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Baby boomers are snatching houses out of the hands of millennials

Business Insider logo Business Insider 10/16/2021 hhoffower@businessinsider.com (Hillary Hoffower,Andy Kiersz)
Boomers and millennials are competing for the same houses. Tim Boyle/Getty Images © Provided by Business Insider Boomers and millennials are competing for the same houses. Tim Boyle/Getty Images
  • Boomers and millennials are competing for houses, per a new Zillow report. Boomers are winning.
  • Boomers have more cash to win bidding wars as they take advantage of an appreciating market.
  • Buying a home has been hard enough for millennials, who are struggling with skyhigh prices and a lack of starter homes.

Baby boomers and millennials are in a housing war.

It's boomers who are winning, according to a Zillow report released this week. It found that so many boomers are active in the housing market that it's become more difficult for millennials to buy a home.

As seen in the chart below, Americans 60 years old and older have been more active in the housing market in the past decade than people in the same age group 10 years earlier. The share of homebuyers in this cohort grew by 47% from 2009 to 2019. Meanwhile, the share of younger buyers ages 18 to 39 in the past decade has shrunk by 13% in the same time frame.

This is all happening as millennials, now America's largest generation, age into their peak homebuying years. It's largely because boomers are taking advantage of an appreciating housing market. US home values had already increased by 31.2% from 2009 to 2019, according to Zillow, and the pandemic's hot housing demand only jacked up values even further.

The desire for more space in an era of remote work sparked a housing boom that soon morphed into a historic inventory crisis. Home prices shot up, reaching a record high of $386,888 in June, and cutthroat competition ensued. Bidding wars, all-cash offers, and higher down payments became the norm of a housing frenzy.

Those most likely to emerge victorious are longtime homeowners. As the Zillow report states, their equity gains give them the ability put in an all-cash offer over younger buyers, one of the key strategies for winning a bidding war.


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"Whether downsizing or moving to a new town, baby boomers being more active means competition that previous generations did not have when buying their first home," Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow said in a statement. "And older buyers have the advantage of a lifetime's worth of savings and home equity to leverage in a competitive offer."

Millennials are dealing with their second housing crisis

Buying a home right now is already challenging enough, especially for millennials, who have been boxed out of the housing market for a whole host of other reasons.

Pre-pandemic, aspiring millennial homebuyers struggled to save for down payments as they dealt with the financial fallout of the Great Recession, staggering student-loan debt, and soaring living costs. Come 2020, many finally had enough savings to take the homeownership plunge as interest rates dropped to historic lows. But the shrinking inventory and skyrocketing prices that followed created new affordability challenges, and they were left facing their second housing crisis in a dozen years.

The pandemic and an underbuilding of homes since the Great Recession are partly to blame. There have been 20 times fewer homes built in the past decade than in any decade as far back as the 1960s, Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin, told Insider back in April. She added that was not enough homes for millennials, who are the biggest generation, to buy.

The biggest victim of this shortfall are the very homes millennials can most afford: the starter home. It was already nearing extinction before the pandemic, only to see its supply dwindle even further in the past 18 months. While the housing market has since begun to cool and contractors have begun to build more homes, these homes are in the higher end of the market, NAR's director of housing and commercial research, Gay Cororaton, told Insider.

Even boomers who aren't shopping for a new home are exacerbating the housing shortage. Instead of selling their homes to move into assisted living facilities or with their families as past older generations have done, many are "aging in place."

With so few homes on the market and often outbid on the ones that are, millennials have had to get creative to make their homeownership dreams come true, resorting to more affordable options like moving out to the exurbs, buying fixer-uppers, or creating their own commune.

As Cororaton said earlier this year, homeownership is "going to be more difficult for millennials." Boomers are only making the problem worse.

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