Student loan debt curbs housing market by $83 billion, study says

An open house in Huntington Beach on May 18.

An open house in Huntington Beach on May 18.

(Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
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There’s been lots of debate lately in housing circles about the impact of student debt on home ownership.

Now there’s a new study out that attempts to put a number on that impact: 414,000.

That’s how many home sales will not happen this year because of high levels of student loan debt, according to a report from John Burns Consulting, an Irvine-based firm that advises home builders. That’s equal to about 8% of all home sales, and enough to dent the housing industry by $83 billion a year.

The report estimates that the number of households under age 40 that owe $250 or more each month in student loans has nearly tripled since 2005, to 5.9 million. And it projects that every $250 in monthly student loan payments decreases home borrowing and purchasing power by $44,000. Figure a typical sale price of $200,000, throw all that together, and you get $83 billion in lost sales.


“We actually think it’s pretty conservative,” said Rick Palacios, director of research at John Burns Consulting. “We’re only looking at people age 20 to 40. We know there’s a big chunk of households over age 40 who have student debt, too.”

The report is the latest in a growing pile of research that links rising student debt levels – overall student loan debt has nearly tripled since 2005 to $1.1 trillion – with sluggish home sales, especially among young adults.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has found that young people with student debt are now less likely to hold a mortgage (and own a house) than people who never attended college, a reversal from long-held trends that link higher education with higher earnings and home ownership. Trade groups such as the National Assn. of Realtors have pointed to student debt as a key factor in the lower-than-normal rates of first-time home buyers. And it has become a growing concern for builders, which is why Palacios decided to try to put a number on it.

Other studies have suggested the effect of student loans on housing may be overblown. A report by the Brookings Institute in May points out that most people who carry student debt have relatively modest monthly payments. And while the Burns report notes that 35% of young adults now have monthly payments topping $250, that means 65% have payments of less than that.

There are two things nearly everyone agrees on: Student debt keeps growing. And as it does, its effect on the housing market will need more study.

“We’re hoping to look more into it,” Palacios said. “It’s scary how much debt there is out there.”


The full Burns report is proprietary for the firm’s clients, but a one-page version is available here.

Keep an eye on housing and real estate in Southern California. Follow me on Twitter at @bytimlogan