Study: Millennial homeownership likely to take a hit as economic fallout of COVID-19 affects savings

Millennial homeownership has long lagged behind historic norms. Many would-be buyers in this generation found themselves burdened by crushing student loans, challenging job prospects, and sluggish wage growth brought on the Great Recession.

While millennials have started to purchase homes in greater numbers, a new report by Realtor.com suggests that the surge of unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may cause further delays in the generation's homeownership aspirations. The report says millennials who dip into their savings accounts while out of work could find that it takes months, if not years, to recoup that amount.

The site's Generational Propensity Report for the first quarter of 2020 found that millennials were in a strong homeownership position despite the emerging effects of the pandemic. Millennials, defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, made up 53 percent of home mortgage originations in the week ending April 11, a year-over-year increase of 4 percentage points.

However, researchers also determined that more than half of the members of the generation were not homeowners, with many opting to delay a purchase until later in life. The millennial homeownership rate stood at 43 percent, well below the overall homeownership rate in the United States of 65 percent.

The new study from Realtor.com noted how the median list price of a home in the U.S. in April was $320,000, meaning a 10 percent down payment would require $32,000. Home prices and incomes vary considerably by region, but among counties with a population above 100,000, the median millennial household income after taxes was $4,240 a month, while the average household expenses stood at $3,770 a month – making a slim difference of $470 a month available to put into savings.

Under this arrangement, if the typical millennial relies on their savings account to pay for everyday expenses it would require nine months to recoup the balance, assuming they saved 10 percent of their paycheck. Using funds from savings for six months of expenses would require four additional years of savings to make up the amount.

The report says another challenge facing millennials is the decision by many lending institutions to tighten their mortgage standards, with major banks requiring a 20 percent down payment. This share is well above the average millennial down payment of 8 percent, and would also necessitate another 6.5 years of saving for the typical wage earner.

In each of the 593 markets included in the study, it would take the typical millennial eight to 10 months to save up enough money to offset the sum taken from savings to pay for one month of expenses. In San Francisco, which has long been one of the priciest markets in the country, a millennial saving $818 a month—10 percent of the median income—would need to save an additional 10 months to recoup a month's expenses and 16.2 years to save enough to make a 20 percent down payment instead of a 10 percent one.

This challenge is also present in more affordable markets, since incomes tend to be lower as well. In Calhoun, Ala., the median listing price was $141,000 but a millennial with a median salary would only be able to save up $347 a month. At this rate, a millennial would need 9.3 additional months of savings to make up one month of expenses and 3.4 more years to save up a 20 percent down payment.

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