They're the generation that graduated into the Great Recession and the one that has held more jobs than any other age cohort. And just when they were beginning to get hold of their financial footing, a pandemic swept in and put their progress on pause.
But millennials are nothing if not resilient. Despite repeated financial setbacks and stronger economic headwinds that were out of their control, millennials continue to comprise the largest share of homebuyers in the U.S.
According to new data from the National Association of Realtors, people born from 1981 to 1998 made up 43 percent of all U.S. homebuyers last year.
Compared with Gen Xers (born from 1965 to 1979) — 22 percent of whom are homebuyers, according to the Realtors group — and baby boomers (born from 1946 to 1964), who make up 29 percent, millennials are pouring into the real estate market.
That's in part because of the size of their cohort, about 66 million. And there is strength in those numbers: Millennials have been the largest homebuyer cohort since 2014.
"It's a trend we've seen over the last couple of years, and we saw even more this past year," said Brandi Snowden, a senior analyst with the National Association of Realtors, who pointed to 2020, when millennials comprised 37 percent of people looking to buy homes at a time when purchase activity had increased during pandemic lockdowns.
Given the financial hurdles they have faced, how have millennials been able to put together the means to buy homes? Experts say some have an ace up their sleeves: parents with cash on hand.
According to the National Association of Realtors, 25 percent of homebuyers ages 23 to 31 received down payment help as a gift from a friend or relative. It's a figure that has not changed much since at least 2014, when 26 percent of all millennials, then aged 33 and younger, reported having received their down payment as a gift.
"Millennials have income, but they can’t do down payments," said a former president of the Atlanta Realtors Association, Cynthia Lippert, an associate broker at Ansley Real Estate near Atlanta. "However, many have baby boomer parents giving gifts for down payments."
Lippert said some parents are increasingly willing to shell out to get their adult children across the homebuyer finish line, even if it means the kids have to compromise on the types of homes they buy.
“Every single millennial I’ve worked with has baby boomer parents in their ear,” she said. “They’re telling them the win is getting into a home, and they’re having to relinquish their desire to have that home be perfect.”
The realtors association confirms that the share of older millennials using proceeds from their first home to finance a new one reached 32 percent last year — a new high that suggests there are long-term benefits to millennials getting parental help on their first home purchase.
Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, the owner and managing broker of Prestige Realty Group, based in Miami, estimates that 25 percent of his millennial clients have help from their parents when they purchase homes.
They would be considered lucky, he said, because the majority of millennials have still not been able to save up enough money to buy homes.
"The first thing is getting to the bracket of 'am I able to buy in the first place?'" Rodriguez-Tellaheche said. "That’s the main problem. A lot of millennial buyers are not saving. A lot are still working paycheck to paycheck. They're getting income, but it goes in and out, and they're not able to save up enough to give 20 percent down."
Data from the National Association of Realtors indicate younger millennials ages 23 to 31 have been able to put down a median of 8 percent of the purchase price toward homes, while older millennials are putting down a median of 10 percent.
Despite the small down payment numbers, banks are lending — and at generous terms, even as mortgage interest rates rise, Rodriguez-Tellaheche said.
"Just as long as you have the credit and have been at your job for over a year or two years, banks are looking to lend," he said. "We have not had issues with coming up with the financing."
Even as more millennials become homebuyers, evidence suggests many are still paying rent every month.
Among the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., people ages 25 to 34 made up no more than 11 percent of homeowners in 2019, according to the most recent available census data.
A study released in December by RentCafe.com found 49 percent of millennials are homeowners. That is still far less than the number of Gen Xers and baby boomers who own their homes (71 percent and 78 percent, respectively).
"The share of millennial homeowners has increased in the last five years, reaching 49 percent in 2020," Michelle Cretu, a communications specialist with RentCafe, said in an email. "However, that's not enough to make them a 'homeowner generation.'
"The majority of millennials are still renters — about 51 percent — the largest share of all cohorts."