Most millennials say they’d rather rent than buy a home — a decision that could cost them more than $700,000 over the course of their lives.

Nearly six in 10 millennials (59%) say they’d rather rent a home than buy one, with just one in four saying they are either very or completely likely to purchase a home in the next five years, according to a survey of 1,300 millennials released this week by EliteDaily. (This anti-home-buying trend can already be seen: Currently, only about one in four millennials own a home, down from about one in three in the mid-70s and early 80s, according to data from the Demand Institute.) That’s “bad news for the real estate industry,” the report concludes.

The reasons for this sentiment are many. More than six in 10 feel they simply can’t afford it, the survey revealed (whether or not they actually can’t afford it is another question entirely). Plus, millennials tend to marry and have children later (two events that often inspire home purchases) and are a generation that doesn’t like feeling stuck in one place, says company spokesperson Dan Schawbel.

Whatever the reason, this decision may be a costly one. “In most markets it is still cheaper to buy than to rent [each month]” — even when you factor in the insurance and property tax payments, in addition to the mortgage payments, says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. And because interest rates are so low, now is a good time to buy in many markets — at least if you plan on staying in the home over the long term (Blomquist says that, as a very rough rule of thumb, if you don’t plan on staying in the home you are buying for at least five years, it may make sense to rent instead of buy).

Plus, you’re working toward owning an asset when you buy — that’s not the case when you rent. Considering that the median home in America costs $190,000 and historic annual home price appreciation is around 3%, according to data from RealtyTrac, a millennial who bought an average home today (and put $19,000 — that’s 10% — down) with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 4% would outright own a home worth $426,000 in 2045, and pay a total of roughly $373,000 for it (mortgage, taxes and insurance included) — a difference of $52,000. Plus, after 30 years, the person could live rent-free — a compelling prospect for retirement.

If that same millennial rented — let’s assume he pays $1,312 a month in rent this year (which is the average fair market rent for a three-bedroom nationwide, according to RealtyTrac) — and his rent appreciates at a rate of 2.7% a year (the average increase over the past decade, RealtyTrac says), he’ll end up shelling out nearly $717,000 in rent over that 30-year period — all without an asset to show for it in the end. Of course, he can cut that by having roommates, but at some age, he’s probably going to want out of the roommate game, unless it’s a spouse or love interest.

That said, many millennials will likely rent now but buy a home down the road. But waiting to buy has its costs, too — interest rates and median home prices are likely to rise down the road. At current rates of appreciation, in 10 years the average home (now priced at $190,000) would be selling for about $249,000. If interest rates return to their historical norm (from over the past 15 years) of 5.6%, a monthly house payment (including mortgage, taxes and insurance) on a $249,000 home would be $1,574 a month, a 52% increase over the $1,037 house payment for a median priced home now; plus, over that 30 years, you’d pay a total of $566,640 (assuming you put 10% down) for a home worth $558,356 at the end of that period. “In this scenario you wouldn’t come out positive on your investment in the property until a year after the mortgage was paid off, in 2056 — at which point the home would have a projected value of $573,608,” explains Blomquist.

Of course, there are some compelling reasons to rent. You have more flexibility when renting, as you aren’t tied to a mortgage payment, and savvy investors can likely get higher than 3% annual returns elsewhere. And, quite frankly, “if you can’t afford it, don’t buy,” says Blomquist; you don’t want to end up in a situation where you have to foreclose on a home.


Trish Hartwick

Trish Hartwick

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