Home buying in America is at an all-time low. In 2018, the homeownership rate in the U.S. was 64.8% — down almost 3% since 2008. Several factors contribute to this, so it can’t be broken down into a single answer. Yet across the web, you’re likely to see one question at the forefront of the discussion: why aren’t millennials buying homes?
Silly generalizations and generational blame aren’t useful in this conversation. Some people seem to get the impression that millennials are too busy gallivanting across Europe, living Instagram-worthy lifestyles, to settle down and purchase a house. Looking at the data, however, we can find there are other factors at play.
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Yes, Older Millennials Are Buying Homes
Age plays a role in when to buy a home. According to one poll, 71% of young millennials, born between 1990 and 1998, say a property that’s convenient and close to work is at the top of the list. Commuting costs are also an essential factor. And while this group made up 11% of recent homebuyers, many are sticking to renting as they pursue careers and tackle financial obstacles.
Older millennials, born in the 1980s, are more likely to be making the transition now. They make up about 26% of the population who have recently bought homes. Plus, around 52% of older millennials were first-time home buyers, indicating that this is a milestone many have saved for later in their lives.
Priorities are shifting in family life, too. Millennials, like other generational groups, often don’t want to buy a home until they’re married. It’s a complicated process that is often challenging for unmarried couples. Yet trends show they’re waiting to get married and have families at a later age.
Financial Challenges for Millennials Buying Homes
Yes, there are plenty of millennials buying homes. There are, however, several major obstacles that make this investment difficult for younger people.
According to one study, more than 48% of baby boomers owned a home by age 30, compared to only 35% of millennials. Many factors play into this outcome.
For one, millennials are overcoming the residual effects of the 2008 financial crisis and recession. Plus, they’re dealing with student debt after being told they need to attend college to make something of themselves.
1. The Student Debt Crisis
Student debt plays a significant role in why millennials are staying home longer and renting rather than buying. Many in this generation were still in college or even high school when the 2008 recession hit. During this time, unemployment was high. They watched friends and family lose jobs and struggle to cover bills. At the same time, they were encouraged to go to college to secure their financial futures.
After the recession, there was a spike in college enrollment, and prices increased drastically. Those aged 25 to 34 have an average of $33,000 in student loan debt — a total of nearly $500 billion across 15.1 million borrowers. Those between 18 and 24 have an average loan debt of $15,000 per person — yet they’re likely still enrolled and racking up bills.
2. Purchasing Power
Decades ago, students could work full-time in the summer to pay for school tuition. Yet that’s impossible for today’s learners.
For example, say you work 40 hours per week for 12 weeks during the summer. With a minimum wage of $7.25, you’ll make $3,480 before taxes. That amount is not enough to cover in-state tuition in any state. It may not even cover room and board.
Due to inflation, young people can’t afford to buy the kind of home they’d like, much less at an ideal location. Wages have not kept up with the increased cost of living. In fact, today’s average salary — accounting for inflation — has the same purchasing power as it did 40 years ago. The gains that do exist have mostly flowed to the workers with the highest wages. For many millennials, homeownership is difficult or outright unattainable.
3. Retirement Plans Are At Risk
People who expect to pay off their mortgages on the traditional timeline look forward to zero payments and home equity during retirement. However, Millennials put this retirement strategy at risk by putting off homeownership. By the time old age rolls around — and they’re ready to retire — they may face more financial uncertainty.
There are better retirement strategies than homeownership, of course. However, this crucial difference between generations affects how millennials buying homes look at their investment.
Young people must be strategic when it comes to purchasing a property. Many look for fixer-uppers and first-time buying incentives. Others save up large down payments — at least 20% — to earn lower interest rates.
What Does Data Tell Us About Millennials Buying Homes?
The real estate market has its ups and downs. Many millennials are playing it safe, putting off the decision to buy until a later date. After all, this generation came of age when real estate crashed the market and threatened their financial security for years to come.
There are other obstacles, too. Some are concerned about college and paying back student loans. Others don’t want to decide until they’re married — something else on the backburner. Unfortunately, low wages make it difficult to pay off debt and make purchases. Therefore, many millennials rent with roommates to get by.
This doesn’t mean nobody is making the jump to homeownership. In fact, more and more millennials are buying homes now that the older group is reaching their 30s and 40s. The next time you find claims about generational laziness, remember what the numbers tell us about the amount of young people buying homes despite the significant obstacles they face.