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Changes in life stage are assumed to be a key catalyst for home buying decisions, especially for younger shoppers. Millennials are notorious for delaying life choices like getting married and having kids. Ali Wolf, director of economic research for BUILDER sister company Meyers Research, recently looked into how millennial homeownership varies by location and marital status.

The housing industry has been waiting for a full rebound in the homeownership rate among young shoppers. The homeownership rate for those under 35 averaged 40.8% in 2000, peaked at 43.6% during the housing boom in 2004, and remains depressed at 37.5% today.

With marriage often assumed to be the ticket to owning a home, Meyers Research collected data on top metros across the country to look for commonalities in millennial homeownership. As expected, the average homeownership rate for a married millennial in top metros is 60% compared with 43% for those not married.

Of the markets with the highest share of millennial homeowners, six of the top 10 are in the Midwest, and select markets in the Southeast and Northeast also have relatively high rates of ownership. Five markets show a homeownership rate for married millennials over 70%: Indianapolis; Greenville, S.C.; Detroit; Cleveland; and Minneapolis.

However, focusing on changes in life stage without considering affordability can be misleading. The areas with the largest share of married millennials don’t necessarily correspond with the highest homeownership rate for the cohort. We calculated the spread between married and unmarried millennial homeownership rates and found a clear distinction related to affordability. For example, of the top markets, Cleveland has the largest spread between married and unmarried homeownership rates and has the lowest home-price-to-income ratio* of 1.6, according to Zonda. The markets with the smallest spread are among the most notoriously expensive in the country.

Of the 10 markets with the highest home-price-to-income ratio, two challenge the idea that affordability is the sole driver: Portland, Ore., where the spread is 24%, and Denver, with a 21% difference. Both have a home-price-to-income ratio of 4.1. Going past affordability, these outliers present more questions: Where are the jobs? Where do people want to live? What can you get for the price? Are the homes large enough for a growing family to justify the price?

“These questions force our team to figure out the subtleties of each community ... to determine how deep the demand is at a given price,” says Tim Sullivan of Meyers Research. “Life-stage catalysts like marriage and having children are extremely important, but we also have to consider what else drives the purchase decision.”

This research reiterates the need for increased and modified new-home offerings, concerted efforts by economic development councils to bring in more high-paying jobs, and that life-stage factors are a part of an even bigger puzzle to analyze demand.

*Meyers Research assumed the household income for married millennials is simply doubling the single income in a given metro. Meyers used the calculated married income to determine the home-price-to-income ratio. Generally, a ratio of 2.5 to 3.0 is considered reasonable.