5 Points to Help Explain When Millennials Will Start Buying

by James McClister

Homeownership rates in young adults have been dwindling, and Fannie Mae takes a stab at explaining why.

Homeownership is on the decline. And though it is a trickling decline and might, at some point in the future, reverse itself, there are certain sub-sections of homebuyers descending faster than others, which was the focus of Fannie Mae’s recent edition of Housing Insights – put together by the company’s economic and strategic research group.

Drawing conclusions from data collected between 1980 and 2012, Fannie Mae examined the relationship between demographic and social shifts and homeownership rates. Below are the four major trends the report brought to light:

1. Young professionals are homeless, kind of – Using data from the American Community Survey, Fannie Mae researchers discovered that from the housing market peak in 2006 to 2012, the overall homeownership rate fell by 3.4 percent. During the same period, the homeownership rate for prime first-time homebuyers, which refers to upper-income households, in their early 30s who have college educations and are married with children declined by 8.6 percent. Considering the unmatchable levels during 2006, it’s not surprising that homeownership rates fell by such a tremendous amount. But when you compare today’s rates to early 2000s levels, it becomes obvious that we’re still far below what is considered “normal” levels.

2. Rising student debt is a factor, not the factor – It’s popular to label student debt as the Snowball of the industry, and say prime Millennial homebuying candidates would come back into the fold if only they didn’t have such an irksome burden to carry. But according to Fannie Mae, the homeownership rate for prime first-time homebuying candidates without college educations fell by 10 percent. What’s more, as of 2012, the rate was still well below the rate recorded in 2000. Researchers said that considering the results, it must be asserted that declines in homeownership rates in all prime candidates for first-time homeownership cannot be wholly blamed on lingering and building student debt.

3. Race seems to still play a role – When you remove the variable of student loan debt and college degrees, which have contributed significantly to declines in homeownership rates for prime first-time homebuying candidates, gaps still exist, showing the important role demographics and social standing play, particularly race, according to Fannie Mae’s research. When looking at the homeownership rates for prime homebuying candidates ages 30-32-years-old who don’t have a college degree, 76 percent of non-hispanic whites own a home compared to 72 percent overall.

4. Renter’s delight – At least in the short-term, renting has typically been seen as the young man or woman’s more affordable option to owning, which is why rental rates remain high in young adults. However, Fannie Mae researchers, through an analysis of selected recurring housing costs for recent movers, discovered that between 2006 and 2012, the costs of owning relative to renting declined a substantial amount. Using conventional logic, it would seem reasonable to assume that since renting is more expensive, more Millennials would opt for owning. But the reality is the exact opposite. Despite owning becoming a more viable option for young homebuying candidates, more and more are choosing to rent.

5. The future is nigh – While there are an incalculable number of variables contributing to Millennial homeownership rates, or the lack thereof, three factors stand out as the major hurdles for young, hopeful owners: student debt, tight lending standards and the job market. In regards to debt, the outlook is bleak. U.S. colleges and universities are some of the world’s best but most expensive, and, according to Kal Chany, founder of president of Campus Consultants, it’s only getting worse. Chany projects that by 2030, in-state tuition at a public university will have raised upwards of 7 percent, bringing average annual tuition to more than $57,000 – including room and board.

When speculating lending standards, it’s hard to predict what direction lenders will take, but as of now, things seem to be easing. A recent report from Richey May & Co., an accounting firm, found that of the 29 independent mortgage lenders that had not previously extended credit to borrows with a FICO score of 600 or less, one-third have recently relaxed their requirements.

A look at numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics might further discourage Millennials, with annual growth expected to slow to 0.5 percent per year from 2012 to 2022, 0.2 percent slower than the rate between 2000 and 2012. However, because of an aging population, the workforce should open up, creating more prospects for young professionals.

Overall, Millennials can expect to face barriers heading into the housing market, but Rocio Sanchez-Moyano, a Harvard University research assistant, told Al Jazeera in a recent interview that she believes Millennials will soon begin organizing their lives in such a way that buying a home becomes a more likely reality.

“Millennials are mostly under 30, so we’re expecting some of this to pick up over time,” she says.

Does this mean we have to wait about five years – maybe more – for Millennials to buy? Since this answer is heavily dependent on a variety of factors, we’ll have to wait and see.

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