First-Time Homebuyers Guide for Millennials
Homeownership has been one of the pillars of the American Dream, and that trend continues to this day. However, buying a home has not been as commonplace for adults in between the ages of 25-35, for a variety of reasons. Several millennials enter this phase of their life with far more debt (usually in the form of student loans) that their parents or grandparents did. Combined with steadily-increasing housing prices, and the dream of owning a home can feel daunting, if not impossible.
The truth is, homeownership is within the grasp of any millennial who wants to turn that dream into a reality. Do not let any outside influences fool you; with the right knowledge and a solid game plan, millennials can find their first home in no time! In this guide, we want to address some of the common misconceptions in home ownership, help you figure out if buying a home is right for you, and provide a simple game plan that will put you on the path to owning a home of your very own!
The 7 Myths of Home Ownership Barriers
Many people grow up with an idea of the path in life that one is supposed to follow. Go to school, get a degree, get a steady job, and then buy a house. If you’re in a position to buy your first home, you might feel extremely overwhelmed and might be under the impression that there are certain boxes you need to check to do so successfully. These 7 myths might be holding you back or have you questioning whether or not buying a home is the right move for you. Luckily, these 7 myths are, in fact, just myths.
Myth 1: “I need outstanding credit to qualify for a mortgage”
While it was true a few years ago that you needed a high credit score to qualify, the introduction of Government loans has made it possible to still qualify even without a perfect score. While some conventional loans still might require a score of 620-640, FHA loans are available for scores as low as 500. Ultimately, it is recommended to have your score sit above 580 before applying but don’t feel like it’s a lost cause if your score is below.
Myth 2: “I need a 20% down payment to buy a home.”
Years ago, loans were only given to people with perfect credit a 20 to 50% down payment. However, throughout the years, the government realized this was not attainable for most Americans and thus the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was created which offers FHA loans. With an FHA loan, if your credit is anywhere between 500-579, you only need a 10% down payment. If you have a 580 credit score, you only need a 3.5% down payment to qualify.
Myth 3: “My student loans are holding me back.”
Student loans can help you achieve your educational goals but they can also leave you stressing out about whether or not you will be accepted for a mortgage loan. Luckily, student loans by themselves cannot prevent you from receiving a mortgage. However, lenders will take a look at your income, debt-to-income ratio, credit history, down payment, and your assets. If you feel like your debt-to-income ratio is too high, research ways to lower your debts quickly, whether it be a side hustle to bring in a bit of extra income or refinancing.
Myth 4: “Listing prices are non-negotiable.”
When someone lists their home, there is an unspoken agreement that the listing price is negotiable. Homeowners view it as a suggestion of what they would like for their home but they are aware that it is not set in stone. However, pricing is where many deals fall apart. When buying a home, it’s important that the buyer and seller meet in the middle and come to an agreement that both parties feel fair.
Myth 5: “I’m trying to time the market.”
Let’s face it, there is no way to truly time the market. Professionals have tried and they can make their predictions but it’s just not that simple. There are three types of markets, the buyer’s market, seller’s market, and neutral market. When buying a house, you’ll want to purchase when it is a buyer’s market. This means there is more inventory than buyers, leaving you with a wide variety to choose from. Sellers are more willing to sell their property for lower prices in this market meaning you’ll save a little money. As mentioned though, figuring out when this is going to happen is not a clear cut answer. The market is, and forever will be, unpredictable.
Myth 6: “Lenders aren’t flexible.”
There are many different lenders out on the market today. Rates and fees vary among these different lenders and each has its own policies. Before pulling the trigger, sit down and do the research. You might find lenders that have down payment assistance or local loan programs that can save you thousands. The right lender will get to know you, your goals, and your financial needs.
Myth 7: “The economy isn’t stable.”
Much like waiting for the market to be the right timing, the economy itself is always going to be unpredictable. According to the key economic indicators, our economy is healthy at the moment. Could that possibly change tomorrow? Absolutely. But you have to remember, what goes up can also go down. You can’t let it hold you back from your home-ownership dreams.
In the next section, we will provide some of the Pros of Homeownership, which can greatly benefit Millennials.
