Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—have become the largest generation alive. And this generation that many predicted wouldn’t follow a traditional path, actually are: they’re buying homes. National statistics show that Millennials represent 40 percent of today’s homebuyers, and in Northern Michigan, most real estate agents put that number here at closer to 50 percent. However, they’re doing it their way. We take a peek into the habits (and quandaries) of Millennial homebuyers.

Today’s Buyers

Holly Hack, broker and owner of EXIT Realty Paramount in Traverse City, says half of her home buyers are Millennials, having surpassed Baby Boomers. “Millennials know what they want and when they want it,” she says. “They are savvy buyers. They make smart buying decisions based on research and market data that is readily available via the internet. They are great at making informed decisions.”

Ben & Rachel

Picking an Agent

“Even with all the technology available, that’s not to say that Millennials don’t see the value in being represented by an agent, quite the contrary,” says Meg Zammit, Realtor with Century 21 Northland in Traverse City. “They study the process and the numbers, but more so than ever, they want to be represented. They appreciate that guidance and expertise an agent brings, but they don’t want to be treated as if it’s too complicated to understand. They want a partnership.”

Kyle Smith, 31, and his wife, Kristen, 30, started their home-buying path in Harbor Springs with the apps Zillow and Realtor until eventually, they chose a Realtor who specialized in their price range. “The ability to receive alerts as soon as a home hit the market was huge,” Kyle says. “Especially in a market where you need to look at something ASAP and make an offer that day to have a chance.”

With the arrival of their son, Walker, and their dog, Stanley the Puppy, it was time for more space and their own home. The couple looked for six weeks and moved in three months after closing. They moved into a four-bedroom, two-bath home about halfway between each of their jobs.

Types of Homes

So, what kinds of homes are Millennials interested in? “In general, if they are single, they want to live in town,” says Mary McLain, a mortgage loan officer for Lake Michigan Credit Union of Traverse City, who has seen a steady uptick in Millennials seeking house financing this year. “Married and having children seems to send them out into the townships more. They are finding that once they have fur babies and human babies, they need yards and elbow room.”

She’s also noticed that most Millennials’ starter homes are smaller than those of previous generations. “Even the tiny homes are interesting to some of them,” Mary says.

Holly Hack sees Millennials leaning toward homes featuring the latest gadgets. “This generation appreciates Smart Home features such as Google Home, Nest and Ring doorbells,” she says. On the flip side, though, Holly says, they also seem to search for areas that flow together where guests and friends can gather face to face.

Financial Barriers

There are a few common barriers for Millennials in our area, according to Holly. “They may have a shorter work history, income limitations or want to live in downtown Traverse City where real estate prices are trending upward,” she says.

Meridith Lauzon, 34, of Traverse City, agrees that it’s tough to get a toehold in the housing market. “My parents and grandparents already owned a home before age 30,” Meridith says. “My husband and I are hard-pressed to think of at least five Millennial friends who own their own home.”

Anna & Billy

She and her husband, Richard, were able to buy their first home in 2011 because of a downturn in the economy. They bought a foreclosed three-bedroom, one-bath home near Chums Corner that had sat vacant for a year. Seven years later, they were able to sell it for twice what they paid, giving them the ability to invest in their current home near Mt. Holiday—a four-bedroom, two-bath with a walkout basement.

Kyle says his generation not only faces a tight housing market, but they are also saddled with student loan debt. “Our combined student loan payments are more than half of what our monthly mortgage payments are, and our student loan debt is ‘reasonable’ compared to some of our friends,” Kyle says, adding that they lived in a mobile home to save money for a down payment.

Another Millennial, Chelsea Bay Dennis, 38, purchased her first home in 2008: a one-bedroom (three-level) condo at Building 50 in Traverse City. “I was in my mid-20s, saw what they were doing with The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and was blown away by the reuse, the community and the other opportunities they were providing for conscious businesses like Higher Grounds, Left Foot Charley and Pleasanton Bakery,” she says.

Today, she has kept the condo as a rental property and lives in a three-bedroom home in Central Neighborhood, a move that came with the arrival of her daughter, Midori, now 4.

“The myth is that people think you have to be rich to have a house, but you don’t!” Chelsea says. “I’m not rich by any means! I just choose to direct my money differently and took a risk, knowing that it would come back around and be part of my financial future.”

Ben & Megan

The Future

Overall, it seems Millennials are finding their own path to homeownership. “Regardless of anecdotal and cultural comments about this group, I see Millennials as very fiscally responsible,” Meg says. “As a generation plagued by stagnant wages and the highest of student loan debts, they are more cautious with their timing.”

And is Gen Z right behind them? “Actually,” says Meg, “it will be really fascinating to see how Gen Z approaches home ownership and finances in the future, given their disposition to independence and autonomy.”