House hunting, millennial style


Kacey Sullivan’s living room consists of a white futon with a black frame, a red-brown rocking chair, a red plaid armchair and a TV. The armchair is for her dog, Roo.

“When I get new furniture, I don’t want him on the new stuff so we brought his chair,” she said, gesturing toward the armchair, which has a folded light blue blanket laying on the seat.

Her focus shifted to the futon. “Right now it’s my couch,” she said. “And it works.” Once she gets new furniture, though, the futon will find a new home in one of the two spare bedrooms.

Sullivan, 34, moved into her new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house about two weeks ago. She had been renting a house for the past eight years. But with a promotion at work, she decided it was time to get something she could call her own.

She was promoted in July 2016, got pre-qualified for a home loan, and started house searching in September 2016. She had to scale back her search around the holidays because of her demanding work schedule, but started back up again in January. After looking at numerous houses – Sullivan lost track of the exact number – she decided she would just buy a new build.

“So I was like, ‘I’ll just build. Let’s just build and then I’ll get whatever I want,'” she said.

Millennials like Sullivan – people born between 1981 and 1997 – made up the biggest share of home buyers in 2016 at 34 percent, according to a National Association of Realtors study. Eleven percent of those millennial home buyers purchased new builds, just like Sullivan.

In Florida, buyers age 25 to 34 constituted 13 percent of home buyers, according to a Florida Association of Realtors study.

As a major force in the home buying economy, millennials are changing the game and Realtors are charged with keeping up. Millennials want a streamlined process, usually see fewer homes than older generations, and are more tech-savvy.

Ocala Realtor Christi McCall, with Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty, said she’s actually written contracts based off text messages with her clients.

With websites like Zillow, Trulia and HomeFinder, McCall said, millennials tend to come to her with a list of houses they want to see.

“(I) see no more than six to 10 houses with millennials over a three- or four-week period” on average, McCall said. “My older buyer can look for months and they aren’t in a hurry.”

Elisha Lopez, a broker and owner of Ocala Realty World, said while getting a start on home searching online is good, she often has to double-check the information her clients find. Sometimes a client will find a home they love online only to later find out it’s off the market.

“It’s our job as Realtors to educate them through the process and how the internet will help them find a home,” she said.

Sullivan relied on her parents and McCall to guide her through the home buying process. She remembers going to her mom with questions after getting her closing cost estimate worksheet.

“I went to my mom and said, ‘Can you tell me what all this is and why am I paying this?'” Sullivan said. “What are documentary stamps? What will they be surveying?”

Sullivan’s mom was also a voice of reason for her during the search. They would walk through a home and her mom would point out the maintenance and unexpected repairs the house might need in the near future.

Gary Merians, 28, also said his parents were a big help during his more than a yearlong home search. “My mom helped me through every step of this process,” he said. “She came with me to look at every house I went to and would go and look at houses for me when I couldn’t.”

Merians closed on his three-bedroom, two-bathroom house this month, moving in about a week ago. He lived with his parents for three years after graduating college and spent the past six months in a townhouse with his cousin.

“I decided to buy because I knew I wanted to live in Ocala long-term and buying made the most sense for me,” he said. “Buying a house is an investment which made more sense to me than renting.”

By living with his parents, Merians saved up more money for his future house than he would have living on his own.

McCall said budgeting and financial planning are characteristics of millennial home buyers. Even though about a third of the generation has debt in the form of student loans, they are good at making budgets and saving for what they need.

And their credit, McCall said, “seems to be immaculate.”

The National Association of Realtors study found that 85 percent of millennial home buyers said their purchase was a good investment.

When Merians bought his home, he was interested in the resell value.

“I wanted to be able to have a guest bedroom but two-bedroom houses will not resell as well as a three-bedroom, two-bath house,” he said. So he went for the bigger home.

Sullivan doesn’t plan on moving from her house and had a different reason for the three bedrooms: her family. She has nephews and nieces who live out of town and she wanted to have a place for them to stay when they visited.

“They would have a place to stay,” Sullivan said. “We could hang out, you know, slumber party. What kid doesn’t like a slumber party?”

For now, she’s prioritizing what furniture to buy for her new place: first, a couch; second, a new bed. She’s pacing herself so it doesn’t become overwhelming.

“It’s a work in progress,” Sullivan said. “People who really think they can go out and buy a brand-new home and everything out first, by all means, good for you. But to me it’s not realistic.”

Copyright © 2017 the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.), Katie Pohlman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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