Berkshire Business Outlook

Finding balance: Millennials would rather rent than buy

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LANESBOROUGH — The home that Rachel and Michael Boroneic bought makes them a bit of an anomaly: These millennials purchased a fixer-upper.

Meanwhile, many of their contemporaries are renting. And area realtors say if members of the millennial generation decide to buy, they want a turn-key property.

For many of these 20 and 30 somethings student loan and credit card debt are getting in the way of what was once a key part of the American Dream — home ownership.

For millennials a home is "not necessarily a wealth building strategy. It is just a place to live," said Rolf Pendall, co-director of Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Homeownership in urban and rural parts of the country is usually different, Pendall said. In urban areas it's more likely that millennials will be unable to afford to buy, he said. In many rural areas, like the Berkshires, the housing stock tends to be older so renting often means living in a place as it is.

"The option of renting is just really unappealing in lots of parts of rural America generally," he said.

In Pittsfield, Mayor Linda M. Tyer has said 43 percent of the city's housing was built before 1939, which makes many homes in the city nearly 80 years old.

Rachel Boroneic, 30, said the couple wasn't looking for something sparkly and new when they decided to buy.

"We were ready to have some bigger space," said Rachel, who is the front of house manager at Mission Bar + Tapas on North Street in Pittsfield. The Boroneics lived in two different downtown Pittsfield apartments before deciding to buy. "We are looking at this as our forever house. That's why we are putting so much love into it."

Their three-bedroom Lanesborough home sits on about an acre of land, part of which they use for a garden. The basement doubles as an art studio for Michael.

Rachel said the couple paid between $150,000 and $160,000 for their home, which needed its chimney re-pointed. That damage had deterred other buyers, but the Boroneics did the repairs themselves.

"We have a lot of handy people in our family," she said.

She said they spend about $1,000 a month to live there, which is nearly the same amount they paid to rent an apartment on Wahconah Street.

ATTRACTED TO DOWNTOWNS

Employees of two apartment management firms said that they find millennials are attracted to downtown living. They also said the area's aging housing stock can be an asset, if it is well-maintained.

Craig Barnum, of CT Management Group, which owns hundreds of apartments countywide, said his organization is always looking for a solid older building that it can renovate to make new again.

In 2013, Barnum''s group renovated the former Notre Dame School building on Melville Street in Pittsfield, adding modern appliances and finishes. The project wasn't done specifically to appeal to millennials, but half of the building's current occupants are in that age range.

"There is a certain charm in historic old buildings," he said.

Chelsea Dyer, a leasing agent with Teton Management Corporation, which rents numerous properties to tenants throughout the Berkshires, said the majority of the millennials she has rented to want to be downtown.

"They are definitely here," she said. "Most are looking for something that is cost effective," typically $600-$900 a month.

The 25 year-old Dyer relocated here from Illinois in 2014. During that transition she noticed more older units, which she likes to describe as having "vintage charm," and fewer newly constructed apartments.

It is difficult to pinpoint how many millennials have transitioned from renting to buying.

The Berkshire County Board of Realtors doesn't track the age of its home buyers, but anecdotally

local real estate agents said they are working with more millennials that are interested in buying.

Realtor Waterfall Perry of Jan Perry Realty & Associates, who sold the Boroneics their home, said all the other millennial clients she's worked with wanted homes they could move into without the need to fix or upgrade anything.

"That's not always easy in Berkshire County as a lot of homes are older and outdated," Perry said. "However, if a seller can freshen up the house with new paint, update the kitchen counter tops and make a few improvements to the bathroom, then a home can look appealing to a younger buying crowd."

But Jordyn Mason said she wasn't overly concerned with location. Having been denied a loan to buy a home she was more interested in finding an apartment that fit her budget and her aesthetic.

"I wanted something nice but was affordable and it's pretty tough to find around here," she said.

The 23-year-old Fitchburg State University graduate found a one-bedroom apartment at the Notre Dame Apartments in Pittsfield that she rents with her boyfriend, Mitchell Scace. They split the $1,095 month rent, which includes all utilities.

"I honestly couldn't have moved out without my boyfriend," said Mason who had been living with her father. "I do have student loans and that's basically another rent payment."

Prior to signing a lease, Mason, a digital marketing specialist for Greylock Federal Credit Union, said she considered buying a two-family home, with the intention of living in one unit and renting the other. But she could not afford to do that. Despite solid credit, Mason said she was denied a mortgage because she is carrying $55,000 of student loan debt.

"I think it's kind of sad," Mason said. "I work at a bank. Our financial institution wants to offer loans to millennials, at the same time millennials can't get approved because of student loan debt or credit issues."

Mason said she is over the disappointment of being denied a loan. She is settling into the place she now calls home.

"It's been great. It's so nice to be on our own," she said. "I think it is starting to feel like home, officially."

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo


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