We've heard it for more than a decade now:
Millennials are lazy and feel most at home in the comfort of their parents' basement--and if Millennials ever actually leave the basement, they prefer to rent. But the truth is that stereotype has taken circumstance and made it seem like a preference.
Or even worse, a character flaw.
Frankly, it's easy to say Millennials prefer renting or the basement when stricter lending standards and an up-and-down (and up again) real estate market have put home ownership out of reach for many Americans in their 20s and 30s.
However, the assumption that Millennials approach home ownership differently than prior generations is not backed by data.
"Based on our research, I would challenge the notion that Millennials actually have a fundamentally different relationship with housing than prior generations," said William Emmons, assistant vice president and economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve in an interview conducted on March 8, 2019. "Millennials do exhibit lower rates of home ownership than Generation X. But because of changes to lending practices and public policy designed to dramatically increase home ownership, Generation X actually exhibited abnormally high rates of home ownership during their 20s and 30s."
Timing and the Great Recession aren't the only reason Millennials have a lower rate of home ownership.
"This generation is more diverse than any other generation in American history," said Emmons. "The unfortunate reality is that home ownership rates have always been lower among non-whites. Any serious attempt at increasing home ownership among Millennials has to address the structural inequities non-white aspiring homeowners face."
That's the bad news.
The good news is that there are some practical steps Millennials can take to financially prepare themselves for home ownership.
1. Think twice before piling on more student debt.
Young people are drowning in student loans. Prior research by the Federal Reserve found that 20 percent of the decline in home ownership rates for Americans between the ages of 24 and 32 can be attributed to increased student debt.
Whether it's a Master's in medieval English literature or an MBA, the return on an investment in graduate school is diminishing.
The investment in your first home will (most likely) not.
2. Save enough money to make a substantial down payment.
"I strongly encourage aspiring buyers to save enough for at least a 20 percent down payment," says Deborah Meyer, CPA, and founder of financial planning firm WorthyNest. "If you don't have a substantial amount to put down, you may have to take out a secondary loan or pay private mortgage insurance."
3. Know the right questions to ask.
"We hear so many horror stories of buyers paying way too much for their home because they didn't know the right questions to ask," says Bryan Bowles, founder of real estate tech company Transactly and three-time member of the Inc. 500. "Start researching well before you decide to buy a home."
4. Live beneath your means--even after you buy the home.
"If you are pre-approved for a $300,000 home, consider the advantages that come with a $200,000 home," says Meyer. "What you save can go into renovations--or give you the capital to launch your startup."
"House poor is not a reality show you want to star in," Bowles adds. "Make sure your budget includes taxes and insurance."
Millennials are getting older and will inevitably want the economic security that comes with home ownership.
When those young buyers do enter the market, they need to be prepared.
And the rest of us need to stop blaming millions of people for having to simply play the hand they were dealt.