Congrats! You’re a millennial. You more likely than not started your career, or were only a few years in, when the Great Recession hit. You’re strapped with student loan debt, and now you’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve got maybe some savings, not enough for a down payment on a house, and just the idea of owning something might be inducing anxiety. What a time to be alive?!
With the above in mind, I like to torture myself, looking at property advertisements that I can not afford. (Full disclosure, this is also probably the reason I am slightly obsessed with Netflix’s, Selling Sunset.) Being a renter, I dream about one day owning something in the city, or maybe a little further afield with charm and character. My daydreams are dashed however, when I see the prices in my own city – Amsterdam – a 2-bedroom P.O.S for 600,000 EUR; no thanks. It’s even worse when I look at London or its fancy surrounding Home Counties.
I have few friends in Europe, or the US for that matter, who own the place in which they reside. It seems we are the lucky majority, the perpetual renters. There honestly never seems to be enough money to go around, and what extra we do have has been earmarked for a retirement pot, or a literal rainy-day fund, for life’s unexpected snafus. (If 2020 taught us anything it’s that this year is one, big-ass snafu). And most of us, without the luxury of help from our parents, or having a sweet six-figure salary, simply cannot afford the current prices being flaunted to us.
Enter, my favorite Instagram property porn website, CheapOldHouses
Instagram, your commission-free, real estate agent
CheapOldHouses, run by Ethan and Elizabeth, focuses mainly on the American property market – houses under $100,000 – forgotten in time. They have branched outside of the US recently, and are now offering humble homes in Europe as well – rejoice!
Since 2016, the couple have been on a mission to repackage the American dream, “you don’t actually need to buy a million-dollar house and go into extreme debt to live a satisfying and beautiful life,” explains Elizabeth, the co-founder of Cheap Old Houses. Elizabeth, a historic preservationist, believes the newfound interest in buying “fixer-uppers” is that millennials are a design savvy generation who want something with heritage that no one else will have, and simply have been driven out of the property market in larger cities.
And while you may scoff at the idea of the “avocado toast” generation buying older property to fix up, they are a real force to be reckoned with. According to data from the National Realtors Association, millennials are set to outpace other generations as homebuyers in 2020 (these are pre-COVID numbers of course).
They’re looking for houses they can purchase – many are well aware that renovations alone may cost them another $100K if not more in the long run – but are interested in paying cash, driving down debt, and not being strapped with the burden of a six-figure, 30-year mortgage. They know the boom times of the economy are not guaranteed and now much of their livelihood as the age is dependent upon them.
They’ve also found their money can go further in the smaller cities and towns than big cities with their high rents. After so many years of not knowing their neighbors – legit, I had no idea the names of my neighbors the entire time I lived in Prague – they want a sense of community, a neighborhood, and want to bring their hipster coffee, brunch and ideas with them.
Your house is but a click away
Even before COVID-19 made viewings difficult, we began to see more and more houses being purchased online. According to National Association of Realtors, 81% of millennials found their home online, and a further 35% – according to Redfin – brought their home sight-unseen. My husband actually did this many years ago when he lived in England, basically camping in his own flat when he actually saw what he bought (it was a fixer-upper).
For the generation that dates online, streams weddings online, and purchases everything they need online, buying a home and getting a mortgage online is just, well, natural.
Where to next? Cheap Old Houses are of course, not for everyone. Plenty of millennials want sleek, and modern, but what has become apparent is that few can afford that, and many are rethinking what it means to be a home owner. With remote working become much more of a norm, my bet is that this type of affordable housing is here to stay.