Millennial Homeownership is More Dream Than Reality


Richard Shu, Opinion Editor

A spectre is haunting America — the spectre of renting. All across the United States, young people have been purchasing homes much later than previous generations, a trend which could leave an indelible mark on the future financial health of the nation’s households.

Another problem crippling the finances of young Americans is the ongoing student debt crisis, leading many to believe that student debt burdens have forced millennials to put off purchasing a house. But the truth of the matter is much more complicated — a shift in understanding and in priorities has laid bare just how fraught buying a home can be.

At its heart, millennials put off home ownership because owning a home is riskier than ever because of the circumstances they live in — or rather, young people are becoming more conscious of the risk. A home is not only a financial commitment, but also a commitment to the neighborhood, to the city and to your job. It’s the final step in settling down, the tie that binds you to what will hopefully be a comfortable routine of family life and stable employment.

But young people today grew up in the midst of the financial crisis, bombarded by stories about foreclosures and subprime mortgages and mass layoffs. Everyone came to see just how volatile and unpredictable the governing forces of the markets really are. That has a way of souring people’s confidence, and it shows in the seemingly obligation-delaying behavior of young professionals.

Since the recession, job turnover has steadily grown as workers get pickier about their careers. And with that pickiness comes young people who marry later, stay in school longer and move to cities more frequently, all in hopes of finding the best career prospects possible. Disregard the intergenerational hand-wringing that millennials are refusing to accept responsibilities — they’re just being realistic, and incredibly shrewd to boot.

At the same time, there’s no denying the value of homeownership. Homes build equity. They keep households in good standing with banks and help them take out credit when needed. Buying a home is not a consumer purchase, it’s money that’s almost guaranteed to cycle back to you. For most Americans, it’s the biggest form of wealth they’ll ever own. Renting, by contrast, is a money sink. Giving your money to a landlord doesn’t do your finances any favors. And taken from a purely financial perspective, every year renting is equity buildup lost.

And make no mistake, homeownership is still a goal, as is eventually settling down and moving to the suburbs. Generational priorities haven’t shifted in that regard, but young people’s’ understanding about the risks involved have. In the short-term, young people rent to protect their freedom — a wise decision in the short term, but one that could have dire consequences for future financial stability.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

Email Richard Shu at [email protected].