To some degree, the Millennial homebuyer market (especially the first-time homebuyer) must seem like the Holy Grail or a unicorn herd to mortgage lenders. It’s a large segment — about one quarter of the American population at about 80 million people. Some estimate that at about $200 billion in purchase power. Plus, it’s only now growing into its purchase potential. It’s reaching an average age when Americans traditionally begin purchasing homes. And yet, by all accounts, they’re not. Not yet.
The peripheral numbers add up for potential. The Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2016, asserts that Millennials want to, at some point, be homeowners.
Survey respondents indicate little desire to be famous, have a high profile on social media, or accumulate great wealth. Instead, in broad terms, Millennials’ personal goals are more traditional. They seek a good work/life balance, they want to own their own homes, they desire a partner for life, and they strive for financial security that allows them to save enough money for a comfortable retirement.
However, a recent Forbes survey of influential Millennial-aged professionals suggests that Millennials are in no rush to purchase a home, even if it is a long-term goal. Only 19% told Forbes that their highest financial priority involved purchasing a home. Conversely, 44% stated that “funding an entrepreneurial venture” was, instead, their highest financial aspiration.
Similarly, the same survey suggested that, while 80% of respondents still “believe in the American Dream,” only 5% reported that they felt that dream was “owning your own home.” In contrast, 33% felt that “owning your own company” is, in fact, the American dream.
There are numbers to be found for and against the argument that Millennials will be settling into the role of traditional homebuyers any time now. However, what we do know for sure about this generation is that it isn’t like any previous consumer generation we’ve seen. As a result, it’s time to ask what — if anything — will provide the “typical” Millennial incentive to accelerate her home purchase plans.
So what do we know about the Millennial (or, at least, what seems reasonably established if we are to paint 80 million people with broad strokes)? A 2015 survey by Elite Daily set forth findings that seem to confirm some of the assumptions we’ve seen made about Millennials. Dan Schwebel, a contributor to Forbes, summarized some of these findings:
- Millennials would rather buy a car and lease a house.
- Millennials were hit hard by student debt, compounded by the consequences of the “Great Recession.” As a result, they tend to be debt-averse.
- They are virtually oblivious to traditional advertising, preferring authenticity and referral to sales pitches and puffery.
- They do not base purchases upon their potential, but rather need and value.
- They expect brands to give back to society, but are loyal to brands that do.
- They are early adopters when it comes to technology.
So what does this mean for those seeking to sell mortgage loans to Millennials? We’d suggest the following:
1. Income only represents part of the picture when choosing your target demographics.
No matter what study or survey we read, it’s apparent that, if there is such a thing as a “typical” Millennial, he/she is more concerned about larger social issues than personal status. This generation, it would seem, tends to be community-driven. It has been burned, collectively, by debt and economic downturn — especially a recession perceived to have been driven by greed.
As a result, “tiny housing,” “green living,” a rise in urban migration and even the introduction of the 15-year fixed mortgage are all indicators that selling a home to a Millennial homebuyer will quickly dispel the assumption that he or she will be interested in buying as much (or more) as he can afford. Many other factors will be involved.
2. The marketing process must be authentic, tell real stories and indicate, above all else, patience. The Millennial will not be rushed…
It appears this is a relationship-focused generation; a group that derives satisfaction from networks and collaboration. It seems likely that the lender or broker able to most successfully engage Millennials as homebuyers will be the one that builds an authentic relationship with him or her, rather than the one with the best Super Bowl advertisement.
3. …unless he/she has committed. Millennials do not understand, nor will they tolerate, an unnecessarily slow purchase process. That includes mortgages.
Once the sale is made, however, lenders and brokers alike will quickly realize (if they didn’t already) that the Millennial generation is comprised of fairly savvy purchasers. This is a group that was born as home computing emerged, grew into adolescence with the Internet, and which completed student loan applications (as well as virtually every other major purchase or loan) on mobile devices. It seems fair to say that pushing a stack of archaic origination or closing documents in front of a potential homebuyer of Millennial age will become a thing of the past quickly.
4. If you aren’t using technology in all phases of the transaction, and well, you’ll need a very good reason.
Generation Y is immersed in technology, spending an average of 35 hours per week with digital media, nearly twice as much as non-Millennials, according to Cultural Outreach Solutions.
Approximately 94% are active users of online banking, 72% are active users of mobile banking and 92% are active users of social media, Accenture’s report on the ‘Digital Disruption in Banking’ stated.
It’s fair to state that a Millennial’s need for an efficient, technology-driven home purchase transaction will transcend e-mortgages. He or she will likely want to know why it takes 40 to 50 days to close a loan. He or she will certainly not understand why some title abstracts take longer than others to obtain — especially during a time when almost anyone can visually zoom in on virtually any geographical point in the world using an iPhone and Google Maps.
He or she would likely (and rightly) like to know why something as insignificant as a UPS or FedEX package containing merchandise worth under $20 can be tracked from any Internet browser 24/7 from shipment to receipt, but the status of an appraisal, home inspection or funding requires a phone call and a voice message, delaying a home purchase worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Admittedly, it may still be awhile before the Millennials flood the home-buying market. And when they do, lenders may have to settle for the $150,000 loan to a homebuyer capable of buying something much more expensive. Certainly, lenders will need to be much more granular in their understanding of this market’s motivation. In the meantime, however, it seems fairly clear that, once that proverbial dam does break, it will be the lenders (and their service providers) able to meet the Millennial need for value, speed, convenience and authenticity that will be the early winners.