Americans love their dogs. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), approximately 78 million dogs are owned as pets in America – or perhaps it's better to say that 78 million dogs own at least one American. Around 44% of all American households have at least one dog, and, according to the APPA, 35% of all pet owners fall within the millennial generation.
A recent Harris poll conducted for SunTrust Mortgage found that dogs play such an important role in millennials' lives that they influence housing choices. One-third of first-time millennial homebuyers (aged 18 to 36) surveyed said that having a better space or a yard for a dog played a role in their home-buying decision. That tops the percentage of respondents listing marriage as a factor (25%). Dogs were even considered a greater motivator than children (19%)! The need for more living space (66%) and the chance to build equity (36%) were the only factors that topped canines (33%) in their decision to buy a home.
All this makes sense to Dorinda Smith, President and CEO of SunTrust Mortgage. "Millennials have strong bonds with their dogs, so it makes sense that their furry family members are driving home-buying decisions."
Why not rent instead of buying? Smith adds, "For those with dogs, renting can be more expensive and a hassle; home ownership takes some of the stress off by providing a better living situation." A 2015 study by Trulia backs up this claim, finding that some landlords charge exorbitant pet fees (up to $427 per month in Washington, D.C.). Realistically, buying a home could be the better long-term economic option for pet households.
The survey found that dogs not only affect the decisions of first-time homebuyers, they also will affect the decisions of future homebuyers. 42% of survey respondents who had not yet purchased a home said that dogs would be a key factor in their choice of home, whether it's for the need to accommodate an existing dog or the desire to get one.
Why are millennials more likely to own dogs and let their hairy drool machines affect huge decisions? Millennials may be more persuaded by pets because they tend to wait longer for traditional milestones of adulthood like purchasing a home, getting married, and having children. Pets become a major part of the family, if not the entire family – thus, millennials have a strong desire to accommodate their pets' needs. As Smith notes, "Owning a dog is a natural step in making other huge life commitments."
The habits of millennials are of intense interest to the mortgage lending industry, since millennials make up the majority of first-time homebuyers (60% according to the survey). Given that many millennials are just now beginning to recover fully from the housing crisis and recession, SunTrust estimates that over the next five years, around 80 million millennials will enter the housing market. Rest assured that marketers are keenly aware of the influence fur babies have on millennials' home-buying decisions.
While millennials may want their dogs to have just the right environment, they must not be tempted to look only at the short-term ramifications. A pet is a long-term commitment, but a home may well be an even longer-term commitment – and it will certainly be a more expensive one. Don't sacrifice other important factors and choose a home that is perfect for Fido but not for you, either financially or functionally. Your dog will be just as happy playing ball with you in a slightly smaller yard.
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