First-time millennial homebuyers willing to wait for Florida's market to cool

A home sale report for September shows greater Hartford is not showing the signs of a typical housing recovery. (Dreamstime/TNS)  1243546
A home sale report for September shows greater Hartford is not showing the signs of a typical housing recovery. (Dreamstime/TNS) 1243546
Published Nov. 13, 2018

Stephen Sutton and his girlfriend would like to buy their first home. For a year, the couple has been scouting Tampa Bay neighborhoods and assessing prices.

Weary of apartment living, they want their own space, maybe a backyard, said Sutton, a 29-year-old data analyst from St. Petersburg. Their top priority, however, is making sure it's a good investment, something they might parlay into an even better home five or so years down the line.

Like many other millennials, they don't want to get in over their heads. They remember the fallout from the Great Recession. How hard it was to find good jobs. How far home prices plunged.

"We are willing to wait six months, even a year to make sure we get a good deal," he said.

That encapsulates why the housing market appears to be cooling: More buyers, especially the all-important first-time buyers, are willing to hang tight. They think prices might fall a little in coming months, making it easier to take the home-buying plunge.

Sutton is part of the massive subset of millennials in their late 20s, just a few years shy of the typical age for buying a first home. Surveys show about the same percentage of them want to own a home as baby boomers and GenXers. But like most generations of first-time buyers, they are price sensitive and wary of market whims.

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Just how many are willing to wait? Here's one way to look at it. Almost 80 percent of millennials who own homes think it's a good time to sell, a recent survey from ValueInsured found. But only 38 percent of would-be purchasers in that age group think it's a good time to buy, down 8 percentage points from a year ago.

Such a wide gap in attitudes swings the pendulum toward buyers. It could result in more starter homes on the market, but with fewer buyers willing to pay current prices.

And it's not just millennials. Nearly two-thirds of Floridians interested in buying a home plan to wait for a "meaningful correction" in prices before pulling the trigger, the survey found.

"Florida buyers are savvy," said ValueInsured founder and CEO Joe Melendez. "Many have been hit hard by the cyclical nature of the market and have learned their lesson to take advantage of a down cycle."

The Dallas-based company sells insurance to protect against declining home values, so it has an interest in making people aware that prices can fall. That said, the findings jibe with other recent looks at the market, including how homes aren't selling as quickly.

Frank Liscio III, 33, and his wife hope to close this month on a Victorian-style home in Tampa Heights, just north of downtown. They had the advantage of already owning a smaller home in nearby Riverside Heights, which they plan to sell.

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Still, they had qualms about buying into a hot market.

"We were very reluctant," said Liscio, who works in the recruiting industry.

Liscio and his friends were just starting out in their careers when the market crashed a decade ago. It was a heavy "dose of the real world," he said. Thrift wasn't so much a choice as a necessity. Even recently, as his financial prospects improved, Liscio used the same small bottle of face lotion for more than a year, dabbing on only the very minimum.

"We make enough money that I could use a little more face lotion," he chuckled. "But it's a big mind-set change, even bigger when it comes to buying expensive things like houses."

Most of Liscio's friends don't own homes. They either didn't have the financial means or didn't want to take the risk. Now, even if they want to buy, most of them are nervous that prices have peaked, he said.

"Everybody is thinking, "Okay, let's wait for things to go back down, because we don't want to buy too high and then the house puts us under."

That growing patience has helped buyers get an upper hand in what has been a sellers' market.

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Contact Graham Brink at Follow @GrahamBrink.