The Mind Of A First-Time Homebuyer

Three Callahan millennials talk about what it takes to buy a home, from the emotional connection to setting long-term savings goals.

Don’t look now, but millennials are starting to buy homes, and our purchasing habits aren’t so different from past generations, according to the National Association of Realtors.

In its 2018 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report, NAR states that millennials who comprise the largest share of current home buyers are increasingly purchasing detached, single-family homes in suburban areas.

Wait, millennials are buying single-family homes in the suburbs?

What happened my generation? I thought we all agreed to rent overpriced, undersized apartments forever? I thought we agreed that equity was overrated?

To track down some answers I interviewed two Callahan millennials who are thinking about buying their first home and one who already has. I asked them about renting versus owning, savings goals, and the emotional attachment that comes with homeownership.


Have you always wanted to own a house?

Sam Taft, Associate Vice President, Analytics & Business Development: Yes, definitely. But especially because my wife and I have a dog now.

Jen Davis, Vice President, Information Systems & Technology: No. I grew up in Manhattan. I’ve lived in apartments all my life except for when I lived in a house for one year in college. I don’t care. I just need to live somewhere. I’d live in a shanty in a good school district.

Jamie Maurer, Advisor, Leadership Team Development: No. And I’m still not 100% sure that I do want to buy a home in the DC market.

What’s your take on renting versus owning? Why did you buy or are considering buying?

ST: We were sick of living in small spaces that we couldn’t control. Being newly married, we’re looking at the next steps for three, five, seven years down the line. Being people who work with numbers and dollars, too, when we ran the math on the cash-burn renting versus owning, it was pretty convincing.

JD: Our place right now is perfect. It’s an eight-minute walk to work for my husband and a 10-minute walk to our son’s day care. It’s just easy. I love our building. If it had three rooms and it made sense to burn equity for the rest of my life, I would stay there forever. But we’re just losing money.

JM: I’m willing to spend more to rent and have flexibility. DC is a transient location, so if I bought a home and we were relocated or had to leave, worst-case scenario I could always treat it as an investment property for government contractors or college kids moving into town. However, in this market, what and where I can afford would be too far away from where the renters are. We’re walking down a long, warn path of should we pull the trigger? Should we not?

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Do you have an emotional connection to homeownership? What is it?

ST: Yes. Owning the house isn’t just about the investment to me. It’s more about owning where I live and being a part of a community.

JD: My husband grew up in a house. I didn’t. His whole mindset is: Why wouldn’t you want to live in a house? That’s what you do. Owning a house means something.’ But I don’t think it does. I think it’s just another thing.

JM: I’ve been fine without owning, but I’m starting to think about homeownership, about real estate, as an asset to pass on.

How are you positioning (or did you position) yourself financially to buy?

ST: We’d been talking about it for probably a year-and-a-half. When we had that first conversation, we were not in a position financially. After we got married last August, we asked What’s next?’ To buy a house, we had to figure out a budget and determine how much we needed to save to get to that 10% or 20% down payment. I ran a model that basically said at Month X we’re going to be at 10%, at Month Y we’re going to be at 12%, etc., so we could figure out when we were going to be able to buy.

JD: It’s the biggest purchase I’m ever going to make, and the thought of using so much of our savings as a down payment is scary. But that’s the cost of entry in this market. Moving to a cheaper location would mean a lower salary for me and my husband. And we would be dedicating the same percentage of our take-home pay to the mortgage. I’ve done the math on what we spend annually renting and what we would spend annually owning, and with 20% down, it would be about net-net. Our monthly costs will go up, even with deductions and benefits. I’m going to be sweating bullets when we do it, but it’s the right thing to do for my family.

JM: Initially, I thought nothing had to change. Working in a sales role, I’m used to living off the minimum and then saving the bigger payouts or putting them toward student loans. So, I’ve always had a little saved for discretionary purposes. It’s how I spent for my wedding. It’s where we’ll pull for the down payment. I wish I had saved more prior. There’s more expenses that go with home buying than are calculated in the monthly cost.

Have you changed your spending or savings habits to prepare for homeownership?

ST: Definitely. We cut out random expenditures dinners out, certain things at the grocery store. We were in a position where we didn’t have to tighten the belt too much, we just had to divert spending from certain areas to saving.

JD: No, I’ve always been a saver. From my first job at 16, I’ve basically saved everything. I just don’t spend money. My biggest comfort is savings. I know that to sleep well at night, I need to feel secure. I need to know that no matter what happens I can support myself and my family for a long time. There’s nothing I want more than that security.

JM: I’m not just saving money I’m hunting and gathering to make it happen. I pay close to $3,000 each month in student loans. I had been so focused on that, I couldn’t think about saving for a house.

What are/were your expectations for a house and neighborhood?

ST: My perception of the market was different when we started looking online than it was when we started visiting houses. Dramatically different. You look online and all you see is a picture of a house. And this might sound obvious, but you have no idea what that street feels like. We thought we were finding good neighborhoods that had good opportunity from a price point, and we visited and thought it’s just wasn’t somewhere we wanted to live.

JD: I want to be in a good school district. The house needs a yard and somewhere to park, but that’s it. We’ve looked at houses and they’re all fine. Are they worth the money for the neighborhood? No. But I’m paying for the school district.

JM: The issue that pops up when we are looking for a home is that band isn’t drawn to anything that’s already done. He’s always drawn to things that are a work in progress. He doesn’t do construction, so he’s out of his mind if he thinks we’re going to undertake a reno.


May 7, 2018

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