Laura Klauser sometimes finds herself looking at home listings online and can’t help but laugh.
“When I look at the cost of buying a place, especially on my own, it’s not doable,” said Klauser, 33, who rents an apartment in Avondale and works as a freelance makeup artist. “I’m currently in a place where I’m splitting rent with someone, so my living expenses are a lot lower.”
Klauser is among the almost 1 in 5 millennial renters who believe they will never own a home, according to a recent report from ApartmentList.com. Up from 12% a year ago, 18% of U.S. renters ages 24 to 39 said they expect they will always rent, and 74% of those renters said it’s because they cannot afford to buy a home.
Some attribute the rise to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on housing. With ongoing moratoriums on evictions, a surge in home sales and falling rents, the volatility of a rapidly shifting market have some millennials questioning the need for such a life-altering financial investment.
“I don’t want to be financially tied to something, just in case,” said South Shore resident Kelly Williams, 36. “I worry about things like that, sometimes probably more than I should. For now, this feels safe.”
Millennials are infamously saddled with student debt and have little savings. As the generation that came of age during the Great Recession and the housing market crash, millennials might see the notion of owning a home as riskier than it was for older cohorts.
“I have friends that are paying (the equivalent of) a mortgage in student loan debt or paying their rent in student loan debt,” Williams said. “How can they even think about buying a place and saving up enough money to put down a payment?”
Compared with almost 48% of millennials owning a home in 2020, 78.8% of baby boomers owned homes last year — the highest generational homeownership rate, according to the ApartmentList survey.
The silent generation, comprised of retirees mostly in their late 70s and 80s, dropped to 77.8%, as some sold their homes in favor of group living or moving in with family. Within Generation X, which includes adults between 40 and 55, almost 7 in 10 own homes.
By the time they reach 30 years old, 42% of millennials have bought a home, compared with 48% of Gen Xers and 51% of boomers at the same age.
The generational divide is greater for Black millennials, only 20% of whom owned homes in 2020. White millennial homeownership in the U.S. stood at 51%, while older Hispanic millennials are actually achieving homeownership at a higher rate than previous generations as they approach their 40s. Asians in their late 30s continue to lag behind older generations, but those in their early 30s are slightly ahead of their boomer counterparts.
Millennials have begun to close the gap, with half of new mortgages going to millennial buyers. But 4 in 10 of those surveyed by ApartmentList.com said the COVID-19 pandemic had a direct impact on their plans for homeownership, delaying or putting into question their search for a home.
Home prices have risen during the pandemic as shrinking housing inventory matched by high demand means homes are selling faster — and often above the asking price. Meanwhile, millennials have been hit particularly hard financially during the pandemic, with a higher rate of job loss and longer stretches of unemployment.
And the report does not express much enthusiasm for the notion that Generation Z — those 23 and younger — will reverse the trend.
“The economic inequalities that contribute to low millennial homeownership are strengthening, not weakening,” the report concludes.
Meanwhile, renting remains, for many, an easier option. Millennials and those in Generation Z have kept rent demand high, said Ben Creamer, founder and managing broker of Downtown Apartment Company.
“They are a generation that doesn’t mind renting because they like the flexibility it offers,” Creamer said. “And they are also fine with waiting to buy a home until they can afford the lifestyle they want.”
Rent prices have been falling during the pandemic, which means renters can afford larger apartments or buildings with nicer amenities, Creamer said.
Chicago is among the most affordable U.S. cities for renters, according to a January study by ApartmentGuide.com. The study looked at how many two-bedroom apartments were available in 2020 for below-average rent, and Chicago placed No. 24 behind cities including Toledo, Ohio; Plano, Texas; Lexington, Kentucky; Denver; St. Paul, Minnesota; San Diego; and Los Angeles.
Using data from ApartmentGuide.com and Rent.com’s listing inventory, the study found average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago was $3,102, and that 63% of available two-bedroom apartments were priced below that, said Brian Carberry, ApartmentGuide.com managing editor.
In Long Beach, California — the No. 1 city on the list — 93% of two-bedroom apartments were listed for below-average rent. Conversely, ApartmentGuide.com ranked Wichita, Kansas, as having the least affordable apartments in the U.S., with only 16% of apartments offered below its average rent.
Rents in Chicago dropped 4% in 2020, Carberry said. He believes there will be a rebound in rent prices, but eviction moratoriums and housing regulations prompted by the pandemic make it impossible to forecast when that might be.
In January, which is typically an indicator for how the spring market will perform, lease signings jumped by 25% compared with January 2020, Carberry said.
“Renters who were considering moving out of the city can now upgrade their living space without increasing their costs,” he said. “Concessions, which can range from two to four months of free rent, are no doubt contributing to the surge in demand for apartments in the city.”
The uncertainty and shock of COVID-19 could make millennials leery of ever committing to a home purchase, Creamer said. The flexibility of renting and incentives offered by large rental properties also keep it an attractive option.
“About 50% of our clients right now are upsizing their leases with either larger units or longer leases,” Creamer said. “When you add in other perks like free parking, reimbursement of moving expenses or gift card bonuses, renting looks pretty attractive right now.”
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