Research

Study: 70% of new homeowners believe homeownership is part of the American Dream

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Introduction

Despite changing cultural influences, milestones and priorities, 70% of first-time homebuyers spanning three generations still believe in homeownership as part of the American Dream. Today, that dream looks less like a Norman Rockwell painting and more like a patchwork quilt, with each generation having very different experiences achieving their dream of homeownership.

The Zebra surveyed 1,205 first-time homeowners to discover what the experience of buying and owning a home has been like for them. We found shifting priorities and sentiments as homeowners aged:

  • Generation Z was the most racially diverse generation of first-time homeowners, and the generation putting the most pressure on themselves to buy a home.
  • Millennials were the most financially prepared generation, and the most stressed out by the homebuying process.
  • Generation X believed the most in homeownership as part of the American Dream, but had mixed feelings about owning their first homes.

Let’s take a look at these three generations of homeowners in depth.

 

Home Survey Gen Z

Generation Z: The newbie generation

Generation Z homeowners, aged between 18 and 23, are most motivated to buy a home by the desire to live in a better area. They’re much younger than the typical first-time homebuyer;accordingly, parents had the most influence on Gen Z homeowners during the buying process.

  • 56% rely on their parents as their top source of advice while going through the homebuying process — more than any other generation. In fact, they’re almost as likely to rely on their parents for advice as they are to depend on a real estate agent: Only 61% of Gen Z homeowners hired one, compared to 67% of Gen Xers and 72% of millennials.
  • 44% move straight from their parents’ homes into their own.

Thirty-four percent of Gen Z homeowners said they put pressure on themselves to buy a home, the most of any generation. Still, they’re often underprepared for the realities of homeownership:

  • They’re 14% likelier to plan for home furnishings and decor than to compare home insurance policies, and 20% likelier to plan decor than compare home loans as part of their preparations for homeownership.
  • Gen Z has the largest share of uninsured homeowners, with 15% reporting that they have no home insurance. 
  • 56% have emergency funds of $1,000 or less, falling short of financial experts’ recommendation to have 1-3% of a home’s value saved for repairs.

Gen Z homeowners have the lowest incomes of any generation, with 63% making $75,000 or less and 32% making $50,000 or less, compared to the American median household income of about $60,000. However, they’re still making their way into homeownership by purchasing smaller, less expensive homes. They’re also by far the most racially diverse generation of homeowners.

Demographics: Gen Z vs. America

 Gen Z homeownersAmerican population

American Indian/Alaska Native

1.0%1.3%
Asian9.1%5.9%
Black20.2%13.4%
Hispanic/Latino18.2%18.5%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander1.0%0.2%
White59.6%76.3%

 

Home Survey - Millennials

Millennials: The money-minded generation

Millennials, aged 24 to 39, are the largest group of first-time homebuyers, accounting for three out of five survey respondents. They’re also the most financially savvy generation:

  • 35% of millennial homeowners cite building equity and making a financial investment as their top reason for wanting to buy a home.
  • Millennials are the most insured generation — 88% have a home insurance policy.
  • 34% had emergency funds of over $2,000 (compared to 33% of Gen X and just 23% of Gen Z).

Millennials are also motivated by their new and growing families as they search for their first homes:

  • 31% of millennial homeowners cite having children or improving life for their children as one of their top reasons for buying a home. 
  • 59% have at least one child in the home.
  • 35% bought homes that were at least 2,000 square feet.

Nineteen percent of millennial respondents report that stress was the most difficult part of the homebuying process. That figures — they put more work into preparing for their home purchase than Gen Z or Gen X:

How did each generation prepare for their home purchase?

 Gen ZMillennialsGen X
Saved for a down payment79.8%82.3%78.9%
Hired a real estate agent61.1%72.3%67.3%
Toured neighborhoods68.2%72.2%71.8%
Compared home loans63.1%70.5%68.0%
Compared home insurance66.7%70.1%63.9%

In all, millennials buck stereotypes about their generation, showing a great deal of financial intelligence during the homebuying process. (And, rather than living with their parents or family, 75% were renting a house or apartment before they bought their home.)

 

Home Survey Gen X

Generation X: The aspirational generation

About one in four first-time homeowners belong to Generation X (between 40 and 55 years old). Gen Xers are more motivated than their younger counterparts by the dream of being homeowners:

  • 44% cite wanting to achieve the goal or milestone of homeownership as a top reason to buy a home.
  • 79% of Gen Xers say that they believe in homeownership as part of the American Dream.

Recent research has indicated that Gen X has the largest amount of outstanding debt. Their home purchases may have only added to it:

  • 69% of Gen Xers agreed that paying rent is “throwing money away,” but…
  • 39% of Gen Xers paid at least $300,000 for their home. That’s well above the national average, which sits in the low 200s.

Gen X also has the strongest and most mixed feelings about homeownership. On one hand:

  • 23% of Gen X homeowners miss their landlords.
  • 23% regret buying a home.
  • 50% say that homeownership is harder than they expected it to be.

On the other:

  • 88% of Gen X homeowners say they love owning their home.
  • 74% say they wish they’d bought a home sooner.

Gen X homeowners trust their spouses and partners the most of any generation, with 50% saying that’s who they primarily relied on for advice while looking for homes. Gen X was also the most equitable generation in terms of gender: They’re the only generation with more men depending on their partners for home-shopping advice than women. 

Who relied on their spouses for advice while home shopping?

 Women who relied on their partners for adviceMen who relied on their partners for advice
Gen Z42.9%21.7%
Millennials59.4%41.2%
Gen X46.7%51.7%

Conclusion

As generations age, their attitudes and priorities as homeowners change. So what can future first-time homeowners take away from these three generations’ experiences with being first-time homeowners?

  • Like Gen Z, you may not have to wait as long as you think you do to buy your first home.
  • Like millennials, it’s good to thoroughly consider your budget and risks while you’re shopping for a house.
  • Like Gen X, be prepared for the ups and downs of homeownership. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of reward.

Methodology

The Zebra’s report presents the findings of an anonymous online survey of 1,205 homeowners from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., ages 18-85 who purchased their home between six months and three years prior to taking the survey. The survey was conducted by independent research firm SurveyGizmo from August 7-12, 2020, and the results were reviewed for quality control. 

U.S. demographics and median household income are taken from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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