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Why America Has Ditched Homeownership to Become a Renter Nation

Sterling White
3 min read
Why America Has Ditched Homeownership to Become a Renter Nation

I see a major shift in the real estate market as we become even more of a renter nation. Why is it happening? Is there a silver lining to this economic cloud?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American homeownership plunged again in 2017 to its lowest rate since 1965. After the peak of 2004, when around 70% owned their homes, now just 62.9% own versus rent. It’s a throwback of almost a century—and the lowest on record, according to Census and Federal Reserve data. Why is that happening? Why is this trend only likely to continue gaining steam? Should we be buying homes or renting instead?

Related: It Gets Stranger: How Trump’s Tax Plan Impacts Homeowners & Real Estate Investors


According to a Senior Economist at Wells Fargo Securities, one of the biggest challenges right now is affordability. House prices are rising far faster than incomes. Access to credit just isn’t there like it used to be for regular home buyers. High rents aren’t helping either. Even renters who want to buy can’t get home loans, can’t save enough for down payments, and are finding it harder and harder to make the leap.


Economic Uncertainty

If there is one certainty about the economy right now, it is uncertainty. There is political and global uncertainty, uncertainty as to when tech and the stock market will crash, and uncertainty surrounding when many jobs will be replaced by new technology. As many as 80% of human jobs could be made redundant in the next few years.

As habits change, big box stores are going bankrupt—or are at least closing locations and shedding workers to try and stay afloat. These include many of the big names that were famous back when our grandparents were in their peak working years. Everyone must be prepared to need to move with very short notice, and owning a house with a big mortgage can be a major roadblock to that.


The upcoming generations are far more equipped with access to knowledge than any before it. My generation saw what happened to their parents losing their houses during the big crash. They felt the devastation. They can also look up for themselves and see that many housing markets are pushing new highs. That perceived pain of loss can outweigh the obvious benefits in many would-be home buyers’ minds.


A Rent.com survey describes Millennials as a generation of movers. Affordability may be one driver, but so are jobs and lifestyle. Forbes data shows 45% of employees don’t plan to stay at a job for 2 years. A report from CNN Money says Millennial graduates are likely to have more than 4 jobs by the time they are 32 years old. Plus, the new mobile workforce is really able to work from anywhere and is enjoying a more nomadic lifestyle. No one wants a big ball and chain of a mortgage holding them back from this.

Related: Forget the American Dream—Renting, Not Homeownership, is the Path to Financial Freedom

Homeownership is a Liability

People are also starting to realize that owning a house is more of a liability than a dream. The new American Dream may be financial freedom and the freedom to travel, not the white picket fence and a mortgage.



Owning a home does have benefits. It can still be important. A renter nation definitely benefits landlords and investors more than renters. On that same note, a renter nation creates more opportunities for investing and getting ahead financially, and more are investing in real estate, while still renting the places they live in. If the above points relate to you, know that it’s OK to reinvent your own dream and lifestyle. But do consider investing in real estate to retain the advantages, even if you’ll enjoy the freedom of renting too.

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

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Do you see more and more Americans becoming renters in the coming years? Why or why not?

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.