The Pros of Millennial Home Ownership
As a millennial, you may finally be in a position where you are considering buying your first home. Understandably, you probably have a few questions. Is it a good idea to take on more debt? Is the monthly payment affordable? What are the tax benefits?
These are all sensible questions for someone considering making the decision to take on a mortgage. Apprehensive? Here is a list of pros to help you feel more confident about owning a home.
One of the top advantages of owning a home is equity! Equity is the percentage of your home that you own. For example, if you purchase a $250,000 home and put $50,000 down, you will start with 20% equity. Now, if the value of your home goes up over the next few years, you will have additional equity without even trying! Real estate typically is a safe and valuable asset for building worth over time.
Having equity also gives you the freedom to access it in case of an emergency or other need. HELOCs and home equity loans are both ways to pull cash from the value of your home without needing to sell.
You can learn more from Forbes about home equity here.
Lower Monthly Payment
It’s no secret that rent isn’t cheap these days. Not only is rent expensive, but costs like application fees, security deposits, and moving costs can really add up. Monthly rent will typically cost 0.5 - 1% of the home’s value. A mortgage payment can be significantly more affordable, especially with a strong down payment. For example, renting a $150,000 home may cost $1,500/month, while owning the same home could reduce that payment to $900/month. It will feel good to know that your money is always going toward your own equity rather than someone else’s pocket.
One of the best things about homeownership is not having to answer to a landlord. With pride of ownership comes the ability to decorate and maintain your property the way you want to. You’ll no longer have to tolerate random inspections, rent increases, or rule changes. Your home is yours!
While the tax laws have changed recently due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, there are still tax advantages to owning a home. Depending on the total of the interest payments and real estate taxes, you may be able to deduct them. Selling a home has many tax benefits as well. To learn more about how homeownership will affect your tax liability, consult with your CPA; or, check out this article on Tax Benefits of Buying and Owning a Home.
If you think you’re ready to settle down and live somewhere for a while, owning a home can be so much more beneficial to your finances than renting.
The Cons of Millennial Home Ownership
There are always two sides to every coin. No matter how much upside a decision may have, there is always going to be a trade-off or downside.
However, we want to be clear: the cons of homeownership are in no way a means to dissuade or discourage anyone who wants to own their own home. With that said, there are some potential downfalls to homeownership that should be addressed before making what will most likely be the most expensive decision in a young person’s life.
High Upfront Costs
A typical lease agreement will require the first and last month’s rent plus security deposit. However, this pales in comparison to the cost of buying a home. Even if someone is approved for an FHA loan and only needs a 6% down payment, six percent of a $200,000 house is still $12,000, which can be a difficult sum of money for a millennial to scrape together if they have debt.
The cost in buying a home is not just monetary, either. Anyone who has taken Econ 101 knows about Opportunity Cost. The process of buying a home can take at least 10x the time needed to fill out a rental application, view the property, pay the fees, and grab the keys.
If someone plans to buy a home, they need to be prepared for a long, sometimes stressful process.
A Lack of Mobility
Even in a world full of freelancers and mobile entrepreneurs, the landscape of opportunity can shift much faster in 2019 than it did even 25 years ago. You settle into that great job in one city, only to have a new, even better opportunity arises in another time zone.
Even during the most intense buyer’s markets, the amount of time it can take to find a buyer and go through the entire closing process is completely unpredictable. You could rent your home and hire a property management company to handle the logistics, but what if you need the cash tied into your home to move? It can become an incredibly convoluted process if you need to move and move right away. Compared to terminating a lease agreement early, relocating when you own a home has problems and challenges far exceeding a rental property.
Assuming your landlord is an honest, trustworthy individual or entity, renting your home is a relatively straightforward transaction. If your refrigerator dies, or your water heater malfunctions, the lessor is usually responsible to handle the replacement and repair costs.
However, when you own a home, you’re essentially on the hook for everything that isn’t covered under your insurance or warranty. There are a variety of hidden costs in owning a home that you need to know about ahead of time before you make an offer. Maintenance and repairs could add up to very little, or they could require you to borrow against your home or take on extra debt just to keep your house in working order.
