We all know that the millennials are going to be the largest cohort of homebuyers for quite some time to come. It’s no wonder then that researchers are devoting significant time to determining where they are buying now and where they will buy in the future.
In the ongoing quest to understand millennial homebuying, one thing is clear — people buy where they can afford to buy. The fundamentals are simple: a combination of jobs and adequate inventory at the starter level result in more millennials feeling ready for homeownership.
Various reports charting potential millennial homeownership often come up with different results for which cities top the list depending on the data used, but there is a similarity, millennials can’t afford to buy in big cities.
The most recent report from Lending Tree looked at mortgage requests and offers for the 35 and younger set from Feb. 1, 2017 to Feb. 1, 2018 compared to the total population of mortgage-seekers.
Even in the top cities for millennials, their share of mortgage requests doesn’t crack the 50 percent mark. In fact, overall millennial homebuyers make up only 32.5 percent of all mortgage requests through LendingTree.
The average loan amount requested from this age group is $166,863, which shows why their options may be skewed toward the midwest and away from the coasts where the median asking price is often much higher.
Out of 100 cities, the top city for millennial mortgage requests, according to Lending Tree data, was Des Moines, Iowa, where the share of mortgage requests coming from millennials was 42.4 percent, and the average loan amount was $141,785.
Close behind was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the share of purchase mortgage requests coming from millennials was 41.9 percent, and the average loan amount was $120,093.
The top 10 cities included Buffalo, New York; Lansing, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Syracuse, New York; Youngstown, Ohio; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Price doesn’t appear to be the only motivation. The bottom 10 cities are not the most expensive. Five of the cities in the bottom ten are in Florida including the least popular, Sarasota, Florida, where only 17.9 percent of buyers were millennials with an average loan of $173,760.
However overall, price does seem to be a determining point for many, and the data shows loan amounts in many markets are significantly below the current median price.
San Francisco, which ranks 84th on the list has a millennial participation rate of 28.1 percent. These buyers put down an average downpayment of $96,045 and requested a loan of $462,724. These numbers sound very high when compared to the rest of the country.
In fact, the downpayment for San Francisco is higher than the average loan for borrowers in the least expensive city, Youngstown, Ohio, at $93,792.
Yet data from the California Association of Realtors shows that the median price for February 2018 in San Francisco County was $1,730,000. This is just another reminder of the fact that there simply isn’t enough inventory at the low end for many markets.
A report like this doesn’t factor in other data that could have an impact. In some smaller towns, there can be a tendency for more people to form households at a younger age.
If people are entering the workforce without going to college, that can mean they are ready for homeownership sooner, although conversely, it could also mean that they will make less money and could delay saving for a downpayment.
The higher the down payment, to some extent, the longer the wait. The Lending Tree study bears this out, noting that San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Los Angeles made the top four cities with the highest average age for millennial homebuyers, all at 29.5 years and above.
All of these cities require a significant down payment to enter the market. Compare this to Charleston, West Virginia, where the average buyer under 35 is 28.2 years old. Smaller markets also seem to have a lower barrier to entry when it comes to credit scores. Charleston, West Virginia, was among the areas where lower score borrowers can still purchase a home.
The millennial homeownership journey is just beginning in many ways. Already we’ve seen millennial energy transform some towns. With interest rates rising, inventory rates still dwindling and prices still creeping up in many markets, for some buyers, the dream of homeownership may require a move.
Deidre Woollard is the co-founder of Lion & Orb, a real estate public relations company. Follow her on Twitter @Deidre.