Real Estate News & Commentary

Why America Has Ditched Homeownership to Become a Renter Nation

Expertise: Commercial Real Estate, Personal Finance, Real Estate Marketing, Business Management, Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Development, Real Estate News & Commentary, Mortgages & Creative Financing
233 Articles Written
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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?

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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

Affordability

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.

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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.

Knowledge

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.

Freedom

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.

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Summary

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.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out our newer readers.]

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

Weigh in with a comment!

Sterling is an multifamily investor specializing in value-add apartments in Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets. With just under a decade of experience in the real estate industry, Sterling w...
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    Howard
    Replied about 3 years ago
    So very glad I got my chips on the table before prices skyrocketed and returns dwindled. A windfall of monthly income we could never have imagined!!
    Kurt
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Yes, that KNOWLEDGE, is what Landlords are relying on. As long as they have it, we can rest assured that the gravy train continues.
    Brent Silberbauer Professional from Chico, CA
    Replied about 3 years ago
    Good article. I highly doubt 80% of all jobs could be automated in the next few years. Automation is coming, but it won’t be as extreme as you make it out to be. I also believe that people in general are not used to saving or owning items anymore. People used to own their cars, music, DVD’s, etc. Currently, monthly subscriptions, easy access to loans, rising costs of goods and services make many people (especially young people) give up on saving because it is difficult. I remember renting a room with my wife in a house with roommates for two years to save up for a down payment on a house. We owned one car and budgeted to put away a few hundred dollars a month. I just don’t see people (especially young people) budgeting, saving, and making sacrifices as much anymore. I believe this will also contribute to a gap in wealth, but not between already rich and poor, but between those who save and invest and those that only consume and take on debt.
    Shannon Uhr Realtor from Plano, TX
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Timely article! I am renting now for the first time in 25 years, while at the same time, Landlording 2 other of my own properties. It made more sense for us to rent right now as the property taxes on our old house had skyrocketed along with maintenance costs. The NY Times “Rent vs Buy” calculator was very handy in helping us decide to rent again. The problem for first-time or younger home buyers in my town (north of Dallas suburbs) is that investors snatch up anything remotely affordable, often sending it into multiple offers. Also new builders here are only building homes $450k and up, when many first timers need something $250-350k.
    Donald Barham from Newburgh, New York
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Where I am, more people want to buy but like the blog says, the rents are rising and it’s getting harder to save even for a first place.