Some of your friends are buying their first homes while others still live with their parents. Apart from a generous trust fund or the inheritance of a home, how did your homeowner friends afford to buy a house?
Maybe you’re not interested in home ownership right now, but if you are you might be surprised to discover it’s likely not beyond reach if you’re willing to make sacrifices. Here are five ways millennial homeowners are going from renting — or living with their parents — to homeownership.
First-time homebuyers accounted for 46 percent of new mortgages backed by Freddie Mac in the first quarter of this year. Many of these homebuyers are millennials, according to the National Association of Realtors’ annual Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report.
1. They lived with relatives and saved up
For millennials early in their careers, paying rent and saving for a house can be a major challenge. Throw in student loan debt, car payments, health insurance and other expenses and it can be downright impossible.
As rent prices continue to rise, the hurdle to homeownership gets higher.
“What we’re seeing is that rents are up nationwide, especially for lower-rent homes. Typically, if you’re a millennial starting out with a new, young household you’re not renting out the most expensive apartment or single-family home,” says Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “And rent on modestly-priced rentals are going up, about 4 percent on a year-over-year basis.”
As of June 2018, the national average for rent in the U.S. was a record-breaking $1,405, according to data from Yardi Matrix. For single millennials, high rent costs can take up most of their income, leaving little left over for savings. That means those who can live with parents or relatives in order to pay off student loans and credit cards as well as save money will have an easier time buying a house than their peers who are renting.
Jessica Lautz, director of demographics in behavioral insights for National Association of Realtors, or NAR, says that more young homeowners are skipping the rental market altogether.
“The largest share of buyers are living directly with parents first and moving into their home. Moving back in with mom and dad allows you to pay down debt and save up for a down payment,” Lautz says.
2. They didn’t get buried by student loans
Student loan debt is a burden for many Americans, particularly millennials. Today, the average amount of student loan debt is $30,000. The total student loan debt in the U.S. is $1.5 trillion.
Let’s say you owe $30,000 on a Stafford Loan for an undergraduate degree. At their current interest rate of 5 percent, your monthly payments will be about $318 if you pay it off in 10 years. For millennials with no student loans, that money can go straight to the bank.
“If you don’t have debt, then it’s going to be much easier to buy a house. If you run up debt it’s very possible you reach a point of no return. Those people who avoid it are going to be in a much better position to buy a house,” says Mike Monteith, a financial advisor with Monteith Wealth Strategies in Montana.
Before you enroll in college, consider your professional and financial goals. Going to a community college or a trade school can help some people achieve the same goals without the high cost.
“Starting in elementary school, kids are told to go to college. Teachers and parents convince us that if you have a college degree you earn more, well that’s not always true — especially if you walk away with debt,” Monteith says.
Occupations that require a degree, such as therapists, exercise physiologists and special ed teachers, earn as much as some jobs that don’t require a college diploma, including opticians, plumbers and insurance claims clerks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS.
If you decide college is the right path, consider going to a community college for two years and transferring to a state school after that to get your bachelor’s degree. Community colleges are less expensive and ultimately you’ll earn the same degree, with less cost. Try to avoid using student loans, especially to pay for things you can do without, like a semester abroad.
For those with student debt, try cutting costs to pay down the debt as quickly as possible.
“Make sure you’re on the right payment plan. There could be a way to pay down debt faster, so be sure to talk to your lender about your options,” Lautz advises.
3. They took advantage of first-time homebuyer programs
A major stumbling block on the path to homeownership is the down payment, says Lautz. Compounding the problem is that many young homebuyers believe that they need to save up to 20 percent of the cost of a home to buy.
In a recent survey of 1,000 adults by NeighborWorks America, most people responded that the minimum down payment needed to buy a home was between 11 and 20 percent; with the average estimate being 20 percent. Young adults, hispanics and African-Americans were most likely to estimate that 20 percent or more is needed.
The fact is there are federal and state-level programs that can help qualified homebuyers get a house with either no down payment or a low down payment. Millennials who take advantage of these programs up their chances of getting into a house faster because they don’t have to wait to repair credit or save for a large down payment.
“If you look at FHA purchase endorsements, 80 percent goes to first-time buyers. Credit is loosening with FHA, too. This is a signal that lenders are removing some of the overlays,” says Joel Kan, a Mortgage Bankers Association economist.
Programs like FHA are worth considering for homebuyers who need a lower down payment and less strict credit requirements. If you have a FICO score of 580, then you can pay as little as 3.5 percent down with an FHA loan.
Be sure to check with your state and even city to see what programs are available to you. If you haven’t owned a home for at least three years, you will likely qualify for many “first-time” homebuyer programs.
4. They stuck to a budget
Unless you’re making a sizable salary or live in an affordable city, then young homeowners likely must sacrifice something to buy a house. That might mean fewer dinners out or forgoing pricey gym memberships.
Millennials spend, on average, about $3,000 per year on meals away from home, according to the BLS. That means if you refrain from eating out for two years, then you could save up a 3 percent down payment on a $200,000 home.
Although saving money is an important step in the homebuying process, people should start by paying down high-interest rate debt first, Monteith advises.
“Getting a raise is not guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that 24 percent credit card APR. So pay that off,” Monteith advises. “You can always cut corners to pay off debt, but you still want to enjoy your youth, so try to find a balance.”
5. They bought a place in an affordable city
New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are great cities to jumpstart careers but they’re at the bottom of the list for home affordability. This is one reason millennials are moving to suburbs and small towns, says Lautz.
In 2018, an estimated 21 percent or one-fifth of homebuyers younger than 37 bought homes in a small town, which was a 5-percentage point increase from the previous year, according to NAR’s report.
“Career choices are a priority for millennials, but if you have children schools become as — if not more — important. That’s why we think we’ve seen millennial growth in small towns, it’s more affordable to buy homes there,” Lautz says.
The best lesson our homeowner peers can teach us is that it is possible to own a home — even in this tight market with sky-high prices. The question is what sacrifices are you willing to make to become a homeowner? For some, trading in a higher-priced lifestyle in a big city overshadows saving up for an affordable house while others might be ready to swap their landlord for a mortgage lender.