Consumers Open Up About Homeownership and Rental Education
The path to homeownership and renting can be complicated, in part because of its relative infrequency for many, but also because most consumers don’t have a single, streamlined process for gathering information. In today’s digital age, there are many sources of information, and consumers aren’t always aligned on what they believe to be most important from an education perspective – or on the preferred source of that information.
As part of the Q2 2021 National Housing Survey® (NHS), we asked both homeowners and renters about the information they’re most interested in as they prepare for, and embark on, the homeownership and mortgage journey, as well as the information sources most useful to them. A market with successful renters contributes to the success of the larger housing market, in part because renters also represent prospective homeowners. And whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, having access to the right information to make sound decisions is critical. Therefore, this year, we expanded our survey to include questions about the information renters are most curious about as they prepare to rent, as well as after they've begun renting, in addition to the prior questions regarding the homebuying process.
Naturally, there were similarities in the sorts of information sought across different consumer segments, including affordability and financing options, but there were also meaningful differences. Unsurprisingly, existing homeowners reported not needing as much information about the homebuying process compared to renters, and they reported being most influenced by lenders. Renters, particularly Black renters, expressed a preference for more information about many aspects of the homebuying process itself, and indicated that real estate agents and family and friends are generally their most influential source of mortgage-related information.
Most useful information ahead of the homebuying process
Before starting the homebuying process, nearly all consumer segments reported being most interested in learning about “how much home” they can afford, as well as their financing and mortgage options. Renters expressed interest in learning more about a wider variety of topics than current homeowners, likely because many renters are new to the process. Along racial/ethnic lines, Black renters, in particular, expressed the most interest in learning more about the homebuying process, including the documents required, how to gain pre-approval from a lender, potential down payment assistance programs, and best practices around personal finance and credit score management. This interest in multiple topic areas could be due in part to the homeownership gap between white households and Black and Hispanic households that has persisted for over a century1, according to the Census Bureau. Consumers that were less likely to have grown up in households that own homes are, unsurprisingly, less likely to have been previously exposed to the homebuying process.
Most useful information after buying a home
We also asked homeowners what information would be most helpful to them after buying a home, and nearly all demographic groups – but particularly Asian respondents – cited cost-effective home repair options and refinancing options as the most important topics. The third and fourth most commonly cited information needs across the surveyed population were household budgeting techniques and access to a mortgage counselor (if necessary). Hispanic homeowners had slightly different responses, as cost-effective home repair information was not as important as household budgeting techniques and refinancing options. Additionally, among Black homeowners, access to a mortgage counselor ranked significantly higher compared to other demographic groups and was listed as their second most useful topic area.
Sources consulted and most influential during the mortgage process
The latest survey results also illustrated key differences between homeowners and renters regarding which information sources are consulted during the mortgage journey, and which are considered most influential. Homeowners reported that their sources of information are concentrated among real estate agents, family and friends, mortgage lenders, and, increasingly, websites. In fact, between 2017 and 2021, reported website usage has grown from 32% to 45% as a source of information among homeowners. Renters, on the other hand, reported that they would consult a much wider variety of sources, including financial planners/advisors, government agencies, and non-profit housing counselors, in addition to the top sources cited by homeowners.
Nearly one-third of homeowners indicated that lenders would be their most influential source of information during the mortgage process, the same percentage as in 2017. White and Asian mortgage holders were much more likely than Black or Hispanic respondents to cite mortgage lenders as their most influential source. However, only 9% of renters indicated that lenders would be their most influential source (this question was not asked of renters in the 2017 survey). Instead, renters indicated that their most influential sources would be real estate agents, family and friends, websites (such as Zillow and Realtor.com), and financial planners/advisors.
Although websites have grown quite a bit as one of the many sources reportedly consulted by homeowners, their status as the “most influential” source among this population has remained relatively minimal, with only 8% citing them as such in both 2017 and 2021. Renters assigned websites a slightly stronger degree of influence, with 12% indicating that they would be their most influential source during the mortgage process.
