Unlike many of his peers, Corbin Broach doesn’t have any student debt and he landed a good job in medical device sales after graduating from Christopher Newport University in 2012.
But he’s not ready to buy a house. “I don’t like the tie-down factor,” said Broach, 24, who rents an apartment in Shockoe Bottom.
“I definitely want to buy some day,” he said. “But it’s not on my mind now. I want to make money and not have such a volatile income.”
He also likes having access to a rooftop pool — and a grocery store, pharmacy, bars and restaurants within walking distance — amenities he might not have if he were to buy a house.
Millennials, generally those 18 to 33 years old, are the largest generation in the U.S. and represent 60 percent of first-time homebuyers.
But they are not buying houses as previous generations did.
The share of first-time homebuyers dropped this year to its lowest level in nearly three decades, and it was down sharply from 2013, according to an annual survey released this month by the National Association of Realtors.
The Richmond Association of Realtors doesn’t have the ability to track first-time homebuyers similar to the National Association of Realtors. “But I think NAR is correct in that trend,” said Laura Lafayette, chief executive officer of the local association.
“If you look at the central Virginia market of 2014, it’s clear that the starter home market — homes affordable for first-time buyers — has slowed,” she said.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the national association, said rising rents and repaying student loan debt make saving for a down payment more difficult, especially for young adults who have experienced limited job prospects and flat wage growth since entering the workforce.
“Adding more bumps in the road is that those finally in a position to buy have had to overcome low inventory levels (of houses for sale) in their price range, competition from investors, tight credit conditions and high mortgage insurance premiums,” Yun said.
Less-stringent credit standards and mortgage insurance premiums in line with a buyer’s risk profile are needed to boost first-time buyer participation, Yun said.
According to the national real estate group, four of 10 purchases historically are made by first-time homebuyers. That share dropped from 38 percent last year to 33 percent this year.
The low level of first-time buyers has a rippling effect on the housing market, preventing it from recovering at a faster rate, housing experts say.
“The first-time buyer can be the first domino in a chain of three, four or more real estate transactions,” said Mark Joyner, president of the Richmond Association of Realtors and vice president with Napier Realtors ERA.
When someone buys an entry-level home, it frees up the first move-up buyer, which then frees up the third-time buyer.
Joyner said the first-time buyer market has softened in the Richmond area, as it has elsewhere. However, “our job market tends to be a bit better than the national job market, so our dip may not be as severe as the national average.”
A common misconception is that homebuyers need to put 20 percent down on a house. “That is not at all true,” Joyner said.
Loans are available with down payments of 5 percent and even 3.5 percent of the purchase price, and veterans can purchase houses with no money down.
“I feel like there is some reluctance to buy,” said Lacy Williams, a Realtor with Joyner Fine Properties. “Housing is connected to jobs. People have to have good jobs to buy houses.”
Also, many millennials graduated from college when the housing market tanked, Williams said, so they may have heard horror stories from people who bought at the top of the market and went underwater with their mortgages, owing more than their houses were worth.
Prices are recovering and have regained most of their losses here and elsewhere. Likewise, the job market overall is improving but at a lackluster pace and not enough to keep up with demand. That, in turn, has stunted the formation of new households, with many young adults moving back in with Mom and dad, and hurt the housing market.
“My primary concerns are job security, a personal desire to remain in the city and the future market value of homes,” said Tyler Perry, 25, who rents a house with friends in North Richmond.
“Many of my friends graduated with me during the recession era and have struggled to find and maintain quality jobs that pay a sufficient wage to own homes,” said Perry, an operations analyst at a bank.
“I enjoy traveling to other cities and could easily see myself living in a number of other locales,” he said, adding that he likes having the ability to jump at any opportunity and test out a new area as he did when he moved to Richmond from Northern Virginia a few years ago.
Yet, the more he gets settled into Richmond, the more he considers buying a house — possibly in a year or two, he said.
“I want to be confident that Richmond will be my long-term residence before purchasing a home.”
Perry said he believes in the benefits of home ownership. Buying a house is an investment in the community and an opportunity to get involved in local organizations, he said.
Timothy Pace, 29, took the plunge last spring when he bought a condo at an auction in Rocketts Landing, a mixed-used community straddling Richmond and Henrico County.
His biggest debt, besides his mortgage, is student loans. “I know how it feels to pinch dollars.”
Pace rented a condo at Rocketts Landing before buying another unit there. He pays $25 more a month on his mortgage than he did for his monthly rent, extra payments that he hopes to recapture when he claims his mortgage interest deductions on his income tax returns.
“I don’t necessarily see myself being here in Richmond forever, but I know I got a really good deal,” Pace, a clinical supervisor, said about his condo purchase.