Here's Why Your Parents Could Buy a Home While You Still Rent


You pinch your pennies. You look for extra income. You're disciplined. And yet you can't get close to saving enough for a decent down payment on a house. It's especially frustrating because you know your parents somehow managed to buy their first home with very little trouble. Were the Baby Boomers just better than you? Or are there reasons why they could save up and you can't?

It turns out there are some valid reasons why your folks could buy a home while you're still renting. Here's a look.

1. Houses Just Cost More

Even when you adjust for inflation, houses are more expensive than they used to be. The House-Price Index maintained by the Federal Housing Finance Agency is a tool that measures affordability, mortgage defaults, and mortgage prepayments, and it has more than tripled since 1980. The average home price, when adjusted for inflation, was $157,000 in 1980. Today, it's $180,000. (It peaked at nearly $230,000 in 2006.) Affordability is a truly, truly serious problem in many metropolitan areas, including San Francisco and New York.

2. There Are No New "Levittowns"

One key reason that homes cost more is because there hasn't been as much development of affordable and middle class housing. After World War II, there were many new housing developments with acres of simple, affordable homes designed for veterans and their families. Developments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York were named "Levittown" after developer William Levitt, and sold quickly. Many of today's Baby Boomers grew up in these homes or purchased them in the 1950s and 60s. These days, affordable housing is more scarce and new developments of simple homes aren't as plentiful.

3. You Have More "Necessities"

Think of all the things that you pay for that did not even exist 40 years ago, or that might have been viewed as luxuries. A computer. Internet access. A cell phone with monthly plan. Cable TV and/or a streaming service. You could live without these things, but they are increasingly seen as necessities that could add up to hundreds of dollars in expenses each month.

4. Student Loan Debt

Rest assured, your Baby Boomer parents did not come out of college with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. But that's the reality for many young people today. College costs have been rising above the rate of inflation for years, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the average member of the Class of 2015 will have to pay back $35,000. That's money that you might still be paying back when you probably would prefer to be saving for a good down payment on a home. (See also: Should You Refinance Your Student Loan?)

5. Young People Can't Find Good Jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 12% of people between age 16 and 24 are unemployed. Among African-Americans, it's even worse, with one out of every five young people seeking work. If you can't find steady work at a young age, you can't begin saving. Combine that with student loan debt, and it's no wonder so many young people are behind the financial eight ball.

6. You Have to Save for Retirement

There's a good chance that your parents never put money into a 401K or Individual Retirement Account. That's because their employers were far more likely to offer a pension, or defined benefit retirement plan. The Social Security Administration reports that participation in pensions by workers in the private sector fell from 38% to 20% between 1980 and 2008. Baby Boomers are also more likely than Millennials to believe that Social Security payments will be around when they retire. If you feel like you need to set aside money for your own retirement, that's money that can't go toward saving for a home.

7. Incomes Haven't Been Growing

One of the more troubling signs in the economy in recent years is that people aren't being paid more as years go by. The Economic Policy Institute reports that the economy should be producing wage growth of between 3.5% and 4%, but that growth has been stuck at about 2.3% for almost a decade. Fortunately, inflation has been quite low, but there's no question that people aren't getting the type of salary and wage increases Baby Boomers became accustomed to.

Sound familiar? What's keeping you from purchasing a home?

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Guest's picture
Area Man

$75,000 in student loans for a degree in English Literature, and a job that pays $23,000 a year, doesn't make much sense does it?