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Soaring student loan debt hampering DFW housing market

“The notion of [millennials] being able to pay back that student loan debt in any reasonable period of time was pretty much a fantasy.”
For sale sign in front of a house.

Despite low mortgage rates, high levels of student loan debt are preventing potential buyers from purchasing a home, which is throttling the housing market in Dallas-Fort Worth and nationwide, according to mortgage industry and other real estate experts.

“From a practical perspective, somebody coming out of school with heavy student loan debt may simply not qualify for a conventional loan,” said Rick Sharga, founder, president and CEO of CJ Patrick Co., a California-based real estate and financial services consulting firm.

An array of factors contributes to the problem.

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“When the millennials started coming of age, it was the tail end of the Great Recession,” Sharga said at a real estate conference last week in Austin. “Not only were they coming out with record levels of student loan debt, but they were coming out into a market with no jobs. The notion of them being able to pay back that student loan debt in any reasonable period of time was pretty much a fantasy.”

As a result, many millennials stopped paying their student loans altogether, said Ilyce Glink, who writes a nationally syndicated column, “Real Estate Matters,” and moderated the panel at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference.

“First they were delinquent, and then they just stopped,” Glink said. “Then you’ve got a huge chunk — and I mean tens of millions of people — who now have lower credit scores, which of course are the defining factor for all things mortgages.”

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More than 44 million borrowers collectively owe roughly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt in the United States.

A student loan default is a “really bad blemish,” on a credit rating, Sharga said.

The average FICO score for a conventional loan is now above 720, he said.

“[Today] if you have a 680 credit score, which used to be the bulk of the lending market, you have to crawl over a field of broken glass to qualify for a loan,” he said.

Home prices cratered at the tail end of the Great Recession, falling about 35 percent from peak to trough, Sharga said. But prices rebounded much more quickly than anticipated and now are past their prior peak at most places across the country, including the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Additionally, in the past 10 years, wage growth hasn’t kept pace with home price appreciation, Sharga said.

To read an expanded version of this article, click here.

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