Yikes: Here’s How Long The Average Millennial Needs to Save to Buy a Home

Los Angeles skyline with homes pictured in the foreground
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Buying a home is like a cultural rite of passage — something we might take for granted when we’re younger. But when you get into your mid-20s and are staring down decades of student-loan debt, the sure thing doesn’t seem so sure.

The proportion of young adults ages 18 to 35 buying houses has been declining for a decade. Whether a millennial is looking to purchase beachfront property in Los Angeles or simply afford the rent payment for a Minneapolis apartment, it’s clear that all housing costs are a burden — especially for young people who want to own a home.

In 2005, 39.5% of young adults were homeowners, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census data by apartment service ABODO. In 2015, that figure was down to just 32.1%.

Over that decade, the number of young adult homeowners only increased in two metropolitan statistical areas out of the 100 included in the report: Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Buffalo–Cheektowaga–Niagara Falls, New York. Young adult ownership in those areas increased by 12.1% and 3.8%, respectively.

Meanwhile, it plummeted by more than 34% in New Haven–Milford, Connecticut and San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara, California.

So what gives?

The Homeowner Struggle is Real

Some erroneously choose to blame millennials’ love of avocado toast and lack of worth ethic for their inability to scrounge up a down payment, but it is more accurate to note that millennials are earning 20% less than Boomers were at the same age, with 50% of them turning to “side hustles” to make ends meet.

And let’s not overlook the historically high student loan debt. A survey by the National Association of Realtors found millennials accrued a median of $41,200 in debt, which 76% of respondents cited as a factor in their home-buying decision.

With those financial pressures in play, it’s overcome the most common hurdle to homeownership: the down payment.

So now that we know why millennials are struggling to become homeowners, let’s look at where they’re fighting the toughest battle.

While paying rent, loan payments and other bills, ABODO assumed millennials would be able to save 15% of their incomes specifically for a down payment, then estimated how long millennials in metropolitan areas around the country would need to save to reach 20% of the median home price in their area.

If you’ve been struggling to buy a home, these results won’t surprise you.

Nationwide, millennials would need to save for an average of 15.6 years to put 20% down on a $278,337 house — the national average home value. In some areas, it’s a whole lot longer.

California accounts for five of the 10 cities with the longest down-payment saving times. Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim tops the list— by a five-year margin — at 32.2 years. San Francisco–Oakland–Hayward comes in second place, with an estimated save-up time of 28.7 years.

Where It Takes Millennials Longest To Save For A Home

Here’s the full top 10:

  1. Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim, California
    32.2 years to save up $112,033
  2. San Francisco–Oakland–Hayward, California
    28.7 years to save up $143,563
  3. San Jose–Sunnyvale–Santa Clara, California
    27.9 years to save up $147,415
  4. Oxnard–Thousand Oaks–Ventura, California
    26.1 years to save up $85,637
  5. San Diego–Carlsbad, California
    25.3 years to save up $90,522
  6. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
    24.7 years to save up $98,823
  7. Bridgeport–Stamford–Norwalk, Connecticut
    24.2 years to save up $91,982
  8. New York–Newark–Jersey City, New York–New Jersey
    22 years to save up $96,021
  9. Provo–Orem, Utah
    19.2 years to save up $48,699
  10. Boston–Cambridge–Newton, Massachusetts–New Hampshire
    18.4 years to save up $85,943

Clearly, living in an extremely expensive market puts you at a distinct disadvantage. But in some cases, salaries can also compensate.

For example, San Jose homebuyers are dealing with the largest down payment, but millennials there would save up four years faster than those in LA. And millennials in Provo-Orem have the smallest down payment on the list by nearly $40,000, but it will still take them 19 years to afford it, given their salaries.  

What We Can Learn

Firstly, if you know you want to buy a home, make it a financial priority and start saving sooner than later.

Secondly, the idea of a 20% down payment is likely outdated and might be completely unnecessary.

Many mortgage companies will accept a down payment as low as 3% — although that doesn’t mean you should rush into it worry-free. Remember that the lower your down payment is, the higher your monthly payments will be. And until you’ve reached 20% equity in the home (which is where the 20% down payment comes in handy) you’re subject to an additional monthly fee: private mortgage insurance.

It’s no wonder millennials, many of whom are first-time buyers, tend to buy cheaper homes. ABODO’s research also found millennial-owned homes are valued at about 78% of the average home price.

Katie Mohr is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO Apartments, an online apartment marketplace. While leading the content team at ABODO, Katie oversees ideation and production of real estate and financial industry research reports and interactive content. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just four years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.