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Millennials Could Hold the Key to Housing Recovery

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By Jim Buchta

millennials_new_home(MCT)—Dustin Walsh could’ve bought a house in his 20s, except he saw no point. The 31-year-old had the income, but preferred the financial freedom of renting a room in his cousin’s basement. “With my generation, nobody thinks about their debt and nobody thinks about the future,” says Walsh, a buyer for an international company.

But with a hearty push from his parents, he bought his first home last week. His tidy townhouse comes with a two-car garage that has enough space to store all of his stuff.

Walsh is just the typical millennial. And like many of those born since the 1980s, he waited a bit to buy a house. The percentage of Americans under age 35 who owned a home fell to 36 percent last year, the lowest level on record.

With millennials representing the largest demographic group in the country, their noncommittal attitude toward everything from jobs to marriage is stifling the housing recovery. Even as millennials — who far outnumber the baby boomers — approach their peak buying years, sales of entry-level houses are falling.

“The millennials will have a huge impact on the housing market,” says Jed Kolko, an economist. “Whatever this age group does, whether it’s housing or jobs or consumer spending, will have a big effect on the economy.”

That’s especially true in the Twin Cities, where low home prices and high wages made the region the second-most affordable housing market in the nation last year. More than a quarter of the people who are new to the Twin Cities are 20 to 34 years old.

Ross Gregerson knows the demographic well. The 25-year-old real estate agent has helped five millennials buy their first homes within the past two months. As buyers, they’re unusual. They come armed with loads of information gleaned from the Web, and because they’re highly social, they care more about the size of their kitchen than their bedrooms. They also are far more discerning than other generations.

“They’re picky,” he says. “They want a much nicer house than what other generations desire, but it doesn’t have to be big. It needs a nice kitchen.”

Khalid Khoury, a 25-year-old bank branch manager who’s been living in his parents’ basement for six months, says a nice kitchen and space for his 65-inch television top his wish list. He’s been shopping for a downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul condo, but hasn’t had much luck.

“Modern is a look that I’m going for,” he says. “And I wouldn’t mind a pool.”

This isn’t his first foray into the housing market. When he was a 20-year-old college student, he bought a five-bedroom house in Duluth that he rented to other millennials. He’s now ready to sell that house and use the profits for his next purchase. Many of his friends are delaying homeownership because they’re simply not preoccupied with the future.

“I feel like I’m more willing to pull the trigger on spending more for luxuries than my parents,” he says. “With the company I keep, on some level, we’re more materialistic.”

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