Why millennials may finally be ready for homeownership

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Have millennials who have been slow to jump onto the housing ladder finally figured out the path to wealth their parents followed?

The latest survey from Bank of America suggests they have — and that they are moving happily along their way toward being for-real grownups.

Indeed, 39% of 18- to 34-year-old homeowners queried associated homeownership with adulthood. That's the largest share of any generation to feel that way, according to the survey, conducted by GfK Public Communications and Social Science on behalf of B of A's consumer lending group.

On the other hand, just 16% of millennial homeowners think of owning a home as achieving the American dream and only 11% equate it with permanence. In both cases, they are the least likely generation to define owning a home in that fashion.

Bank of America's second annual Homebuyer Insights Report is based on an online poll of 4,906 adults taken in late January.

It found that millennial homeowners are least likely to define homeownership as permanent. Here, the breakdown was 11% for millennials, 23% for Gen Xers, 29% for baby boomers and 37% for seniors.

It also found that four out of five millennial homeowners said buying their initial home has had a positive impact on their long-term financial pictures. And 68% said they bought now and intend to use their today-house as a "steppingstone" to their forever-home. In comparison, only 36% of owners across all age cohorts feel that way.

"After years of seeing millennials sit on the sidelines," said D. Steve Boland, a B of A managing director and executive of consumer lending, "it is clear some are recognizing it might not make sense to wait."

In Boland's view, these young first-time buyers are "excited to get started" and "understand the benefits (homeownership) can have on their long-term financial picture."

The poll also found that 86% of these millennial homeowners — nearly nine out of every 10 — say owning is more affordable than renting. In sharp contrast, 45% of those who have yet to buy a house maintain than renting is the less expensive option.

But it's not all about finances, homeowners told pollsters. Just a third said their home's value is determined by how much it cost. On the other hand, a whopping 95% said they are proud to be called homeowners, and 91% said they treasure the memories they have made.

Just 21% say homeownership has been a burden.

Also, 82% said they look for ways to make their homes more valuable. And 70% spend much of their time working on their homes. Perhaps that's the financial, care and upkeep burden they are thinking of?

Meanwhile, millennials who haven't taken that first step yet say homeownership is in their crosshairs. One in four say they will buy within two years, and 35% have already started to collect their down payments.

Unfortunately, too many — almost half — still cling to the mistaken belief they are going to need 20% down to move forward. But in better news, 41% think just 10% or less is necessary for a down payment.

"Some prospective first-timers tend to believe their personal circumstances should line up perfectly, yet there are many ways they can achieve responsible and sustainable ownership much sooner than they think," Boland said.

Most of the first-time buyers of all ages — 75% — expect to use their savings for the down payment, while 78% of older millennials age 25-34 will do the same. A small minority are looking for a financial windfall such as an inheritance or a gift from a loved one.

Surprisingly perhaps, potential first-time buyers are split almost evenly on whether they would qualify for down payment assistance. But nearly nine out of 10 — 87% — would take advantage of a program or two if they did qualify.

To get ready for that big first step, the survey found that these future buyers are juggling their financial priorities. Some 61% are paying off their debts, 47% are working to improve their all-important credit scores and 32% are paying off their student loans.

In that same vein, homeowners across all generations said they would tell their younger selves to start saving sooner (60%), plug maintenance costs and unexpected expenses into their budgets (42%) and create and stick to a budget (35%).

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