Why Millennials Are Having a Tough Time Buying a Home

Boyfriend watching frustrated girlfriend on sofa
NEW YORK — Here’s a conundrum: younger U.S. adults want to buy a house, but barriers keep getting in the way of them actually buying a new home.

Data that comScore (SCOR) and Realtor.com shared shows that 64 percent of Americans 21 to 34 years of age visited real estate websites and mobile apps in August. That should be encouraging in a nationwide real estate market that is up 9 percent so far in 2015. And to some extent it is — and it isn’t.

“People who believe that millennials are disinterested in homeownership are grossly mistaken,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com. “This generation hit the job market during one of the largest recessions of all time, and they’ve had to work hard to establish credit and save for a downpayment. With the older segment just beginning to enjoy the life events that drive homeownership — marriage and children — now is the most appropriate time for them to consider homeownership, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

Despite the increased role of millennials in the housing market, setbacks still exist and are preventing first timers from making even more of an impact.

Smoke also points to some “top impediments” that “signify significant barriers of entry” for younger homebuyers, although he thinks the younger can set can overcome those challenges.

Not helping matters are toughermortgage rules from the U.S. Federal Housing Administration, which will factor in student loan debt when considering home mortgage applicants. With an average student loan balance of $27,000 for Americans 40-and-younger, that’s a problem for many millennial homebuyers.

One additional issue confronting younger homebuyers is their apparently strong desire to live in hip, urban areas, where homes are more costly.

“Many first time homebuyers are having issues but there are two categories of these homebuyers,” says Ian Serota, a sales representative at Toronto, California-based Right At Home Realty. “The ones who are single are finding it hard to find a place to move to that isn’t too small for them in a location where they would like. Most don’t have vehicles and the lack of public transit outside of the core of the city makes it impossible for them to be outside the city.”

The other category includes couples, Serota says, who are looking to start a family or who have kids. “They want to be in good areas with good schools but in most cases those homes can cost 20 to 40 percent more than the less desirable areas,” Serota said. “Therefore many are moving to the east end of Toronto and are sacrificing quality of life with terrible commutes in order to get the home they want. Plus, the price of homes in the major cities keep going up, and many younger people do not wish to move to smaller towns as they are accustomed to the big city lifestyle.”

Another school of thought from real estate professionals — millennials have long-since been taught to view the act of buying a house as an investment, and they tend to turn to family to afford that investment, leading to further debt problems on top of student loans.

“Millennial homebuyers should be wary not to ‘jump the gun’ before they’re ready, as homeownership can be financially taxing for first-timers of any age,” says Ray Brousseau, executive vice president at Carrington Mortgage Services in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “Millennials should spend three to six months researching their options and talking to a variety of real estate agents, lenders and other homeowners. Ask these resources about how the home buying process works, and what they’d do differently their ‘first time.’‚ÄČ”

“Additionally, millennial homebuyers should not feel be afraid to disclose personal financial information to a licensed loan officer,” he adds. “This will help you gain an idea of how a lender reviews your information. Find out if you can prequalify for a specific loan amount, it can tell you more about what you can afford long term.”

Then there’s the issue of wanderlust, where this generation of younger adults seems especially reluctant to lay down some strong roots with a new home purchase. “I’m a millennial who recently purchased a home, but I do see my peers being impeded in buying new home,” says Scott Trench, director of operations at BiggerPockets a Denver-based wealth management blog. “For example, transience is a problem. Many of my friends and peers seem to be moving all over the country and to new cities year after year. A home purchase signals a commitment to a particular location, and that seems to be a decision that my generation is not interested in making yet.”

A lack of financial literacy might also be holding young homebuyers back, adds Trench. “Paying rent is by far the most expensive way to live in most situations,” he says. “It takes at least a basic financial background to understand that paying down a mortgage, benefitting from price appreciation, and the myriad of tax advantages available to the owners of real estate make ownership far more powerful financially than renting. Many of my peers haven’t even thought about those things, and thus build no home equity.”

This isn’t to say that younger Americans don’t want to buy a new home — it’s just that the problems they have to overcome to buy that home are formidable, and not going away anytime soon.