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Millennials struggle to compete with boomers for homes

Young people make up a smaller share of recent homebuyers than in previous years

Young people make up a smaller share of recent homebuyers than in previous years most likely due to the increased market activity of baby boomers, a new Zillow report published on Thursday found.

It’s hardly breaking news that the demand for housing has drastically increased over the past 18 months, but the report suggests that this has more to do with demographic trends than the pandemic. Overall, however, individuals aged 30 and older, across all age groups, were buyers at higher rate than those in the same age group a decade ago,

In the past decade, as more and more millennials have aged into their peak home-buying years, Americans aged 60 and over have been more active in the housing market than those of the same age 10 years prior. From 2009 to 2019, the share of recent buyers who are 60 years and old grew 47%, while the share of recent buyers ages 18-39 fell by 13%. In addition, the median age of a homebuyer who completed their purchase within the past year rose from 40 in 2009 to 44 in 2019.

Over the same time period, home values grew 31.2%. In the past two years, prices have grown an additional 22%, which should come as no surprise, as more than half of homes sold this past July went for above list price and there appears to be no end in sight, as Goldman Sachs predicts that home prices will rise another 16% in 2022.

These drastic increases in price, mean that longtime homeowners have seen massive equity gains, giving them more cash to use toward a potential new home, giving them an advantage in a bidding war against younger buyers who may be trying to purchase their first home. All cash offers are more common among repeat buyers than first time buyers and a survey of Zillow Premier Agent partners found that all-cash offers are the top strategy for winning a competitive bid.


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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.”

In addition to struggling with rapidly rising home prices, over half of non-homeowning millennials (60%) report that student debt is making it harder for them to purchase a home.

Compounding these generational struggles is the construction slowdown that came out of the Great Recession. The resulting housing shortage has only worsened over the course of the pandemic as homebuilders have faced supply and labor shortages.

Together, all of these factors suggest a likely reason why the share of buyers who were buying their first home has dropped from 46%in 2018 to 37% in 2021.

“Even before the pandemic, the largest-ever generation entering their 30s and the hangover from more than a decade of underbuilding were on a collision course set to define the U.S. housing market,” Tucker said in a statement. “The pandemic supercharged demand for housing, bringing the shortage into relief sooner than we expected, as millennials sought bigger homes with Zoom rooms, and older Americans accelerated retirement plans, spurring moving decisions.”

However, there was some positive news in the housing market report, as it found that younger buyers are seeing more luck in less expensive markets such as Buffalo and Salt Lake City where buyers aged 18-39, made up 57% and 56% of all recent buyers, respectively. A notable exception is tech mecca San Jose, where 54% of 2019 buyers were aged 18-39.

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