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MILLENNIALS ARE HOMEOWNERS (IT’S TRUE): A MYTH-BUSTING SERIES (PART 3)

March 23, 2015 | By

There is a popular perception of America’s Millennial generation when it concerns homeownership: They’re not ready to be homeowners.

This may be because Millennials, young people between the ages of 18 and 34, are believed to have too much student debt, still live at home with their parents, and barely save enough money to be able to afford a home.

“Even if Millennials can afford to make a down payment, they are more likely to rent a home than to buy one,” says Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

The reason for this, he says, is that the idea of owning a home can be “intimidating.”

Or is it?

Contrary to popular belief, there are young people who are buying homes and living up to the big responsibilities that come with it.

The Home Story has spoken with three millennial homeowners, who have shared their journey of going from home hopeful to homeowner.

In this third and final installment, we meet Steve Sondheimer, a 28-year-old policy analyst for the Chicago Housing Authority who faced the decision to either move to Los Angeles or buy a home of his own in the Windy City.

Chicago is His Kinda Town

Chicago has always had a place in Sondheimer’s heart. The policy analyst for the Chicago Housing Authority first moved to Chicago by way of Phoenix at the age of 12. He grew up in the suburbs just north of the city and left for college in Washington D.C.

After getting his masters in Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he toyed with the idea of living in another city, like Los Angeles. But Chicago, the adopted city of his youth, had too much pull to keep him there.

“I really like this city,” says Sondheimer. “It’s easy, and it’s manageable, and all my siblings who went to college in the East Coast moved back. My family’s here, so I thought, you know, ‘might as well stay here.’”

Upon deciding to stay, he had another decision to make: whether to buy or rent an apartment. He didn’t think he was too young to buy — friends his age were also buying their own homes — and the idea of renting an apartment was becoming less appealing to him.

“I was ready for the next step in my life, to put down roots and feel like I have more of a stake in my community,” says Sondheimer. “Why rent when you can get a mortgage and pay toward that, rather than pay a rent check that disappears each month?”

The Apartment

Sondheimer’s chief request for the apartment he was seeking was that it have two bedrooms, as he had learned during his apartment search that in Chicago “two-bedroom apartments sell better than one.”

Another reason Sondheimer, a self-described extrovert, wanted a second bedroom was that he wanted to make one bedroom available for rent and have his own tenant/roommate.

But first came the fun part: finding the right location and style of apartment, which — as an urban planner with a love of architecture and design — was a process he really enjoyed.

“I knew I didn’t want something brand new,” he says. “I wanted something that was quirky, something that was unique, different.”

He downloaded an app from realtor.com to gauge what kinds of apartments were on the market and at what price points. He had a friend who worked as a real estate agent help him narrow down the right apartments for him at the right prices. He looked at Greystone buildings — a style of construction popular in Chicago from the late 1800s to the early 1900s — that had the classic architectural touch that he was seeking.

Ultimately he settled on a relatively modern residential building in Lakeview East that was constructed in the 1980s.

“I saw it, and it was kind of modular and just very interesting,” he says. “So I was like, ‘I could work with this’.”

Eye Toward the Future

His new apartment, a condo, had been on the market for a while (the original owner retired and moved to Florida before putting it up for sale), and there had been a few price cuts on it already.

He bought the apartment at a “manageable” price (Sondheimer declined to get into the specifics of the amount of his down payment and his mortgage). However, there was the matter of the kitchen, which was in need of remodeling.

“I worked with a contractor who was really good with basically maximizing your budget, get more bang with your buck. We did an Ikea kitchen, and it looks great,” says Sondheimer.

Kitchen aside, the apartment needed a few cosmetic touch-ups, like painting walls and replacing tiles in other rooms — but nothing that required drastic renovation.

He is now renting out his second bedroom to his former roommate from his other apartment (“I gave him first dibs”) and is learning about how to be a better handyman and landlord. “I’m good at putting space together, [but] not as good with handyman-type stuff,” he says.

For now, he sees himself living in his apartment for the next eight to 10 years. He would like to see his boyfriend move in with him soon, and is toying with the idea of having a kid or two of his own. In the meantime, he is enjoying the long-term commitment of homeownership.

“I guess I could have done this if I was renting,” he says, “[but] it’s just nice to feel that something is your own.”

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