2.8 6
Baltimore City, MD  $243,687 63 4.5 10
Union, NJ  $467,381 61 4.4 13
Passaic, NJ  $382,298 61 0.4 4
Kings, NY  $998,125 60 6.3 16
Kanawha, WV  $146,079 59 (2.9) 2
Clayton, GA  $162,872 59 (0.9) 5
Middlesex, NJ  $383,821 59 5.7 18
Suffolk, MA  $676,065 59 10.9 55
Imperial, CA  $265,270 58 (0.5) 8
Essex, NJ  $487,025 58 0.1 12
Orange, NY  $322,845 58 3.6 15
Luzerne, PA  $150,769 57 (1.8) 9
Milwaukee, WI  $212,374 56 4.5 24
Monroe, PA  $204,140 56 5.6 37
Saint Louis City, MO  $217,711 55 3.2 21


Interestingly, 10 out of the 20 counties with the highest share of first-time buyers are in the New York Metropolitan area. In fact, the top 4 counties are in New York metro area and each has at least two-thirds of mortgage applicants being first time buyers.

Note, however, that many of the top 20 counties with the highest share of first-time buyers in 2020 also ranked among the top in 2019, especially the counties surrounding New York City. Only Suffolk, Massachusetts; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Monroe, Pennsylvania; and Saint Louis City, Missouri were not ranked among the top 20 in 2019. Figure 2 also enumerates changes in the share of first-time buyers from 2019, and while Suffolk, Massachusetts, showed the most significant increase, Bronx and Kings, New York, both had a jump of more than 6 percent points.

Further, counties’ home prices can explain the large share of first-time buyers. For example, in the top 4 New York metro counties, first time buyers paid an average price which is about half or less of what the average price paid was in New York, New York (Manhattan) – at over $1.3 million. Among other metro areas, Clayton County in Atlanta is the metro’s most affordable county. At the state level, it is then no surprise that New York state ranks on top with 54% being first-time buyers, followed by Washington DC (51%), West Virginia (51%), Rhode Island (50%), Massachusetts and New Jersey (at 49%). The states with the lowest shares of first-time buyers are Idaho (28%), and Nevada, Arizona and North Carolina (each at 34%).

Top 20 Counties with Greatest Uptick in First Time Buyers

Nevertheless, while the presence of first-time buyers has been persistent in the Northeast over the last few years, affordability gains due to record low mortgage rates coupled with a pandemic-induced desire for more space, had led to a jump in first-time homebuyer applicant share in other areas.

Figure 3 ranks the top 20 counties by the increase in first-time buyers share between 2019 and 2020. In contrast to Figure 2, Figure 3 shows disproportional impact on first-time buyer share in San Francisco Bay Area counties. Marin, Alameda and San Mateo – which encircle San Francisco to the north, east and south – all saw a 12 to 13 percentage point increase in first-time home buyer share. It is notable to see the jumps in more expensive counties such as Marin and San Mateo as more affordable Alameda has generally absorbed a larger share of the new buyer population in previous years. San Francisco has also seen a solid jump in first-time buyer share.

Figure 3Source: CoreLogic Fraud Consortium Loan Application data
County Name Average Home Price Paid by First-Time Buyer First-Time Home Buyer Share in 2020 Change in First-Time Buyer Share from 2019 (in percent points)
Marin, CA $    1,311,463 35 13
Alameda, CA $       944,388 50 12
San Mateo, CA $    1,411,501 40 12
Suffolk, MA $       676,065 59 11
Saline, AR $       175,429 44 11
San Francisco, CA $    1,448,461 49 11
Lancaster, SC $       267,627 30 10
Charles, MD $       333,024 51 10
Santa Clara, CA $    1,278,284 44 10
Arlington, VA $       624,880 44 9
Douglas, OR $       237,924 41 9
Cumberland, ME $       327,863 43 9
Butte, CA $       343,445 37 9
Skagit, WA $       340,644 42 9
Merced, CA $       314,367 52 9
Snohomish, WA $       509,459 45 9
El Dorado, CA $       467,639 26 9
Nash, NC $       187,889 52 9
Montgomery, OH $       167,327 44 9
King, WA $       734,086 44 9


In addition to the Bay Area counties, the other California counties that also saw a jump in first-time applicants are also located close to an urban/employment center, such as Merced’s proximity to San Jose and El Dorado’s proximity to Sacramento. These locations are also close to other outdoor attractions, such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. Taken together, while some first-time buyers may be seeking to purchase a home outside the traditional urban centers, they are remaining strategically close to employment and urban amenities.

© 2021 CoreLogic, Inc., All rights reserved.

[1] First-time buyer share is likely to be higher than shown in other sources as the data excludes all-cash buyers which are generally repeat buyers.

[2] 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, National Association of Realtors

[3] The analysis is based on the number of applicants who applied for home-purchase mortgage loans in 2019 and 2020. The analysis includes all home-purchase mortgage applications, accepted or not, from January 2019 through December 2020. Investors and second-home buyers were excluded in the analysis.