When did $100,000 not become enough?

Castles in the Sand

Once upon a time if you were earning a six-figure salary you were sitting pretty. You could easily buy a home, make sure your kids went to the right schools and take that one family trip a year. Well, those days are over and have been for a while.

There has been a lot of talk about owning versus renting in the low inventory, high priced real estate market that has taken over most of the country. Some of the newly-minted renters are happy to be renters avoiding the responsibilities, cost and repairs of owning a home. But more and more high-earning Americans who would ordinarily own a home are renting.

In 2019 about 19% of U.S. households with six-figure incomes rented their homes. This is up from about 12% in 2006 according to the Census Bureau data. This increase is equal to about 3.4 million new renters who would have likely been homeowners a generation ago, and builders and investors of rental properties have taken notice.

Two of the largest single-family landlords in the country, Invitation Homes and America Homes 4 Rent, report that their average tenant earns $100,000 a year. These companies and others who are targeting this specific market say they like the high earners who aren’t interested in moving around and are willing to absorb regular rent increases and other financial blips in their lives. These are the people who previously would own a home.

Although a $100,000 income is still comfortably higher than the median household in the country at $63,179 in 2018, it’s still short to get into many homes. Americans today have more debt because of car payments, college loans, health care premiums and credit cards than their parents and grandparents who lived more prudently. Most middle-class Americans accumulated wealth by owning a home which was the great wealth leveler with half of the housing wealth owned by the middle class. This happened right after World War II when owning a home became the expected norm.

But norms change especially in real estate and young singles and families have no qualms about paying high rent for what their grandparents would have considered a waste of money. The danger here is that once you’re in an expensive rental it becomes harder and harder to save the 20% usually required to purchase a home creating a permanent renter class.

All of this said, there are indicators recently released by the Commerce Department that the number of Americans who own a home grew through the summer months. The homeownership rate modestly ticked up to 64.8% in the third quarter from 64.4% a year earlier. This number matches the highest levels in five years and is getting close to the long-run average of 65.2% of people in the country owning homes.

In addition, according to S & P Core-Logic Case-Schiller National Home Price Index, the average national home prices grew 3.2% in the year ending in August up slightly from 3.1% the prior month. And, of course, this is all on the background of still extraordinarily low mortgage rates staying below 4% in most regions on a 30-year, fixed-rate loan.

In the instant gratification world we live in, it’s not surprising that younger generations don’t care a fig about building wealth. That’s a concept so far down the road for many of them it might as well be in a different solar system. But I’m old fashioned, and it bothers me that homeownership may become a victim of the six-figure income. Say it isn’t so.

More Castles in the Sand:

Are condos the future of housing?

The ghosts of real estate

You found the perfect house; now what?