How Will Millennials Get Into the Housing Market?

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Don’t be surprised if the housing market gets tighter next year. The country’s largest generation — millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 — are expected to enter the market for homes in big numbers.

In a recent survey by the Realtor.com website, 61% of millennials surveyed said that they plan to go house shopping next year. Millennials account for more than 75 million Americans and they represent the largest generation in the country, now outnumbering baby boomers by about half a million.

Only about a third of millennials have reached the prime home-buying age of 31, so if they begin entering the housing market next year, they could become the driving force for home sales for the next decade or longer.

But they do face some hurdles. Among these is existing debt, more than likely student loan debt. Another is stagnant wages. A third is stricter loan underwriting standards. And, fourth, home prices keep rising.

A new study from Fitch Ratings calculates that someone repaying student loans on a monthly payment of $203 qualifies for a loan amount $45,000 lower than a person with no student loan debt. A monthly payment of $400 reduces mortgage loan capacity by about $89,000.

Because home ownership has historically been the single best wealth creator for most Americans and an important driver of U.S. consumer spending, the longer a person delays buying a house the more significant the foregone home-equity creation. Yet homeownership rates for Americans under 35 has dropped from around 44% in 2004 to 34% this year, the largest decline among all U.S. age groups.

About 42 million Americans face student loan debt totaling nearly $1.3 trillion, an average of more than $30,000 per person, and, according to Fitch, “rising monthly repayment requirements are eating into prospective homebuyers’ cash flows.”

Wages have not kept pace with the increase in student loan debt. Fitch notes:

Nominal wages for recent university graduates rose by 13% between 2007 and 2015, but average student loan balances for all borrowers surged 60% and national rental prices increased 22% over the same time period.

Loan underwriting standards have tightened to the point that first-time buyers now need a credit score of about 745 in order to qualify for a mortgage. In 2000, a credit score of around 715 was needed.

Fitch is not particularly upbeat about the home-buying situation facing millennials. The firm sees student debt as an enormous albatross for recent and future college graduates. Potential homebuyers will struggle to repay their student debts because wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with college costs, and that will force recent graduates to rent for longer before considering a home purchase and that, in turn, will leave the millennial generation out of the housing-based wealth economy.

The survey we mentioned at the beginning of this story noted that 61% of millennials plan to look for a house next year. The same survey also revealed that 73% of all respondents who are considering buying a house have been considering it for less than three months. Will they get discouraged the further along they get?

See the full report from Fitch Ratings, titled “Falling Off the Generational Wealth Ladder (More Obstacles for Younger Americans in a Housing-Based Economy)” (requires login), for more details.