Personal Finance

Dogs trump marriage, kids for young buyers of first homes

Key Points
  • 33 percent of millennials between ages 18 and 36 said that they considered dog-friendly features such as a fenced yard as a huge factor in buying their first home.
  • 25 percent cited marriage and 19 percent said the birth of a child.
  • More millennials are joining the house hunt, with 80 million expected to buy their first home within the next five years.

Millennial-age American are prioritizing their furry best friends over nuptials or babies when it comes to house hunting.

To that point, 33 percent of millennials between ages 18 and 36 said that they considered canine-related features, such as a large fenced yard and dog-friendly neighborhoods, as a huge factor in buying their first home, while 25 percent cited marriage and just 19 percent said the birth of a child, according to a SunTrust Mortgage survey.

A desire for more living space (66 percent) and building equity (36 percent) were the only factors higher than considering their dog's needs when buying a home, according to the survey.

The survey also found that 42 percent of millennials who had never bought a home said that their dog, or the desire to have one, would be a key factor in their decision to get on the property ladder.

Some may find the survey results surprising, but Rachel Wingard, a millennial first-time home-buyer, says the results signify that millennials are thinking practically.

"People were surprised at the dog statistic but it shows a level of responsibility that you're caring for a living thing," Wingard said. "It's hard to think about children when you don't have any, and owning a home doesn't necessarily make marriage more plausible."

While it can't be confirmed that more millennials are dog owners, compared to other generations, owning a dog is a natural step in making other huge life commitments, said Dorinda Smith, president and CEO of SunTrust Mortgage.

Another factor for pet owners seeking their own place is that rental apartments are more restrictive when it comes to those furry friends.

"Some rental properties don't allow pets and most rental properties are limited in space," Smith said. "There's also additional effort in keeping a dog in rental apartments."

For example, in high rises, you have to leave the apartment, go on an elevator and then probably go out to a small confined dog-area space, versus a homeowner who just needs to let dogs out through the backdoor, which is a lot easier, Smith explained.

Many of the features first-time home buyers and dog owners are looking for in a house (big, fenced yards; walking-friendly neighborhoods; close proximity to a park; etc.) can also coincide with those of first-time home-buyers expecting a child, Wingard said.

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The study found that 60 percent of first-time home buyers are millennials. SunTrust officials expect that, within the next five years, 80 million millennials will embark on their house-hunting journey, said Smith of SunTrust Mortgage, noting that she believe many young people held off on such purchases during the financial crisis.

But now they — like Wingard — are finally ready to buy a house.

"My husband and I thought we'd buy a home earlier, but we fell into the millennial group that when we were saving up to buy a house, the housing market crashed," she said. "We found ourselves in a group that was gun-shy for buying a house."