One of the frequent reasons cited for the failure of the US housing sector to rebound to its pre-recession levels, is the lack of household formation among young American adults and specifically the unwillingness, or inability, of Millennials, which last year overtook Baby Boomers as America's largest generation...
... to move out of their parents' basement, or stop renting, and purchase their own home. Now, a new study from Apartment List confirms the underlying problem: nearly 70% of young American adults, those aged 18 to 34 years old, said they have saved less than $1,000 for a down payment. This is similar to what a recent GoBanking Survey found last year, according to which 72% of "young millennials"- those between 18 and 24 years old - had $1,000 in their savings accounts and 31% have $0; a sliver (8%) have over $10,000 saved. Of the "older millennials", those between 25 and 34, 67% had less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, 33% have nothing at all, and 15% have over $10,000.
As the WSJ frames it, with most millennials having saved virtually nothing for a down payment on a home "many will face steep obstacles to homeownership in the years ahead." It also means that the US housing market, traditionally the bedrock of middle-class American wealth, may never recover to levels seen during the prior economic cycle which incidentally peaked as the housing bubble burst, scarring an entire generation with the vivid memories of what happens when millions of Americans rush to overpay for homes.
Which is not to say that US housing is languishing, on the contrary. As we showed earlier this week, in the first quarter of 2017, the number of California homes that sold for $1 million or more totaled 10,562 up 11.7% year over year and the highest on record for a first quarter.
However, while the 1% (or even 10%) of America's wealthiest buy and sell trophy real estate among each other (or to Chinese oligarchs) with impunity, creating another bubble in luxury real estate, for the vast majority of America, it's "middle class", homeownership is becoming an increasingly elusive dream, forcing many to contend with renting indefinitely.
And, going back to the original study, the culprit appears to be the inability, or unwillingness, or America's youth to save because according to Apartment List, even senior members of the age group are falling short. Nearly 40% of older millennials, those age 25 to 34, who by historical measures should already own or be a few years away from homeownership, said they are saving nothing for a down payment each month.
Here is the punchline: the vast majority—some 80%—of millennials said they eventually plan to buy a home. But 72% said the primary obstacle is that they can’t afford it.
That's a pretty big obstacle as the study's creator admitted. “It’s encouraging that millennials do want to buy homes. It suggests that they are delaying forming households but they’re not giving it up,” said Andrew Woo, director of data science and growth at Apartment List. “The biggest reason [they aren’t buying] is because of affordability.”
This is how America's most troubled generation sees the problem in their own words: Catie Peterson, a 22-year-old graphic designer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said she doesn’t expect to start saving for a down payment for another five years or so. “I barely have enough savings to cover my car if it were to break down,” she said. Peterson said she pays $975 a month in rent for a small one-bedroom apartment, which is about one third of her paycheck, leaving little room to save.
“Once I get settled in my career and settled in my family, I think buying a house would be reasonable.” It would, but good luck finding something that is affordable enough for the bank to give you a mortgage.
As for the main reasons cited by Millennials why they are unable to save any money, these should be familiar to regular readers: they include student loan debt, rising rents and the slow starts many got to their careers during the recession. Furthermore, with many living in vibrant urban centers with ready access to restaurants, bars and entertainment might, saving seems less urgent. Furthermore, many are children of the affluent baby boomer generation and some expect their parents to give them a boost when the time comes, i.e., they expect to inherit their parents wealth. In total, some 25% of millennials ages 25 to 34 expect to receive help from friends or family, according to the survey. Still, three-quarters said they expect to receive less than $10,000, which might not be enough to close the gap.
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It was not all bad news: the study found that some young people, if not nearly enough, may be saving more. On average, millennials who make more money save a smaller share of their incomes. Those making less than $24,000 save about 10% of their incomes, for example, while those making more than $72,000 save just 3.5%, according to the survey. Also, more millennials are finding a way to buy homes than a few years ago. First-time buyers have accounted for 42% of buyers this year, up from 38% in 2015 and 31% at the lowest point during the recent housing cycle in 2011, according to Fannie Mae (still, a first-time buyer is anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the past three years, a group that could include older people as well.)
Unfortunately for the generation that represents America's future, the bad news dominates, and as the WSJ concludes many millennials face daunting odds: "less than 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds can save enough for a 10% down payment in the next three years, while just 15% could save that much within a year, according to the Apartment List survey."
Of course, there is a loophole. As we reported last week, programs are being rolled out to allow first-time buyers to purchase homes with even smaller down payments. In fact, none other than the bank which had to be bailed out less than a decade ago, Bank of America, recently announced intentions to slash down payments to help Millennials. Speaking to CNBC, BofA CEO Brian Moynihan, the proud owner of Countrywide Financial, said that his mission is to reduce mortgage down payment requirements to 10% for traditional loans. Per CNBC:
"But, you know, I think at the end of the day is people forget that, at different points in your life and different points on what you're doing in life requires you to think about housing differently as a place for you and your friends, as a place for you and maybe your significant other, and then ultimately, a place for family. That drives change. And so yes, it's taken more time. And we talked a lot about this, you know, four or five years ago, that if you require a 20% down payment, it takes just a little more time to accumulate 20% than it would 3% or none, which is what the rules were for a short period of time."
"So our goal, going back to regulatory reform, is should you move the down payment requirement from 20% to 10%? Wouldn't introduce that much risk."
Of course, as we pointed out last week, we are certain that Moynihan's sole purpose for wanting to lower down payments is to help those poor millennials living in mom's basement, and has nothing to do with the fact that's Bank of America (and Wells Fargo) has lost a ton of fee revenue to government-backed loans that only require a 3% down payment.
Why not? Gradually destroying lending standards worked out really well last time around.
But we digress, so here is 33-year-old data analyst Gina Fontana who explained her problem so simply, even a Fed president could get it: she said she has saved a bit for a down payment but doubts she will use it anytime soon because home prices are so far out of reach. She added that she had saved enough for a 10% down payment on a $200,000 house when she was living in Philadelphia, but couldn’t buy anything in the neighborhoods she liked.
Now she has moved to Berkeley, Calif., and said the area’s home prices—where starter homes can go for close to $1 million—make the odds of buying a home essentially zero. “I don’t see that ever happening,” she said. “I just prefer to travel.”
Which is why it is only a matter of time before everyone throws in the towel on the housing recovery, and Goldman launches its first millennial travel-collaterialized securitization product (and its synthetic derivative).