One of the biggest reasons people want to buy homes is so they can create their own unique living space. Since most renters can’t (or have no incentive to) paint the exterior or interior a color they’d like, or add a backyard patio, they would much rather buy a home to have that extra freedom.
However, if the home you want located in a Homeowners Association-managed subdivision?
Depending on the neighborhood, and the rules and regulations of the HOA community, you may not have as much freedom as you’d wish you had. Restrictions on the exterior paint hue, front yard ornaments, or whether or not you can park your car outside of your garage are common in several Homeowners Associations.
We cover the nuances of HOAs in another blog post, which you can check out by clicking here.
Have you weighed all the Pros and Cons, and you still feel like buying a home is right for you?
Excellent! Now that you have made a fully informed decision, the next section will provide the simple steps the Millennial generation can follow to achieve their dream.
5 Steps Any Millennial Can Take Towards Owning a Home
Save early and save often:
The initial action Millennials need to take, when considering buying a home, is figure out what is affordable. There are numerous home-affordability calculators available online, such as Nerd Wallet; these sites will aid you in determining how much house you can afford. Once you’ve established what you can realistically afford, be sure to air on the conservative side. Opening a savings account specifically for your house fund is a proactive move that can easily be made while you experience the move towards home buying. Choose a practical amount that will be deposited each month; this deposit should be as significant as paying your bills and more paramount than that new pair of boots you just saw on sale. Millennials typically require between 3 and 4 years of savings for their down payment and closing costs.
Improve Your Credit Score
Your financial profile is the most relevant factor when contemplating the purchase of a home. There are many ways to raise your credit score: paying your bills on time, using less of your available credit, and not opening new accounts. It’s also important to maintain a mix of various credit accounts. Credit scores are affected by the types of accounts you have, how often you use your credit, how many credit cards you have and the age of each card.
Buying your first home is an intensely emotional process; making sure you keep your emotions in check will prevent you from becoming a victim to many long-lasting mistakes. Your mortgage will affect the financial means you have left for utilities, credit cards and life in general. Be sure to only view homes in your price range. Avoid temptation by looking at properties that have everything you want, including a price tag you can’t realistically afford. Starting your search at the low-end of your price range is like trying the largest size you brought into the dressing room first; you still have room to improve. Seeing the lowest priced homes will cease the disappointment that can easily happen when you search for homes in the higher price ranges first.
The easiest way to tackle the ultimate goal of owning a home is to turn it into several small, easy goals. By using small goals, you avoid the common pitfall of feeling stressed or overwhelmed when everything doesn’t come together at once.
For starters, you can set a monthly goal to pay X amount towards your credit cards to improve your credit score. Next, start saving larger chunks of your income for the down payment. Once you have most of the down payment covered, you can shift into paying down your student loan debt to free up more monthly income for your mortgage.
It may take two, three, or even five years to reach your ultimate goal, but by breaking the goal into smaller chunks, you preserve your sanity by focusing on one aspect at a time.
Pre-approval will go a long way in letting sellers know that you are serious about buying. Since pre-approval will require a hard inquiry on your credit, this should be the last step you take before you do any legitimate home shopping. Everything you do in the previous four steps will lead you to this moment, and a pre-approval letter from your lender will let you know a) how much home you can afford and b) what your monthly payments will look like.
The most important aspect of the pre-approval process is being prepared. Numerous types of documents are necessary during the pre-approval process. Common documents required are: bank statements, W-2’s, tax returns for the last three years and pay stubs.
If you can stay patient and follow these steps, you will be well on your way to becoming a Millennial Homeowner!
Owning a home may seem out of reach for Millennials, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With so many programs and assistance available to citizens of all ages, adults ages 25-35 do not have to live a life of renting their home if they don’t want to. We hope this guide helps you better understand the current landscape of homeownership, and provides you with a straightforward path to put your name on a deed in the near future!
The Kay-Grant Group is dedicated to helping Millennials find their first home, and making the process as simple as possible. If you are interested in buying a home in the Greater Phoenix area, please call us at 480-387-3990.