When Jacob Fuerst and his wife decided to leave North Carolina for a job opportunity in New Hampshire last year, they knew it would be hard to find something that would compare to the 3,000 square-foot home they were leaving behind. But they were confident—after all, they had already bought and sold three homes during their life together, when they moved for his career in engineering, from Chicago to Huntsville, Alabama, to Salisbury, North Carolina, and now to the Granite State. They didn’t know it would be this hard, though.
The 40-year-old Fuerst—along with his wife, two kids, and their dogs—was always able to find an affordable house to buy on a reasonable timeline, using the sale of the previous home to buy the next. But this time is different, he says. “I’ve worked my entire life, I’m not asking for the moon,” Fuerst tells Fortune. “I should be able to afford a house that is big enough for my family.”
Home prices in New Hampshire are up more than 50% since the onset of the pandemic and mortgage rates have more than doubled, so when the family decided to relocate to the state, Fuerst found they were seemingly locked out of the market. This time, the $460,000 sale of his North Carolina home wasn’t enough to buy up north. He and his wife offered close to $700,000 on a place before pulling out when the inspection found the roof would require an additional $70,000 in repairs. After trying to negotiate with the homeowners, he says he was told: “if you won’t buy it in this condition, somebody else will.” In this market, that isn’t hyperbole.
Now, even though Fuerst and his wife both have advanced degrees and earn around $200,000 a year collectively, they’re pretty much in the same boat as first-time homebuyers. That’s left them to settle for a rental that is half the size of their last house—for twice the amount their old mortgage cost. Welcome to the market of 2023.
Less for much, much more
Fuerst and his family are currently renting a 1,700 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home for $3,350 a month. Factoring in storage costs, that brings their monthly housing total to around $3,700. And it’s for a space that’s not much bigger than Fuerst’s starter townhouse in Chicago.
“When you bounce around as much as I do with jobs, you don’t really have time to build [equity] up,” Fuerst says. “I absolutely had no idea that I was going to be moving around. I would have spent the rest of my life in Huntsville had my employer not gone belly up.”
Fuerst’s feeling is familiar to many prospective buyers in the current market. Even if you have a healthy income, decent credit, and a willingness to make concessions, you are now more likely to just be priced out of homeownership, after prices rose substantially during the pandemic and mortgage rates skyrocketed. Housing affordability has flipped so quickly, many of those able to afford a home just one or two years ago, like the Fuersts, no longer can.
Consider this: during the pandemic-driven housing boom, mortgage rates generally hovered around 3%; now they’re just below 8%. The monthly mortgage payment on a $500,000, 30-year fixed rate loan at 3% would be slightly over $2,100 (not accounting for taxes and insurance), but at an 8% rate, the monthly payment would be close to $3,670.
Fuerst said that he couldn’t imagine doing anything smaller after living in a 3,000 square-foot home in North Carolina, but now he has to. It’s a “new family dynamic,” he says, and one that’s especially hard on his wife. In their last two homes, she had her own office space, but now she works in the living room as two young kids run around.
‘That American dream just kind of got yanked out from in front of me’
It’s been a big shift for Fuerst and his family, and one he’s not sure when they’ll get out of. After rent and childcare costs—the latter of which adds up to $20,000 a year on its own—it hasn’t been easy to save up for a down payment large enough for the elevated home prices in New Hampshire.
Not that the family doesn’t try. Both Fuerst and his wife drive used cars and are mindful of their spending. But saving enough for a home will require a much larger infusion of funds.
He wants to save more money to get back out into this expensive housing market, but he asks, almost rhetorically, “How am I supposed to put away $100,000?” An elder millennial at age 40, he brings up the famous meme about how his generation struggles to save: “It’s not avocado toast,” he insists. He cited the skyrocketing costs of essentials including daycare and heating his house instead. “Those are the kinds of things that are just squeezing me in every direction.”
In a last-ditch effort to save money, the couple tried having their daughter stay at home while his wife was working, but that didn’t work out, either. “My wife was absolutely coming apart at the seams, she couldn’t get her work done,” Fuerst says. “We just couldn’t do it, and we couldn’t live without my wife’s salary.”
So Fuerst and his wife are frustrated, frankly. He says they are still looking to buy a house but they’re not optimistic, and he’s not sure what else they were supposed to do.
“We did all of the things that we were told to do that would make us successful… and I’m looking at my life, I’m a transient without a home and no equity, how does that happen?” he says. “It just feels unfair that I held up my end of the bargain, I did the things, and that American Dream just kind of got yanked out from in front of me.”