They’re the up-and-coming generation the media loves to hate. Young millennials are here, there are a lot of them (around 77 million to be exact), and many of them are aging into their prime spending years. The socioeconomic hurdles they face are very real and have even caused them to delay major life milestones — especially homeownership. If you’re a millennial looking to buy a home, or a real estate professional looking to help millennials find the perfect home, listen up. Here’s what you need to know about the challenges facing this new generation of home-buyers and how to overcome those challenges.
Even if you’re a millennial yourself, you may not know exactly what that means. You probably recognize the term from your grandpa’s Facebook rants about millennials who don’t know how the world works because they never drank from the garden hose as a child and they text too much, but what does it mean demographically? “Millennial” is the handle given to the generation of young people ages 18-34 who came of age during or close to the new millennium (hence the name). At roughly 77 million strong in America alone, they make up a sizable chunk of the population. The common stereotype of the millennial is a young person zombified by their phone or overactive on social media, and it’s partially accurate: millennials are very connected to their social circle via their phones, prefer texting over talking, and interact with the word largely through avenues like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. Most have an excellent college education, are passionate about finding work that they love, and value experiences over the consumption of status symbols. Millennials are social, savvy, and tend to revolutionize every market they touch.
Millennials came of age during a perfect storm of socioeconomic woes. Recession. Housing market crash. Increasing tuition costs. Worldwide economic and political instability. This environment has generally made them hesitant to undertake large and long-term commitments. Millennials of traditional home-buying age face a unique set of personal challenges, the most looming of which is student loan debt. College graduates today make out with an average of $28,400 in debt anchored to their diploma. Paying off mountains of debt while also balancing a mortgage is an unrealistic and even frightening prospect to many young people desiring to buy a home.
A trend also seen among millennials is a distrust of credit cards. Young people already saddled with massive debt tend to see credit cards not as a way to build up credit, but as another potential burden to pay off. Consequently, they may not have (or assume they don’t have) the credit score needed to find a lender to help them buy a home. Millennials also tend to prefer renting over buying. Renting seems to allow flexibility and can appear cheaper in the short term. Cost of living is another huge issue: many cities are simply too expensive for young people to afford, as this amusing yet ultimately sad viral Craigslist prank from last year can attest. Meccas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City offer the lure of jobs and status to millennials, yet have extravagantly high costs of living. Whole states can be closed off to millennials due to high housing and property costs.
Although millennials face challenges foreign to their parents’ generation, there are ways to overcome them. Many millennials are opting to forego the traditional route of buying a “starter home” in order to save for a home they really want. They use the intervening years to save as much as possible and shop around for their dream home that they will enjoy their whole lives. Millennials are also choosing to live at home with their parents for longer periods of time. As it stands, 40% of millennial males live at home with their parents. While this route has popularly been stereotyped as undesirable, it can actually be a cost-effective decision if the years spent living at home are dedicated to saving and establishing good credit.
For those millennials ready to start shopping around for a home, there are even more options. Buyers with a lot of debt and less-than-ideal credit, should focus on local lenders for home financing rather than big institutions. Many local lenders use smaller banks and credit unions that are subject to less red tape than the big guys, making them more flexible when it comes to meeting their borrowers’ needs. Persistence is also key when looking for a lender. Millennials shouldn’t shy away from talking to as many as possible and shopping around. It’s advisable to go into branch offices directly and speak to a loan officer face-to-face. Don’t give up! An FHA loan is also something to consider. It’s a loan specific to first-time homebuyers, has a down payment of 3.5%, and a credit score minimum of 580. The only catch is that interest rates may be higher than other lenders. Something else to keep in mind is maintaining a buffer of savings for any unexpected taxes or fees. Property taxes can vary, and many homes are connected to a Homeowners’ Association which can demand fees from residents practically at-will for maintenance of the neighborhood. First-time millennial home-buyers should be sure to have a separate fund set aside for these eventualities.