Reasons why sources are most influential
The survey also asked homeowners and renters to assess why they consider some information sources to be particularly influential, and both groups most frequently cited the source’s “credibility” and “trustworthiness” as the most important factors. Although homeowners continued to cite lenders as most influential in 2021, their top reason for doing so this year was due to their perceived “accuracy”; in 2017, they described “convenience” as the top reason for their preference. Renters said that “trustworthiness” and “credibility” were the top reasons why real estate agents and family and friends were the most influential sources to them.
According to the survey, financial planners/advisors became a slightly more influential source to homeowners from 2017 to 2021 (from 6% to 9%), but particularly so among Hispanic homeowners, for whom the influence of financial advisors grew from 7% to 18%. The perceived “credibility” of financial advisors also grew significantly, from 17% to 35%. Renters indicated a slightly higher preference for financial advisors as an influential source of information in comparison to lenders (11% vs. 9%, respectively). While these may be relatively small differences, it indicates that more consumers may be turning to other “human” sources such as financial planners/advisors for help and guidance in the homebuying process.
Information most helpful to renters
For the first time, the survey asked renters what sorts of information would be most helpful to them before and after they rent a home. Prior to renting, across all demographic segments, the price range of homes they can afford was cited as the most useful. An explanation of lease terms and the documents required for rental applications were also commonly cited among the general population, but particularly so among Black, Asian, and moderate-income renters. This likely indicates that many aspiring renters believe lease documents are difficult to understand, and some may feel unprepared to supply the various documents required during the application process.
After renting a home, the information cited by renters as the most useful were tenants’ rights, indicating that not only do many renters likely find lease agreements difficult to understand, but there may also be a broader lack of knowledge of state and local housing laws surrounding tenant’s rights. The second-most useful information cited by renters (particularly among Black consumers and those with moderate income) involved accessing a financial advisor or counselor.
We believe a strong and healthy housing market requires both successful renters and homeowners. The survey results highlight the differing informational needs of households depending on their living arrangement and particular decision point along the rental or mortgage journey. The data clearly shows that understanding financial factors, such as the price range of home they can afford, is important to both renters and homeowners. To be a successful renter, understanding lease terms and documents required is also important on the front-end, while understanding tenant’s rights and having access to a financial counselor would be helpful while renting, particularly for lower-to-moderate income renters. Those renters looking to transition to homeownership may turn to a litany of sources for information, including both digital and human, but they most typically rely on sources they list as the most trustworthy, including real estate agents and family and friends, to help them navigate the mortgage process. Lastly, to sustain homeownership, we learned that having cost-effective home repair options and understanding refinancing options are considered by consumers to be the most helpful.
The 2021 National Housing Survey is weighted to the 2019 American Community Survey (1-year estimates). Weighting is used to account for known biases resulting from non-response, and to compensate for unexpected divergences from the American Community Survey estimates and historical results from the National Housing Survey. Research results are based on the National Housing Survey general population summary statistics and do not control for consumers with similar borrowing or renting characteristics. Please see the National Housing Survey’s Technical Notes file for more information on data controls and weighting.
Opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts, and other views of Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group included in these materials should not be construed as indicating Fannie Mae's business prospects or expected results, are based on a number of assumptions, and are subject to change without notice. How this information affects Fannie Mae will depend on many factors. Although the ESR Group bases its opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts, and other views on information it considers reliable, it does not guarantee that the information provided in these materials is accurate, current, or suitable for any particular purpose. Changes in the assumptions or the information underlying these views could produce materially different results. The analyses, opinions, estimates, forecasts, and other views published by the ESR Group represent the views of that group as of the date indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of Fannie Mae or its management.
1 While the national homeownership rate hovers around 64 percent, the rate is around 42 percent and 48 percent, respectively, for Black and Hispanic households, in contrast with 72 percent among non-Hispanic White households in 2019. The 30-percentage point gap between White and Black households has been relatively consistent since 2015. Additionally, the homeownership rate for households with family income less than the national median household income of $65,000 is around 51 percent, compared with those above the median family income at about 78 percent.
Source: Census American Community Survey 2019 1-year estimates, based on Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) file, data with the areas of populations of 100,000+. as of Dec. 31, 2018