More young adults pooling resources to purchase homes

Limited in pursuing the American Dream of homeownership by college debt, economic conditions, and high housing prices? More young adults are buying homes with other people:

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For millennials, many of whom are getting married later in life, swimming in student-loan debt and facing soaring home prices, homeownership can feel more like a fantasy than an achievable goal. So, some first-time home buyers are taking a more creative route to make it happen—by pooling their finances with partners, friends or roommates.

Since 2014, when millennials became the largest share of home buyers in the U.S., the number of home and condo sales across the country by co-buyers has soared. The number of co-buyers with different last names increased by 771% between 2014 and 2021, according to data from real-estate analytics firm Attom Data Solution.

The pandemic added fuel to that trend, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Among all age groups during the early pandemic months—April to June 2020—11% of buyers purchased as an unmarried couple and 3% as “other” (essentially, roommates). Those numbers were up from 9% and 2%, respectively, in the previous year.

This is an interesting situation: Americans continue to want to purchase homes. However, this is not within the reach of many unless they have ways to draw on additional resources.

I do wonder how this is connected to broader changes in households and the formation of families. How does this all work with more Americans living alone, changes in marriage rates, and extended emerging adulthood?

I have heard many warnings over the years about co-signing loans, even among family. Some of these arrangements could present complications in the long run:

Legal experts advise buyers to consult a real-estate attorney to help write a co-ownership agreement that covers every possible scenario, from job loss to marriage to personal fallouts. For example, who will hire the handyman if there is a plumbing issue? Who is in charge of collecting and making the mortgage payments? If one co-owner moves away, will the other co-owners have an option to buy them out or will there be a forced sale of the home?

While this is still a small minority of homeowners, it is worth paying attention to with high housing prices and economic anxiety.

A benefit of having a higher income: less likely to have roommates

Even as single-person households are the largest group of households in the United States, it takes more resources to have that level of privacy:

“When you look nationwide at the share of households that had roommates or lived with parents, it did start to increase in the years just before the housing bust,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist with Zillow. “But it really took off during the financial crisis” that began in 2007, often referred to as the Great Recession.

Since 2005, the doubling up has increased at the same rate among employed and unemployed adults, regardless of age, Zillow found. The share of 20-somethings living in doubled-up households climbed faster than any other age bracket, but people in their 50s came in second.

The median individual income of an employed adult in a doubled-up household is $30,000, compared with the $45,000 earned by those living alone.

“I think there are both demographic and economic forces driving this doubling up — living with parents or living with roommates,” Terrazas said. “In the near term, I don’t see those forces turning around.”

I suspect more Americans would want to live alone – for reasons that sociologist Eric Klinenberg describes in Going Solo – but resources can hold them back. I wonder if the same trend is present on college campuses: those students with more resources live in solo rooms or can live in nicer settings off campus while others may not be able to access those residences.

More broadly, this gets at what Americans think about privacy and intimacy, personal space, and what home should be like. Are roommates really only an option until you find something better (a family or relationship of your own choosing, living by yourself because you can afford it)? Does this help explain why Americans have such big dwellings compared to much of the world (they need space to get away from others who live in the same residence)?