The Millennial Mortgage Problem: Down Payments and Expensive Cities
If you’re a millennial who’d like to buy a house before Beyoncé’s twins graduate from high school, then listen up.
The folks at Apartment List recently crunched the numbers surrounding our chances at homeownership, and they’re pretty stark. At the rate we’re going, Rumi and Sir are going to be in Freshman Comp before we get the keys to our own pads.
Why millennials are waiting to buy homes
For its report, Apartment List surveyed 24,000 renters across the country.
Contrary to popular opinion, which says millennials are city-worshipping vagrants, 80% of respondents said they plan to buy a house or apartment. (I guess those fourth-floor walk-ups aren’t always as dreamy as they seem.)
But 36% said they plan to wait five years or more before making that purchase—a sharp increase from the 23% who had the same response in 2014.
Why? Of the reasons offered (respondents could choose more than one), here were the most popular:
- Affordability: 72%
- Not ready to settle down: 45%
- Waiting for marriage: 36%
“Despite recent improvements in the labor market, millennials face a severe shortage of affordable entry-level homes in many parts of the country,” wrote the study’s authors. “This leaves millennials with difficult choices: extend their budgets and purchase at higher debt-to-income ratios, heightening the risk of mortgage default; migrate to more affordable areas; or delay buying a home altogether.”
How long millennials would have to wait in 31 popular cities
After drilling into that affordability metric further, the study found that 53% of millennials cited down payments as the biggest obstacle they face in buying a home.
In fact, 68% said they’d saved less than $1,000 for a down payment—and 44% hadn’t saved anything.
One reason they might not be saving more is that they don’t realize how much they need for a down payment. In Los Angeles, the city with the biggest gap between expectations and reality, millennials underestimated the amount they’d need for a down payment by a whopping 43%.
And when it comes to the reality of home mortgages, most millennials probably aren’t going to like what they see. Apartment List determined how long it would take the average respondent to save for a 20% down payment based on how much they’ve already saved, how much help they anticipate receiving, and how much they’re saving each month. Based on those factors, Apartment List says it will take millennials between five and twenty-three years to save up enough money to afford a condo in thirty-one popular cities.
The calculations even account for increases in wages and home prices as well as returns on investment (although we doubt many people are saving for their down payment in the stock market).
How outrageous is that?
At this rate, millennials in sixteen cities will have to wait more than a decade before they can afford a down payment—and in three cities, they’ll have to wait more than twenty years!
How to save for a down payment
If you’d like to purchase a home sooner than that, the answer is simple: you have to save more.
Only 29% of the millennials surveyed are saving at least $200 each month—and as the numbers show, that’s not going to cut it.
Although you can hope the housing market becomes more affordable, you have much more control over your own financial situation.
Here are three ways to put a home in closer reach.
1. Automate your savings
The best way to divert money from your Starbucks addiction to your house fund is to automate the process.
To keep it simple, set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to your savings account. If you’re not saving anything yet, try $100 per week to start. Then, once that feels normal, increase it to $150 per week, and so on.
You probably won’t even miss it.
2. Work a side hustle
Thanks to the gig economy, it’s easier than ever to earn extra dough. And it’s much easier to work nights and weekends when you have a clear goal in mind—in this case, your future house.
Start a freelance writing business or drive for Uber. Whatever it is, funnel all your earnings into a special savings account that’s dedicated to your down payment.
3. Look into first-time home buyer programs
Does 20% seem totally out of reach? It might be time to look into programs for first-time home buyers. Here are two you might not have considered.
- FHA loans: With the backing of the Federal Housing Administration, first-time homebuyers with credit scores of 580 or above might be able to put as little as 3.5% down. For buyers with credit scores from 500 to 579, that number jumps to 10%.
- USDA loans: If you’re buying a home in a rural area and meet credit and income requirements, you could purchase a home with no down payment through USDA loans.
You also could look into first-time home buyer grants, which can significantly reduce the cost of a house.
One of the biggest national programs (besides VA loans for veterans) is Good Neighbor Next Door from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. With this grant, law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and teachers in “revitalization areas” can receive up to 50% off the list price of a home.
Otherwise, most grants are administered at the state or local level. To see what’s available in your area, search for “down payment assistance” or “first-time homebuyer grants” in your state. A good mortgage broker also should be able to point you in the right direction.
If being a homeowner is your dream, you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way.
Let these numbers spur you into action—and into saving! Visit Credit.com’s Mortgage Learning Center for more information on how to plan for your mortgage and your future home.