Gen Y: The End of the Home Ownership Dream?

What a great time for first-time home buyers, right? They have the good fortune to buy at what may be close to the market low (we hope) without having to sell at that same low point. Well, as usual with Gen Y, it’s not that simple. While the average age of first time home buyers is 26, realtors shouldn’t expect waves of Millennials to be knocking on their doors. While the under 30 set may enjoy high incomes and high hopes for future earnings, both their attitudes about homeownership and the reality of high debt are certain to impact their likelihood rushing in to snap up real estate deals.

First is attitudes. Millennials do not aspire to the homes many grew up in. They see a big backyard and lots of square footage as a maintenance nightmare. Smaller living spaces and open space floor plans are likely to be their preferred way of life, for environmental as well as lifestyle reasons. The NewsObserver recently interviewed several Gen Y members on their dreams of homeownership. Here’s what they said about the desirability of living in a big house:

Stephen: No. I want a smaller space so it’s easier to take off and go. A house that’s low-maintenance is good. Generation Y traveled a lot in college and will continue to do so through life. So a big yard isn’t a plus, either.

Ryan: No. I think that seeing so many of our generation’s parents divorce makes us understand that family togetherness is important. So as we start having kids you will see us avoid homes with a living room, family room and finished basement rec room in favor of open-plan homes where the family can share space.

Carrie: Definitely not. The huge space thing as a status symbol is gone. Well-used efficient space is best. I want a house that reflects who I am and where I’ve been. In big houses, people buy meaningless stuff just to fill them up. Living in a cookie-cutter subdivision with vinyl siding and no trees is not palatable to me.


Second is finances. Even if they aspire to home ownership, it’s harder now to amass the necessary down payment of $30,000 or more. It’s been widely reported that the average college debt is $20,000. Many struggle to pay it back, while making ends meet. Many still accept support from parents. Higher income Millennials in our focus groups, those with MBA’s and good paying jobs, tell us of staggering college debt loads — $60,000 or even $80,000. While these civic- and community-minded young adults are motivated to dontate to their college and other causes they believe in, they sheepishly admit it just isn’t possible right now.

Add inexperience in budgeting and planning, credit card debt and the uncertainty of the job market, and the picture becomes even more grim. Consider these statistics from MSN (Why Gen Y is Broke):

The median credit-card debt of low- and middle-income people aged 18 to 34 is $8,200

People between the ages of 25 and 34 make up 22.7% of all U.S. bankruptcies (but just 14% of the population at large).

While the facts are sobering, Millennials are cautiously optimistic rather than dismayed. They have the long view, and are confident in their skills and abilities. As one young potential home buyer shared with me, ‘With so much for sale, we can afford to be picky right now and get a really great deal.’