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Homeownership: Dream or Fantasy?

It is my dream to own a home that I love, but what used to be an expected step in adulthood every day seems more and more like a fantasy. Only a decade ago, the average home price nationwide was around $275,000. Today, it’s $417,700 — with Atlanta’s average home price a bit below, at $390,000. To be able to afford a $400,000 home, your household needs to make about $125,000 a year, something I am far from achieving on my own.

Luckily, I have a partner who wants to share a financial future one day, and our combined incomes make up enough to afford that. But then we’d have to have enough liquid assets for a down payment: on the low end, five percent of a $400,000 house would be $20,000. Even with persistent saving, my and my partner’s savings accounts have only dwindled due to taxes, car maintenance, healthcare, student loans, and other emergency expenses that we can’t afford with our non-saved income. It is within my five-year plan to own a home by 30, but it feels the uphill battle becomes steeper and steeper with every year — especially coming from a financially fraught background. Neither of my parents own the homes they live in, and they couldn’t afford to loan me the cash for a down payment.

For as long as I have been working, I have been saving. I budget every dollar so I don’t spend beyond my means. I have a college degree and a salary, a serious partner with the same, and no kids. If I am doubting my ability to own a home in these supposed near-perfect conditions, how the hell is anybody else my age who isn’t in these increasingly rare conditions expected to be able to?

It feels like we’re in a particularly bleak financial time, but I recognize that home ownership has always been somewhat challenging. The homeownership rate for 26-year-old Gen Zers is 30 percent according to Redfin — still lower than the 35.6 percent of boomers who owned at 26, but not overwhelmingly so. In fact, the homeownership rates for 19- to 25-year-old Gen Zers are actually higher than they were for millennials and Gen Xers when they were the same age, likely due to the low mortgage rates of the pandemic. 2024 is also likely to be a more affordable year for homebuying than 2023, with mortgage rates dropping from over eight percent in October to 6.8 percent in mid-January.

My struggles and financial anxieties are not exactly new, taking out a loan for a home has always been a huge financial risk, and the future isn’t completely hopeless (as long as you ignore the existential threat of climate change, but that’s a discussion for another day). But it is hard to feel like my dreams are so mundane and simple — I don’t want a mansion, I don’t want acres of land, I don’t want to be famous or wealthy or influential — and yet still so difficult to attain. I want to invest my money into an asset instead of throwing it at a lecherous landlord who doesn’t care about me or my family. I want a place that is mine. Is that too much for any of us to ask?