Why Millennials Aren't Buying Houses

Blaming millennials for everything has become a national pastime. One problem with cultural assumptions about entire demographics of people is these assumptions can water down or outright mislead our understanding of the real issues we're facing.

Like it or not, millennials’ habits will dictate real estate trends over the coming years. As real estate investors, we should be mindful of broader trends in the market and population. 

Millennials Are Record Low Home BuyersMillennials Set Record For Lowest Home Ownership

Folks born between 1981 and 1996 aren’t buying homes at the rate of generations before them, but not necessarily by choice. The real estate deck is stacked against first-time homeowners in a manner unprecedented in collective memory. America has become a much more difficult place to secure an affordable mortgage. “First homes” (single family homes, even multis under $250,000) make up less of the market than ever before.

The reasons come directly back to us investors. After the 2008 crash, we scooped up hot deals on these kinds of properties, enjoying a single-family budget property free-for-all. By now, most of us have upgraded these homes, up-sold them, or at least maintained them to be competitive. But that means the homes are worth more than appreciation alone would account for. Yet it’s the same asset we got cheap after the crash. Fast forward to the present day, and our prospective 18-35-year-old tenants? They’re the generation with the most people in crisis, struggling to transition from renters to buyers

Yesteryear’s Stats Don’t Apply: What REIs Need to Know About Millennials

Assuming people under 40 are still the  “home-buying age group” is foolish and inaccurate. Ask any 18-year-old how likely they are to own a home in the near future. Seriously. Any college student, even. Those who aren’t laughing uncontrollably may conservatively guess a decade. 

Millennials face a different world: student loans and debt are all but certain for those beginning 4-year college. This generation’s unique challenges include:

  • Skyrocketing education costs
  •  A workforce that doesn’t value their labor the way generations past could count on
  • Lack of benefits or secure employment (gig economies and independent contracting are still on the rise)
  • Astronomical (and rising) rents 

Millennials are also more likely to move in with their parents than any other generation. Many in their 20s move home under financial duress, while others lack that option and live with housing insecurity.

Taking these problems seriously shows how such factors are genuine barriers to home ownership. We haven’t even delved into this generation’s many cultural crises. Everything from later marriage age to the ongoing opioid crisis that continues to rage through mid-2019 can affect how this population rents and buys.

Why These Trends Matter for Real Estate Investors

Most investors count millennials among their tenants or desired demographic. Single-family investors and those starter home owners can stand to benefit in a seller’s market. Or, they can stand to lose if they command a rent that’s not practical for the area. 

If you own such an asset in an unfamiliar market, learning the employment situation can give you tons of insight into prospective tenants.  If you have a property worth under $250,000, you’re sitting on a high-demand property. Buyers are competing, and investors can play fair while profiting.

Millennials sometimes turn to REI to “escape” debt or employment barriers. All real estate investors could benefit from understanding the struggles their millennial tenants, partners, and fellow investors face. 

Last Updated: 
January 30, 2021

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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