NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Make no bones about it: many Millennials have given up the American dream of homeownership. Saddled by student loan debt and jaded by the Great Recession, Millennials don't feel the need to take on a mortgage as had been a hallmark of adult independence in generations past.
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To explore this trend, we spoke to a handful of Gen Yers for the inside scoop on the motivating factors behind their aversion to the white picket fence.
"I Keep Thinking About the Hidden Costs'
Name: Roni W.
Location: Westchester County, N.Y.
Job: Event producer and social media consultant within the travel industry
Roni grew up in the suburbs of Seattle and currently lives with his girlfriend, their daughter and his girlfriend's parents. Given his own upbringing in suburbia, you'd think he'd harbor dreams of owning his own home. Yet despite his background and the fact that he has a family, a house seems more trouble than it's worth. "After years of seeing the work that goes into upkeep, hearing about insanely high property taxes, and just being aware of the constant mortgage costs, I really have no desire for a house," he told us. Watching many acquaintances struggle to sell houses they no longer want may have been the nail in the coffin.
Walking around with their daughter, his girlfriend sometimes plays a fantasy game in which she asks him if, hypothetically, he wants a certain house if they got it for free. "She now knows she has to include property taxes and a slew of free personnel in this hypothetical to get me to even consider the possibility," Roni said.
"Today's Job Market Requires Us to Be Flexible"
Name: Nina I.
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Job: IT project manager
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As a single mom of a 2.5-year-old son, you might think that Nina would seek to set roots down for her young family. Rather, she stresses that geographical flexibility may be an even better tool for earning a stable income. "Having a house would make me feel tied down, and I think there would be hesitation in taking a job that may advance my career," she said. In the last eight years alone, she has taken job opportunities in three different cities—which is what brought this Cincinnati native to Belgium in the first place.
Nina thinks the tide of society has shifted from placing value in the property you own, to the opportunities you seize: "My older brother, who is from a different generation, puts a lot of value and self-worth into the idea of what kind of house he owns. I, on the other hand, put my value and self-worth on whatever opportunities I can seize for myself ... I think in this job market you have to be flexible on where you work if you really want to advance."
"The Negative Consequences of Failing Are Too Dire"
Name: Tucker R.
Job: Founder of company that consults and provides services to trucking companies
Tucker grew up in a small town of about 30,000 people and currently lives with his long-term girlfriend; they plan to start a family in the next five years, and sound, on paper, like the ideal couple ready to buy a home. But Tucker has been watching housing trends in this country and is uncomfortable with what he sees: "Buying things on credit or loan of any kind just turns you into an indentured servant ... If you have to make payments to keep a roof over your head, then you will always be forced to prioritize those payments. Even if you lose a job, your business, your health ... You are still a slave to those payments. If you fail to make the payments, you lose the roof."
Although rent also requires keeping up with payments, of course, Tucker says, "The negative consequences should [your health, job or business] fail are even worse if you are mired in a mortgage rather than a renting lease." He is also wary of eminent domain and sees "rampant abuse" of this principle across the country: "Even if you buy a house with cash straight out, it's not a guarantee you will be able to continue living there indefinitely ... There's no guarantee someone who donates more to local political figures won't decide they want to build a strip mall right on top of your home, and there's often very little you can do to fight it."
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"Student Debt Makes Homeownership Impractical"
Name: Brian H.
Location: Salem, Oreg
Job: JD/MBA student
"How could I even begin to think about financing a home on top of loan payments?" Brian asks. "With the prospects of a poor economy coupled with decreasing wages, I will be lucky if I am able to maintain my current standard of living." He also notes that companies demand long hours and little flexibility because the job market is so competitive: "Owning a home would be far too burdensome on my already overbooked schedule ... My father had to work long hours so my family could own a home. He later regretted the time he spent working. I would like to avoid a similar fate."
Brian does confess there are a few factors that could change his mind in the future. For one thing, demand for rentals has skyrocketed, so if prices continue to rise, he "may one day do the math and decide I would rather sink my money into some equity rather than continue paying unreasonable rental costs."
"Buying Has So Much More Responsibility Than Renting
Name: Lauren S.
Location: Palm Bay, Fla.
Job: Owner of a digital marketing business
Lauren, her fiancé and 3-year-old daughter found their dream house after moving from Maryland to Florida last year. They absolutely love their rental home and have the option to buy—which inspired them to run the numbers. Although they adore where they live, she says, they weren't prepared for the immense responsibility that comes with homeownership. "It's not the little things I worry about, like a dishwasher," she said. "It's something like having our septic back up, or our AC break or replacing a roof. A fix like that could be a month's salary. Not to mention, when we're renting, we're not $100,000 or more in the hole.
"Gen Y Has Soured on the American Dream"
Name: Christina M.
"I was born in 1985 and have watched older family members--including my parents--struggle with home ownership. With the housing market crash, convoluted bank tactics and confusing government policies—-not to mention the stress—-I just can't see the value in it," Christina said. She describes how the market crash fundamentally redefined how many millennials perceive home ownership: "Several of us watched our family members deal with foreclosures, the loss of wealth and unbearable increased stress ... What was once considered the American Dream began to look like a gamble ... If there is anything that recent years have told us, it is that there is no guarantee that the equity you have in your home will sustain or provide a return."
Christina also described a general distrust among Gen Y of the banking industry. "We witnessed firsthand the kind of greed that people are capable of," she said.
"I Don't Think I Ever Want a Family"
Name: Amanda S.
Location: Las Vegas
Job: Social media coordinator
"I don't find the need to buy a house, because I don't know where I'm going to be in five years," Amanda said. "Heck, I don't even know if I'll still be here next year." Amanda explained that she has moved around for most of her life and has the travel bug, so she doesn't want to be tied down with a mortgage. "I don't want to go through the hassle of buying furniture and decorating my house, no matter how inviting Pinterest makes it seem ... If I owned a house, I'd be obligated to stay."
"I'd Rather Invest in Starting a Company"
Name: Alex G.
Location: New York City
Job: Founder of a business development site
Alex almost bought a house back a few years ago, toward the end of the housing boom, when he was living in San Francisco and working as a software engineer. Something in him made him think it wasn't the right choice, so he held off. "As things crashed, I realized that being independent of a mortgage kept me very free," he said. "I moved to New York and founded my own company. I would never have been able to move or take career risks if I had bought a home ... Instead of investing that money into a home, I invested it in starting my own company and doing many other fascinating things. My life is so much fuller now."
--Written by Allison Kade for MainStreet