When you think about your first home – what comes to mind? Whether your first home is a future goal, or a trip down memory lane, let’s go there for a moment.
Is it a big house on tree-lined street, white picket fence, attached garage, and 2.5 kids to fill it? Or something a bit more urban? Are the cupboards filled with a mix of wedding china and baby bottles – or some sturdy basics to entertain your friends?
As new generations enter the homebuying market, the image of homeownership is changing. The traditional dream home, along with how and when you’re supposed to buy it, is getting an upgrade. Some first-time buyers today still want what their parents or grandparents, did but on their own terms.
And many are proving to be more financially-savvy and risk adverse than their predecessors. Most significantly, buyers today are far less caught up in many of the social constructs that traditionally surrounded buying a first home – things like marriage, children, and all things keeping up with the Joneses.
Here are four habits of today’s savvy first-time homebuyer that redefine how and when to buy your first home.
1. Choose Your Own Prerequisites
Historically, more traditional homebuyers wanted to say “I do” before taking on the financial responsibility of homeownership. But, many buyers today are less constrained by social norms and don’t necessarily think that the personal commitment must come before the financial one. In fact, 15 percent of millennial homebuyers are unmarried couples, the largest percentage across generations.
Because marriage is no longer a prerequisite, savvy first-timers make the decision to purchase when they’re financially ready (rather than in between getting married and having kids, per the traditional model).
They also don’t linger in a rental simply because they haven’t yet met Mr. or Ms. Right. Once they’re established in their careers and have a healthy amount of savings, they’re taking advantage of the potential benefits of homeownership.
2. Be a Patient Saver
In the past, most people would buy a more affordable starter home, stay in it for a few years, and move into a larger house that had room for children. Younger homebuyers today are skipping the starter home and moving right into their dream home first. The National Association of Realtors reports that 30 percent of millennials bought homes worth $300,000 or more, and Zillow reports the median cost of a millennial’s home is $217,000. (Compare that to starter homes, which typically cost between $150,000 and $250,000 or less.)
Since a lender requires you to make a down payment that’s a specific percentage of the price of the home, the more expensive the house is, the larger your down payment may be. Instead of buying a home as soon as possible, maybe you’re comfortable renting longer while diligently socking money away. This allows you to buy a home from a greater position of financial strength.
Plus, you’re likely to qualify for a bigger mortgage, which demonstrates you’re being responsible with credit. Well done!
3. Use Technology to be Savvy
Tackle the homebuying process the same way you research any major purchase — online. Savvy shoppers use digital resources to research everything from finding the right realtor to picking the best neighborhood. Real estate website Zillow found that millennials do the most online research during their home search.
Millennials, especially, are smart about using digital resources to navigate the process. They are more likely to use apps related to homebuying and read more online reviews about realtors before making a final decision. You can also use mortgage and home affordability calculators, as well as other online tools to help you do your homework.
A smart homebuyer wants to know that they can comfortably afford a house, not just keep their heads above water. Your use of technology helps to ensure your new mortgage will be a reasonable part of your budget.
4. Don’t Take On Too Much
Your home is an important financial investment, but getting a mortgage adds a significant financial responsibility to your life – which very likely is already full of financial responsibilities and savings goals. For example, a car loan, student debt, planning for your children’s education, your own retirement. Be sure to keep the bigger picture in mind.
Have an investment mindset when home shopping and seek out a house and neighborhood that will stay relevant if you decide to sell. If your house appreciates significantly, it will add to your net worth and become a valuable asset.
Oftentimes this risk awareness comes with experience. Many first-time buyers today are millennials – who grew up during the most recent Great Recession and the housing market collapse in 2008. Many were affected, either by struggling to find a job after graduation, experiencing their parents get laid off, witnessing a foreclosure, or seeing their parents stuck in a house that was underwater. As a result – to their benefit – they’re wiser and more cautious first-time homeowners.
This valuable behavior — their willingness to buy a house that’s within their means — may make millennials the smartest homebuyers on the market.