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With six-figure law school debt and sky-high home prices, he worries that even two attorneys’ salaries may not qualify them for a mortgage in a neighborhood where they want to live.

“I really have no reasonable aspirations of being able to buy a house for probably 10 years,” Garcia says. “It’s disheartening.”

Whatever the reason—fewer marriages or more challenging finances—younger buyers are waiting longer to buy homes. That helped slow the housing market in 2014.

In Southern California, the number of homes sold through November was down 9.8 percent for the year, to its lowest level since 2011, and well below long-term averages. That’s despite near-record-low interest rates and an improving economy.

Though unmarried couples may be more willing to buy houses together, some still see a marriage as a key driver of homeownership.

“It’s a pretty straightforward link,” says Richard Green, director of the University of Southern California’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “Married people buy houses. Single people rent.”

Just 48.7 percent of California households were headed by married couples in 2013, according to Census Bureau figures, down from 51.1 percent in 2000, a difference of more than 300,000 households. And those married couples are far more likely to own their house—more than two-thirds do, compared with about 40 percent of non-married households.

That’s partly a matter of money, he notes. A married couple with two incomes is far better equipped to buy a home in Southern California at a time when the median-priced home in Los Angeles County costs nearly nine times what the average job pays in a year. Marriage makes the math work.

The math can work just as well for unmarried couples, but many continue to grapple with employment and income uncertainty, says Daniel Sanchez, a real estate agent.

Sanchez works with a lot of 30-something buyers who are trying to sort out life changes, moves and jobs that they’re not so sure will last forever. They’re establishing careers later, getting married later, buying houses later.

“The dynamics have completely changed,” says Sanchez, who at 35 is himself a renter and in “no rush” to buy. “Buying a home makes sense if you know you’re going to stay put, but we’re in a totally different time.”

For some, it makes sense whether they’re married or not—though negotiations over whether the house or the ring comes first can be tricky, real estate agent Tahler says.

He knows from personal experience, having just bought a house with his girlfriend of six years. They have a son together and wanted more space. But she hesitated.

“It became a little heated. She almost didn’t want to, specifically because we weren’t married,” Tahler says. “She settled—for the moment. She’s still pushing the marriage, though.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC