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Why millions of millennials aren't buying houses

CNBC logo CNBC 7/11/2018 Annie Nova
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Homeownership eludes millions of millennials.

A new report by the Urban Institute, a policy research group, tries to explain why.

There are a whole host of reasons, including personal preferences and economic disadvantages, that explain why the homeownership rate for the largest generation in U.S. history is lower than that of their parents and grandparents.

"In my generation, I’m a baby boomer, you bought a home as quickly as you could," said Laurie Goodman at the Urban Institute. "You didn’t take a vacation for years to save for the down payment on your first home."

Millennials, on the other hand, she said, are in no rush to get their hands on house keys.

Delayed marriage has one of the biggest impacts on their low homeownership rate. Marriage increases one's likelihood of owning a home by 18 percentage points, the researchers found.

Millennials are wedding later — and less. In 1960, the average age women and men first married was in their early 20s. Today, the median age for a first marriage is closer to 30. And millennials are three times as likely to have never married as members of the silent generation when they were young.

"Homeownership represents a stable place to live for the rest of my life," Goodman said. "And a lot of single people think this isn't the rest of my life — I'm going to find a mate and we're going to put roots down together."

Similarly, today's young people are not in a rush to reproduce. The share of married households with children, aged 18 to 34, dropped to 25 percent in 2015, from 37 percent in 1990. And having a child increases a person's chance of owning a house by 6 percentage points, the researchers calculated.

Millennials are also a far more diverse generation than previous ones, and homeownership rates are lower among Hispanic, black and Asian Americans compared with white Americans. While almost 39 percent of white millennials, aged 18 to 34, own a house, just 14.5 percent of those black Americans do, according to the Urban Institute.

"The homeownership rate for blacks is falling more than it is for other groups," Goodman said.

The unprecedented student debt millennials take on also reduces their chances of landing in a home of their own. The researchers at the Urban Institute found that if a person's education debt went from $50,000 to $100,000, their chance of home ownership will decline by 15 percentage points.

Although the research also found that homeownership rates for millennials who don't have a college degree are falling behind those who do, possibly due to their unstable incomes along with rising rents.

Millennials are also renting for longer in locations that tend to be pricey, making it harder for them to save up for an eventual down payment. Nearly half of households headed by people 18 to 34 are rent-burdened, meaning that more than 30 percent of their paycheck goes to their landlord.

Goodman said she was surprised to learn just how much one's chances of homeownership increases — by more than 10 percentage points, if their parents were homeowners. She said these people have learned the value of a home.

"They think homeownership represents stability," she said. "It represents I've arrived."

Although Goodman expects the homeownership rate for millennials to pick up as they get older, the fact that they're buying homes later than previous generations means, "they're building wealth much, much more slowly."

She went on to say, "Look at the home price appreciation in the last few years, people who didn't own have missed out on that."

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