Metro

Generation Boston

Homebuying a goal for many Boston-area young adults

About 20 percent of Boston young adult households are owner-occupied, compared to 40 percent nationally

Pete Early, a 32-year-old Charlestown resident, writes his mortgage check by hand every month.

His cable, insurance, and electricity bills are set to auto-pay. But writing the mortgage himself gives him a unique sense of satisfaction.

“I like knowing [the check’s] going toward something I own and not something I have to give back,” said Early.

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Sending in a mortgage check instead of a rent check each month is a goal for many Boston millennials, according to Zillow.com research, but fewer Boston young adults are meeting that goal than their peers across the nation.

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About 20 percent of Boston 25- to 34-year-old households are owner-occupied, compared to 40 percent nationally, according to the 2013 American Community Survey.

That’s not necessarily surprising; homeownership rates among young adults are particularly low in larger and costlier metropolitan areas, particularly in cities like Boston with large student populations, said Skylar Olsen, senior economist at Zillow.com.

In the Boston metro area, the median annual income of a first-time homebuyer was about $73,000 in 2014, the fourth highest in the country, according to Zillow.com research.

And yet, overwhelmingly, Boston millennials consider homeownership a goal they are determined to reach, according to a Zillow.com survey of Boston adults. Among the young adult renters polled, the majority said they were confident they would be able to eventually afford a home.

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“It was not a matter of if we were going to buy but when,” said Kristina Fenn, 32, who bought a home with her husband in Arlington earlier this month. “We weren’t in a rush.”

Of the Boston-based young adults polled by Zillow.com, 79 percent said owning property provides a person more freedom, and 66 percent said it’s the best long-term investment a person could make.

Those beliefs, and certain economic incentives for Boston-area buyers, may mean that millennial homeownership is changing in the area.

The city’s first-time homebuyers are putting smaller percentages of their monthly income in mortgage payments than in past years, and interest rates are much lower than historical levels.

First-time homebuyers in Boston spend a smaller percentage of their income on mortgage payments (26.3 percent) than the city’s renters do (34.1 percent), according to Zillow.com research. Mortgage payments, however, do not account for the sum total spent on homeownership each month.

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“A lot of what will push millennials into buying homes is the affordability angle,” said Olsen.

Home-buying affordability by metropolitan area
Percent of first-time homebuyer's monthly income devoted to mortgage payments in 2014
Los Angeles
50.7%
San Francisco
43.3%
New York
30.6%
Seattle
27.3%
Boston
26.3%
Denver
25.4%
Washington
24.0%
Philadelphia
18.1%
Chicago
16.2%
DATA: Zillow.com
Globe Staff

For many Boston young adults, the major barrier to homeownership is the initial down payment, said Olsen. The costs of living in the city — among them increasing rents, mounting bills, and steep student loan payments — make accruing a down payment challenging.

Early said he was able to contribute money inherited from family, in addition to his savings, toward his down payment of ten percent.

The city of Boston also offers a financial assistance program that give residents interest-free financing of up to 5 percent of the purchase price toward down payment or closing costs.

Kristen Sands, 32, had lived in Charlestown for almost six years when she participated in Mass Housing’s first-time homebuyer’s program, ultimately only putting 3.5 percent down on her property.

“There was no way I could ever have paid rent and saved 20 percent for a down payment,” said Sands.

With that assistance, she was able to buy a home just three blocks from where she rented. Her mortgage is just $100 more a month than her rent was, she said.

Sands said her relationship to the city shifted after buying her Charlestown home. She started paying more attention to Charlestown neighborhood meetings and became more interested in what was going on in Boston.

Of buying in the city, Sands said, “I haven’t regretted it once. I questioned it a few times at the beginning, but I’ve never regretted it.”

Catherine Cloutier can be reached at catherine.cloutier@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @cmcloutier.