Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who Doesn't Want to Own a Home?

by Rachel Bogardus Drew
Post-Doctoral Fellow
In a previous post, I described recent research about drivers of decisions to own homes, with emphasis on the role of behavioral factors. That research confirmed that there is a widespread and deep-seeded preference for homeownership in the U.S., founded largely on beliefs in the benefits of owning, such as wealth development and better outcomes for children. Yet for all homeownership’s assumed advantages, 35 percent of households still rent, and of them, 20 percent report no intentions to buy in the future. This begs the question: who doesn’t want to own a home? Some follow-up research on this topic seeks to answer that question.

We know from my prior research that some demographic groups are less likely to expect to own in the future, including whites, older renters, those with lower incomes, and those without families (Figure 1). Even after controlling for personal characteristics, though, race, age, and income remain important predictors of future tenure intentions; renters over 55 years old, for example, are 28 percent more likely to always rent relative to those under 35 years old. Yet regression analyses based on demographic variables alone can account for only about 10 percent of the variation in renters’ future tenure plans. Thus we must consider some attitudinal factors when seeking to understand what drives intentions to rent for the long term.

Note: Sample includes renters ages 25-64 who plan to move in the future. Bars are the % shares of each socio-demographic subset within the sample that expect to always rent. All characteristics were significant in regression analyses of intentions to rent (results not shown).
Source: Fannie Mae National Housing Survey, June 2010-December 2012.

There are many reasons why someone might not plan to buy a home in the future: perhaps they prefer the flexibility and convenience of renting, which not only allows them to change residences easily but also frees up money that would otherwise be used for a down payment to invest or spend on other needs and desires. Or they may doubt their ability to qualify for or afford a mortgage, and thus do not consider owning to be an option. Or maybe they are pessimistic about the likelihood of receiving many of the assumed financial and personal benefits from owning, particularly given recent events in housing markets.

The same survey data that yielded only weak results with respect to demographic differences in renters who do not intend to buy homes in the future also includes some questions about their preferences and reasons for renting. When asked the primary reason why they currently rent, for example, a third of renters that plan to always rent said they enjoyed the reduced hassle and stress of renting versus owning. Yet when asked why they do no plan to own in the future, financial constraints were a more common response than lifestyle benefits (Figure 2). Specifically, more than half of renters said a major reason they do not intend to buy is because they think they cannot afford it or their credit is not good enough. A similar share, when asked in 2010-2012, said they did not think it was a good time to buy. Reduced maintenance, flexibility to move, and other opportunities for investment, meanwhile, were indicated as a major reason by less than 40 percent of respondents who plan to stay renters in the future.

Note: Bars are the % shares of the sample expecting to always rent that report a major reason they do not own. 
Source: Fannie Mae National Housing Survey June 2010-December 2012.

These results suggest that about a third of renters, or 10 percent of all households, rent because of lifestyle and personal preferences. That their reasons appear to be largely idiosyncratic, rather than systematically related to their personal characteristics, further indicates that those who rent by choice do so in spite of strong social biases towards ownership that encourage the remaining 90 percent of households to view owning favorably. More than half of lifetime renters, however, see their tenure options as constrained, either by their own financial circumstances or by macroeconomic conditions. With mortgage lending remaining tight, home prices rising in many markets, and income growth still sluggish (especially for low-income households), these renters are unlikely to change their tenure plans anytime soon. 


  1. The people that use these reasons have never owned a home in a good economy when they experienced doubling their money when they sold.

  2. People can give many reasons for not owning a home, but there are some you may have missed. I think another reason that people rent is because owning a home is a taking a big step forward. Also with renting, you can move if you picked a bad neighborhood. Selling a house is more work than just finding another place to rent.

    Veronica Perry @ First Fairway Realty