(TNS)—In more than two decades as a real estate agent, Marc Tahler has seen his client base of would-be buyers shift.
He used to see a lot of younger couples, married, maybe with a kid in tow or one on the way.
Lately, though, his buyers are trending a little older, and, kid or no, a lot fewer of them sport a wedding ring.
“I’m seeing more people who aren’t married,” the agent says. “Sometimes, it’s a couple where both have been divorced, buying as partners. Or one buys and the other puts some money in. It’s all becoming more common.”
A generation of young people who are getting married later—or not at all—are also taking a different approach to one of the biggest financial decisions most of them will ever make. They no longer see marriage as a prerequisite to a mortgage.
“These key life-stage things impact when we buy, what we buy and where we buy,” says real estate consulting principal Mollie Carmichael. “But … young people today aren’t living by the same rules as 20 or 30 years ago.”
Unmarried couples, same-sex partners, even pairs of roommates going halvesies make up a much bigger chunk of the housing market than they did a generation ago, says Rachel Drew, a researcher at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“The decline in married couples, among younger buyers, is almost entirely offset by growth in unmarried couples. You’re not actually seeing a decline in two-adult households,” she says. “(Unmarried couples) are much more likely than a single person to buy a home. They’re acting like married couples.”
That’s what Krystle Mangaccat is doing. She and her boyfriend recently closed on a single-family home with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and plenty of room for their dogs — and maybe someday their kids.
They’re not married yet, but after four apartments in three years, they were ready to settle in a place of their own, Mangaccat says. And, she says, the choice between using their savings on a down payment or a wedding was kind of a no-brainer.
“We’re practical people,” she says. “A house is a long-term thing. We’d rather spend our money on that than on throwing a big party.”
That’s a choice more couples are making lately, according to a study last year by real estate website Redfin, which notes that the average wedding and honeymoon costs about $35,000, enough for a down payment for many home buyers.
Other would-be house hunters plan to buy regardless of their marital status, like Yvonne Carrasco. The 33-year-old public relations professional has been saving up a down payment for years now. She figures she’s a year or so away, and hopes to buy something in 2016.
A house will be something of her own that she could bring to a marriage someday, or an asset for herself.
“I think a lot of people my age have come to the realization that marriage is almost like a bonus. If it happens, great. If it doesn’t, great,” she says. “But it’s important to put yourself in the situation to feel safe and secure.”
And for some, the outlook is that homeownership remains a long way off, marriage aside.
Carlos Garcia is a 31-year-old law student at Santa Clara University. He and his girlfriend are thinking about whether to move back to their native Southern California or stay in the Bay Area after they graduate in 2016.
Either way, Garcia notes, they’re looking at “literally the two most expensive parts of the country.”