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It was only a matter of time. Literally. As millennials grow older, get married, have children, they are seeking out bigger houses and better schools. That means the suburbs. They are also getting tired of paying higher urban rents and watching those rents rise.
Just 17 percent of millennials bought homes in urban or central city areas, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Realtors, which sent out a questionnaire last July to roughly 95,000 homebuyers. That urban share came down from 21 percent in the previous survey.
"The median age of a millennial homebuyer is 30 years old, which typically is the time in life where one settles down to marry and raise a family," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. "Even if an urban setting is where they'd like to buy their first home, the need for more space at an affordable price is for the most part pushing their search further out."
Home prices have been rising more aggressively in the last six months. Bank of America just upped its forecast for prices this year, citing, "recent momentum, low interest rates and lean housing supply." Rents have also been rising, but they have steadied of late at near record highs.
The supply of homes for sale, especially in urban areas, is also a problem, and it is particularly critical at the low end, where millennials are likely to be buying. Homebuilders are not focused on first-time buyers and smaller homes because it is harder to make a profit in that segment.
In addition to high home prices, debt continues to plague buyers across the spectrum and is, in fact, delaying home buying more acutely. "While debt delayed saving for a down payment for a median of four years for all buyers, the number of years postponed increased from three years for Millennials to six years for older Boomers," the NAR survey said.
The majority of millennials cited student loan debt as a barrier to saving for a down payment, while credit card debt was more of a problem for Gen Xers and younger baby boomers. Without stronger wage growth, debt will continue to be a burden for all buyers.
"While the country continued to create more jobs, wage growth was limited. Until we see a real boost in income, rising home prices will continued to deter aspiring home buyers," JPMorgan analysts said following the February employment report.
The desire to own is growing among the millennial generation; 48 percent of those surveyed said it was their primary reason for buying, up from 39 percent a year ago. The desire for a larger home was the highest among Gen X buyers (16 percent), and older boomers (at 20 percent) were the most likely to buy because of retirement, according to the NAR survey.