Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Millennials: How to Get Over Homebuying Hesitancy

America’s millennial generation -- born between 1981 and 1996 -- are highly motivated to buy their first house. They spend countless hours on the web searching properties. But many are scared to go beyond the internet phase.

“A lot of people get stuck window shopping online. It takes them a long time to get their ground game going,” says Devin Ratoosh, a 32-year-old real estate broker who counts many millennials among his home-buying clients.

To illustrate, he tells the true story of a longtime buddy, a computer engineer also in his 30s, who spent more than a year in the internet-search phase before finally touring properties with Ratoosh a couple of weeks ago.

“This guy took forever to get his ducks in a row. But he and his wife, both working from home due to COVID-19, were extremely unhappy living in their small city apartment. They really needed two home offices and a yard for exercise. The pandemic got them into the serious phase,” Ratoosh says.

Just this week, the couple is closing on a three-bedroom bungalow with an ample yard in a comfortable, middle-income suburb.

Ratoosh cites several reasons for homebuying hesitancy among millennials who are wannabe owners. One is that they came of age during the housing downturn of 2008, when foreclosures were everywhere.

Another limiting factor is that many cash-tight millennials believe they must amass a 20% down payment before they can seriously consider buying.

“That’s a false concern. There are many programs for people with much less than 20% down,” says Ratoosh, who’s in business with his boomer-age father.

Here are a few pointers for millennial renters seeking a well-priced house:

-- Move forward once you’re certain of your decision to buy.

True real estate pros never urge prospective buyers to rush into a home purchase prematurely. Even so, for those who are genuinely ready to proceed, they say one reason for people to move forward soon is that low-cost financing is currently available.

“Mortgage rates are now breathtakingly low,” Ratoosh says.

-- Remember that rents can always change.

It’s hardly surprising that those who sell real estate for a living encourage tenants to favor a home purchase over rental. But they do make one point that resonates with first-timers, including millennials. In most areas, your monthly housing payments should remain more stable over time if you’re paying on a mortgage rather than a rental lease.

“You’ll have fewer sleepless nights with one of those delightfully low fixed-rate mortgages,” says Tom Early, a broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org).

Buying also gives you the potential to build equity --especially when home values are ascendant, as they’ve been for multiple years.

-- Seek mortgage preapproval before hunting for a house.

It’s important to gain mortgage clearance before attempting to bid on a property. That involves getting your credit standing assessed and verifying your income and assets.

“In popular neighborhoods, the supply of available entry-level homes is very limited these days. So don’t even think about trying to compete with other bidders prior to gaining the credibility you need through mortgage pre-approval,” Early says.

-- Carefully time your pitch for a “stale” listing.

During the current pandemic period -- when buyers outnumber sellers in many desirable markets -- there are relatively few workable ways to compete for an affordable house. But one approach that could help involves pursuing a listing that’s been languishing unsold for a lengthy period.

“Those who way overprice their home when it first goes up for sale usually earn the ire and disrespect of many buyers,” Early says.

When finally these owners face reality and get into a “must sell” situation with their stale property, they might even let the place go slightly below market.

How do you know which sellers have a strong need to sell soon? Early says that the listing agents for many stale properties can be remarkably frank about why the owners need to move.

-- Look into buying a “spec home” from a builder.

Early, who’s worked in real estate since 1982, says he’s helped a number of purchasers score a good deal on a brand-new house the builders constructed without specific buyers in mind. This is known as a “spec” property.

Though many such homes have already been snatched up by eager buyers, there are always a few available for those who hunt them down.

“Seek out builders who still have several spec houses in their developments. They need to sell these homes to pay off the bank for their construction loans. Their urgency could result in a fair deal for you,” Early says.

-- Accept the current limitations for bargain shopping.

Early says there’s no shame in offering list price or slightly more in a hot area, assuming you’ve done your homework and are convinced you’re not paying more than a few thousand dollars over true market value.

“You can’t let emotion cloud your judgment. But if you’ve found a house you dearly love, years from now you won’t regret that you ran that extra mile to make it your own,” Early says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)