Homeownership is a 'cornerstone' for generational wealth, but it's harder than ever to buy in Charlotte
All this week, we've been reporting on how things have changed — or not — in the decade since Charlotte was named 50th out of 50 places in the U.S. for economic mobility. The 2014 study was published by Harvard researcher Raj Chetty, who's coming back to speak at UNC Charlotte next week in partnership with WFAE. You can livestream his talk on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 6:15 p.m. here.
One of the biggest ways people can build wealth and lift their families out of poverty is through homeownership, but it's only gotten harder for people to buy their first home in our fast-growing city.
For example, meet Andrea Bursey. She's 34 years old, has a good-paying job in sales, and has lived in Charlotte for most of her life. Just this summer, she started thinking seriously about buying a home.
"I was looking at places in Zillow. I was, you know, looking at houses, and I came across a townhome in particular that was in an area I was interested in living in," she said.
It was listed for $267,000, and even though she knew she wasn't prepared to make an offer, "It kind of sparked something in me, to like, maybe I should start looking," she said.
She reached out to a family friend who was also a real estate broker and said she was serious about buying. Looking back, Bursey said she might have had unrealistic expectations.
"I think a lot of people, including myself, are still — or at least I was — a little naïve about how much it actually costs in comparison to what coming out of college — at least for someone my age — what you thought you would get a house for," she said.
Bursey graduated college in 2013. At that time, the median home price in Charlotte was about $184,000. Today, it's $435,000 — well over twice as much.
Charlotte's homeownership rate is on the decline
"The cost of Charlotte has gone up as far as purchasing a home, where we know the incomes haven't gone up as much, especially in certain communities," said Bursey's realtor, Belinda Carr of Elite Homes of the Carolinas.
She thinks that's a big reason why the percentage of Charlotteans who own their homes has been declining — from 66% in 2009 to 60 percent in 2021.
And it's not just higher prices.
"You're competing against people with equity, people who have cash, outside investors, whether it's out of state, out of the country. So it's a lot of competition," Carr said.
It's hard to compete with a person or entity making an all-cash offer, or an offer tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price.
This matters for economic mobility, because buying a home is one of the best ways to build generational wealth.
"It benefits the individual now, and it can also benefit their family later," Carr said.
Carr herself is an example of this. Her parents were first-generation home buyers. When her mother died, Carr used some of the money from the sale of her parent’s home to purchase her first home in 1997.
"Because they owned, that goes down to that legacy building," she said.
'We don't have the generational wealth'
Winston Robinson agrees that owning a home can be a game-changer for a family hoping to build a better economic future.
"Homeownership in America is the foundation of wealth. That is the cornerstone to the American dream," he said, while sipping coffee inside the Black-owned Archive coffee shop off Beatties Ford Road in west Charlotte.
He says the fact it was legal to discriminate against Black home buyers up until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 is a big reason why Black homeownership still lags behind other groups.
"We don't have the generational wealth to say, 'Here, I'll give it to you.' No. We just got to scrap," Robinson said.
The National Association of Realtors said this year that Black people have the lowest homeownership rate of any group in the U.S., at 44%. That compares to about 51% of Latinos, 63% of Asians, and 73% of white people.
"The whole idea was I don't want it to be a timeshare presentation. I would believe you more if you try to convince me less," he said.
He makes the event fun with an outdoor roller rink, music and food.
"We even had panel discussions played with like trap beats (underneath). I had a DJ spinning as we talked. It was ridiculous, but effective," he said.
Even if a home buyer finds down payment assistance and connects with a realtor, finding a home can still be difficult.
Andrea Bursey, who started looking for homes over the summer, says she wanted to make an offer on one house, but the seller turned her away because she was using an assistance program.
"So I wasn't able to move forward with that property because I was seeking out down payment assistance," she said.
Eventually, she settled on a small townhome in Mount Holly that's under construction, with a February completion date.
She says on one hand, she thinks she's making a good move in the long term.
But on the other hand, she says, "I'm going to be spending twice as much on my mortgage than I would be on my rent. Now, twice as much space, and it's going towards the equity of my home, and it's mine."
While her only roommate for now will be her dog, she hopes one day she will meet a partner and start a family, and that someday, that townhome could be the foundation of the next generation's wealth.