One fears going into debt again. Another pays too much rent to save for a down payment. A third made huge sacrifices to buy a home despite a very good salary.
Wage growth in the U.S. may have begun to accelerate, but it isn’t helping millennials who want to buy their first homes. Student debt, the lingering effects of the 2008 recession and lack of family help are some of the reasons delaying them.
Homeownership rates among Americans under 35 have decreased significantly since 2000, and especially since the recession.
In 2016, a 30-year-old was more likely to rent than to own a home. In contrast, from 1960 until the recession, young people were more likely to be homeowners than renters before turning 30, according to a study by CityLab, a media outlet dedicated to the cities of the future.
The future of the home buying market depends on millennials. “They are a large demographic group that echos the size of their parents’ generation, the baby boomers, and they are moving into an age in which people typically buy a home,” said Jeffrey Tucker, an economist at Zillow Group Inc., an online real estate database company.
But “one of the biggest hurdles is the debt that millennials accumulate going right out of school,” said Chirag Mody, a loan officer at Freedom Mortgage Corporation, headquartered in New Jersey. “Getting it paid off is something they struggle with.”
Millennials, defined as the generation born from 1981 to 1997, are better educated than their parents, the baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964. Almost four in 10 (39 percent) have a college degree or higher, in contrast to 24 percent of boomers at the equivalent age, according to a report released by the Pew Research Center in February.
All that education has come with a heavy burden of student debt. From 2005 to 2017, U.S. student debt rose from $393 billion to $1.4 trillion. In 2017, 16.7 million borrowers under 30 owed an average of $22,845 in student loans. In 2004, 11.3 million borrowers under 30 owed $13,080 on average.
After graduating from college in 2010, Christina Augustine, 32, of Chicago sought to eliminate her $45,000 in student loans as quickly as possible, “paying extra almost every month.”
She managed to pay it off in seven years, but “the trade-off is not putting away money for savings,” she said. “So when you start thinking about buying a home, you don’t have that down payment.”
Augustine has actually managed to save in the last two years, but for now she prefers to keep renting her one-bedroom apartment in Chicago. The idea of taking out a mortgage makes her anxious. “I don’t want to say ‘fear,’ but I hesitate to want to be in debt again quite like that,” she said. “I know that it’s supposed to be better financially to own. It’s an investment. But those loans were just kind of stressful and felt like a burden.”
Some of her friends have begun to buy homes. “But they’re in a different situation,” she said. “Their parents paid for college quite a bit more. And a lot of them got help from their parents for the down payment. I think it really shifts your financial situation when you’re able to have that help and support.”
A study by Federal Reserve Board economists found that a 10 percent increase in student loan debt causes a 1 to 2 percentage point drop in the homeownership rate of those borrowers for the first five years after exiting school.
And a report by Young Invincibles, an advocacy group that aids low-income college graduates, found that debt-to-income ratio makes many who owe student loans ineligible for mortgages.
In addition to student loans, Tucker said, millennials face hurdles that are a direct consequence of the 2008 recession. Demand for housing has begun to rise, “but, by and large, new home construction has not recovered,” he said. So scarcity has driven up rents and home prices.
Wage growth has not offset those increases in rent and home prices, because it has been lower than the latter since the beginning of the recovery in 2012.
Mayela Mujica, 31, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has no student debt. She earned tuition scholarships and her parents paid for the rest of her college and graduate education, which she completed three years ago. She now has a promising professional job in a lighting design firm. But 50 percent of her take-home pay goes to the rent on her apartment, which she says is a bargain price for the area. With so much of her income being taken up by rent, Mujica’s ability to save is very limited. She said she hoped to find friends she could trust as partners in buying a home. “A brownstone in Brooklyn, where we can each have a floor,” she said.
“Millennials don’t buy by themselves, for the most part,” Mody said. “A solution that a lot of people have been coming up with is buying together. A family member will co-sign with them. Or two friends will come together to buy a place together. These are ways to get around.”
In Mody’s experience, 3 or 4 out of 10 mortgage deals include family members’ co-signing. “It can be an aunt, an uncle, a parent or a sibling,” he said. And 1.5 to 2 out of 10 of his mortgage deals involve buying with friends.
“Buying with friends is something that has been coming up more than previously,” Mody said. “It’s an idea that comes up very frequently, but not the execution.” “You have to trust the other person a lot. It works out when both put the same amount equally. The situations where it doesn’t work out is where one has the money and the other has the income to qualify,” he said.
Teddy Lu, 33, graduated in 2010 from college with a $10,000 debt. “I had a lot of grants and scholarships, so it wasn’t very large” he said. He paid it off in about three years while living in a low cost apartment in Chicago, which he shared with a high school friend. By 2016, he and his roommate had saved $6,000 each. They partnered to buy a three-story building using a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, with a 3.5% down payment. The building was in bad shape, and “not in the best part of town, but it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood,” he said.
The two friends invested $30,000 to rehabilitate the building using Home Depot credit and credit cards. They then rented two units, while sharing the third. Their plan is to occupy two separate apartments in the near future. “The nice thing about having tenants is that it helps pay off the mortgage, making the debt a little less stressful,” Lu said. “We’re just having renters kind-of pay off the mortgage, and living, in a way, for free. We have to pay for other expenses, but it offsets the mortgage.”
Stephanie Ho, 31, is the only one in her circle to have bought a home without parental help. In 2011 she graduated from a state college, financed with a two-year scholarship and a $25,000 loan. Describing herself as “an obsessive budgeter,” she decided to continue living like a college student until she paid off her student debt. “I didn’t buy any furniture and continued eating like in college,” she said, adding that since graduating she has had very good-paying jobs. Her strategy worked: two years ago, she bought her first home, an apartment in a Chicago suburb.