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Soaring rental prices make it even more difficult to save for a house

This is an excerpt from the CNBC Make It newsletter. Subscribe here.

If you’ve been paying attention to headlines (or your own lease renewal) then you’ve likely seen that rent is higher than it was a year ago. A lot higher.

Putting a larger share of your income toward rent is, obviously, bad for your finances in the short term. But it also creates rippling financial effects through your lifetime. One of the biggest consequences of higher rent now is that it will take longer to save to buy a home.

If you were a renter in a big city during 2020, chances are you could land a pretty sweet apartment deal, assuming, of course, that you kept your job through the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many people were leaving cities like New York, and landlords were discounting apartments dramatically.

Now, that’s reversed. Many of the people who left are coming back, and those who moved in temporarily with their parents or other family members are looking for their own place to call home.

By the end of 2021, the number of renter households increased by about 870,000 compared with the first quarter of 2020, according to a report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The overall rental vacancy rate had dropped to the lowest level since the mid-1980s.

That surge of new renters is driving prices up astronomically: Average rents were up 14% in December 2021 relative to December 2020, and multiple times higher than that in cities like Austin, Texas, New York and Portland, Oregon, according to real estate firm Redfin. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York expects the median rent to soar another 10% this year.

And incomes aren’t rising in tandem. Salaries only increased around 3% last year, on average.

If you’re paying more for rent, then you can’t save as much as you might have been able to for a down payment. But owning a home is one of the key ways many Americans build wealth over their lifetimes.

On top of that, it’s really hard to buy a house right now. Low interest rates, increased savings and many people’s desire for more space to work from home have led to listings being snapped up in days, often for well over asking price. The median monthly mortgage payment nationwide increased 21.6% last year, according to Redfin — the biggest increase the company has ever recorded.

Put all of this together, and the average renter will need more time and money to buy a house. In fact, real estate firm Zillow recently found that it is taking the average first-time homebuyer a year longer to save for a 20% down payment than it did just five years ago.

Zillow calculated that first-time buyers would need to put away an additional $369 per month for a year to keep up with just the forecast growth in home values — while also paying more for rent. That will be extraordinarily difficult for most people.

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