The millennial generation’s slow start in adulthood is still causing aftershocks in the housing economy. Unemployment, underemployment and student debt have delayed their household formation beyond the timeframe of earlier generations. Low interest rates and low down payment programs were enough to get millions of potential buyers into affordable homes before prices soared. Now it looks like an icon of the homeownership experience—the starter home—may be on the chopping block, soon to follow past icons of young family hood like station wagons and cloth diapers into obsolescence. Young buyers—Gen Xers as well as Millennials— are bypassing the traditional first rung of the housing ladder, the starter home and buying up. With inventories of affordable housing chronically slim and overpriced, especially the metros where they want to live, young prospective buyers are renting a year or two longer until they can afford a larger home that will meet their needs for many years to come. That may be one reason buyers today are saying intending to stay at least 15 years in their new homes (see Americans Move Less and Impact the Economy. Some 14 million single family rentals, a number that swelled during the foreclosure crisis and continues to grow with the popularity of real estate investing, make the transition from rental to ownership easier for young families by providing a rental option that’s almost like ownership.
The first alarms that starter homes may be on their way out were sounded last March when Bank of America released its first Homebuyer Insights Report, which found that:
- Seventy-five percent of first-time buyers would prefer to bypass the starter home and purchase a place that will meet their future needs, even if that means waiting to save more. Thirty-five percent want to retire there.
- More Gen Xers than Millennials have put off purchasing their first home because of debt.
- Young buyers’ goals are not urban hot spots by family-friendly suburbs. More than half (54 percent) of buyers are looking for a home in the suburbs, including 52 percent of first-time buyers.
Now the new Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends, which was released on Halloween, confirms the Bank of America findings. “When Millennials do become homeowners, they leapfrog the traditional “starter home” and jump into the higher end of the market by choosing larger properties with higher prices, similar to homes bought by older buyers. They pay a median price of $217,000 for a home—more than Baby Boomers, and just 11 percent less than Generation X. The Millennial median home size is 1,800 square feet, similar in size to what older generations buy,” Zillow found. At $217,99p per property that has a 1,800-foot floor plan, the youngest generation is paying almost the median price for a median-sized home today, far from the definition of a starter home.