The Millennial trend: Homeownership before marriage

My parents lived with my dad’s sister for the first two years of their marriage before they bought their first home in 1989. They were in their early 20s. The house was a foreclosure that needed a lot of elbow grease, but they closed on it for a whopping $75,000 and secured a mortgage rate that was a little over 12 per cent.

My partner M and I lived with his family for two years when we decided it was time for us to spread our proverbial wings and leave the nest. After a few months of looking, settling on a new build, and solidifying our buy by signing on the dotted line, the agent representing our builder looked at my partner seriously, pointed a finger at him and said: “You got her the house, now it’s time you made an honest woman out of her.”

I gave him a weak smile in response. The statement, though perhaps well-intentioned, was completely out of this century. Still, it made me consider just how much the trend has shifted in terms of the order of life’s traditional milestones.

A decade ago, my ultra-conservative and very traditional Portuguese grandmother might have erupted into histrionics while collapsing dramatically to the floor at the idea of me living out of wedlock – never mind buying real estate without a ring on my finger. When I told her in 2017 that M and I had bought our first home, she touched my hand tenderly and said, “Parabéns.” – congratulations. There were no tears or fear surrounding the cultural perception that came with me and M living together, just pride for our accomplishment in a landscape that makes it challenging for Millennials to get into the market to begin with.

According to two recent reports, we are not alone in choosing to buy a home before committing to matrimony. A study of homebuyers conducted by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 2018 found that less than half of Millennial first-time homebuyers surveyed were married, compared to Gen Xers based on a survey in which nine per cent of responders were first-time homebuyers.

A 2019 report by Pew Research Center substantiates this claim, noting that not only are Millennials less financially secure next to their predecessors, but the trend for getting married later in life has been going on for nearly two generations. Only 46 per cent of surveyed Millennials between the ages of 25 to 37 were married, compared to 67 per cent of Baby Boomers and 57 per cent of Gen Xers at the same age.

It’s not just the perception on marriage that’s changing, it’s the size of home desired by Millennials, too. First-time homebuyers are purchasing smaller homes, with 61 per cent having purchased a single-detached home in 2018. Long gone are the days of aspiring to own a home like the McCallister’s à la Home Alone: Pew Research Center notes that Millennials are experiencing a shift in priorities with a renewed focus on convenience and minimalism. McMansions are now a thing of holidays’ past, thanks to the mortgage stress test and the weight of student debt.

The emphasis on marriage before buying real estate isn’t what it once was. Call it a change in trends, a shift in priorities, or financial and emotional maturity. The only thing that is for certain is while we may be delaying exchanging vows, we aren’t giving up on our aspirations for homeownership – we’re just delaying the nuptials in exchange for the keys and the satisfaction of saying ‘home sweet home.’

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