This year, millennial buyers have the potential to make a big impact on the Washington-area housing market.
Financial hurdles have prevented this generation from making a full impact on the market. This population of people born from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s generally has a higher prevalence of student debt and higher costs associated with their standard of living.
If you’re in that generation and want to buy a home, you already may have encountered frustration. The journey may be difficult but it’s not impossible.
Here are some things to consider:
Your income may be higher, but so are home prices.
Many say that the strength of the D.C. market results in part from the higher-than-average incomes across all age groups. The median household income in D.C. of $75,628, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 34 percent higher than the national median income of $56,500.
In D.C., the current median sales price for a home is $550,000 — 76.5 percent greater than the national median price of $306,000, according to Rockville-based Bright MLS.
D.C. first-time buyers may feel priced out in many locations, but should consider one of two options in an economical purchase: downsizing or moving away from the city centers.
Downsizing is the most obvious choice, but some first-time buyers may not want to sacrifice space for the sake of price. For buyers who want to live in the city at a lower cost per square foot, looking outward from the focal points may provide both more comfort and better investment potential as the city continues to see rapid development.
Increased housing prices may initially scare a buyer into a continued rent cycle, but considering all options within the District rather than just a few centrally located areas may lead to both comfort and great investment.
Education is prevalent, but so is debt.
Nationally, about 30 percent of the population holds a bachelor’s degree and 7.5 percent have a master’s degree or higher. In D.C., 49.3 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 19 percent have at least a master’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Because of this, student debt on average is much higher in D.C. than the rest of the country. Nationally, the average amount of student debt is about $30,000, compared with an average of $40,000 in D.C., according to White House data in 2015.
People with high levels of debt interested in buying a home may consider consolidating it to lower their monthly payment. If they want to buy a home, they’ll also need a good credit score (generally above 650), decent household income and a plan to stay in the home for several years.
The barrier to entry is too high.
Many first-time buyers find amassing the cash for a down payment and closing costs another obstacle, even with government-backed programs for low-cash buyers.
Looking at the national model, a buyer taking out a traditional Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan (with a 3.5 percent down payment) for a $300,000 home can expect to bring about $18,000 to the closing table (an average around 2.5 percent of the purchase price).
Let’s compare this same example to an average home in Washington. Someone buying a $541,000 home (the median sales price in the area) should expect to come up with $32,500 for the closing — nearly twice as much as the national figure.
The solution to this problem will really come down to aligning with a loan officer who has expertise in finding special programs for first-time buyers. For example, DC Open Doors allows first-time buyers to buy with as little as a zero down payment with low interest rates depending on income and credit. These options may expand possibilities for many millennial buyers.
The District is expensive to live in.
Overall, according to CNBC, the District is 134 percent more expensive in housing (including purchasing and renting), 4.3 percent more expensive in transportation and 17.4 more expensive in groceries compared to the national average.
Of course, the fix to this would be subtle lifestyle changes to save as much as possible. In the city, more people continue to choose public transportation versus owning a car — a great way to save money.
Other ways to save in preparation for a future down payment include cooking rather than ordering food out, limiting ride-sharing services for options like bus or train. Moreover, you may consider buying a property that needs a little work and putting in the effort yourself to fix it up. These properties may be cheaper and provide a much larger return on interest when selling.
For millennials, the road to homeownership can be daunting. But with a good financial strategy and discipline, buying a home can be within reach.
Tim Savoy, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Capitol Hill, writes an occasional column about the Washington-area housing market. He can be reached at Timothy.Savoy@cbmove.com and on Twitter @SavoyRealEstate.