Millennials aren’t buying starter homes — they’re splurging on million-dollar places instead

It's a seller's market.

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It’s a seller’s market.
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Artazum/Shutterstock

    Zillow‘s CEO, Spencer Rascoff, says millennials are interested in buying homes but are waiting longer to do so. Millennials aren’t buying “starter homes” – they’re typically spending more on their first homes. “Many people are basically skipping starter homes,” Rascoff says. “They’re renting until their 30s and that first house they buy is a million dollars. They just are not even buying the $200, $300, $400,000 home, which is a total mind shift as compared with previous generations. So they’re still buying homes, they’re just buying them later and buying them bigger.”

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are interested in purchasing homes. They’re just waiting longer to buy.

A September report from the real-estate website and app Zillow found that millennials – i.e., people between the ages of 18 and 34 – are the largest group of homebuyers in the US. (The median age of a homebuyer is 36.)

Spencer Rascoff, Zillow’s CEO, has some insight into why millennials are delaying their first home purchases. On an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” Rascoff broke it down for our US editor-in-chief, Alyson Shontell.

“The whole real-estate industry now is characterized by extreme scarcity and inventory,” he said. “There are about – I think it’s 15 or so percent fewer homes for sale today than a year ago.” (Zillow puts the annual change in US for-sale inventory at -12%.)

“And so it’s a seller’s market whether you are a millennial or not a millennial,” he said, adding: “And the root of this problem, the root of the inventory problem, is homebuilders really only build high-end houses now. It’s very difficult for a builder to get it to pencil to build a 2,500-square-foot, 2,000-square-foot, 1,500-square-foot starter home, because they can just make so much more money building a 6,000-square-foot-plus home.”

As a result, Rascoff said, home prices shoot up, leaving minimal inventory at the middle and low end of the housing market.

Listen to the full episode here, or listen later with the buttons below:

Rascoff explained how this limited supply affects millennials’ homebuying patterns:

“As a result of limited starter-home inventory, they’re renting longer. And when they buy their first home, they’re buying a much nicer home than a prior generation.

“I mean, many people are basically skipping starter homes; they’re renting until their 30s, and that first house they buy is a million dollars, and they just are not even buying the $200,000, $300,000, $400,000 home, which is a total mind shift as compared with previous generations. So they’re still buying homes – they’re just buying them later and buying them bigger.”

Rascoff pointed out some other distinguishing features of millennials’ homebuying experience – for example, that many borrow their down payment from friends and family. A 2016 Zillow report found that 25% of first-time buyers used gifted funds as a down payment.

And many millennials simultaneously look at homes to buy and those to rent because they know they might not find a place to buy. Jeremy Wacksman, the chief marketing officer of Zillow Group, told Business Insider’s Madeline Stone earlier this year, “We see nearly half of first-time homebuyers consider renting as well.”

Other factors could help explain why millennials are putting off buying their first homes.

As Business Insider’s Akin Oyedele reported, Census Bureau data shows that fewer 25-to-34-year-olds are living with a spouse or partner. That suggests milestones like marriage, which often precipitates buying a home, are happening later.

What’s more, Oyedele reported, student debt has hit record levels, making it harder to take out a mortgage.