Owensboro’s millennial home buyer rate continues to raise eyebrows

Owensboro's millennial home buyer rate continues to raise eyebrows

Owensboro’s continued place on a list of U.S. cities attracting millennial home buyers is once again attracting media attention.

A Tuesday article in Business Insider titled “Forget New York — Millennials are flocking to these 11 U.S. cities in droves” named the city a “surprising entry” on its list, which also included such destination metro areas like Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Calif., and Seattle.

Then on Wednesday, Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper picked up on the story.

“Um, what?” quipped C-J reporter Taylor Riley. “Yep, we were as surprised as you are that the riverside town of 60,000, located just over 100 miles from Louisville, is considered one of the top places in the country.”

Owensboro, Ky., was the second smallest city on Business Insider’s list, only trailing Athens, Ohio, with a population of just under 24,000. But even Athens, home to Ohio University, makes some sense, as it’s a college town and a short driving distance from Columbus.

In addition to personal-finance company SmartAsset and real estate analytics firm RCLCO, the article (Business Insider’s most popular by press time on Wednesday) used Ellie Mae’s Millennial Tracker, where Owensboro has been listed as a top American millennial home buyer town for several months now. Data there fluctuates on an almost daily basis, but on Wednesday, millennials accounted for about 45% of the total number of home mortgages settled in the area.

That’s down slightly from the 48%, where Owensboro found itself earlier this week. Bowling Green makes that list, too, though, with an average 46% Wednesday afternoon.

Historic District in downtown Owensboro.

Cities such as Louisville are actually losing their millennials at a rate of about 1% per year, according to RCLCO. That study, which only polled 50 metros nationwide, found that upper midwestern cities and border towns like Louisville tend to attract the fewest young people.

So why Owensboro? Well, the answers are a bit complicated.

City leaders and economic development experts say continued infrastructure investments and downtown appeals are driving millennials to Owensboro. Mayor Tom Watson has said time and time again that both attracting and keeping young people in Owensboro is among his top priorities.

But while public and private investments have likely had at least some effect on young adults, the data seems to point more to the pocketbook.

Below-average home prices and better access to high-paying jobs are what continue to keep Owensboro on lists like these. City Commissioner Jay Velotta, who is also an Owensboro real estate broker, said federal housing loans are making already low home prices a steal.

“Average home prices in Owensboro are below the national average,” he said, “and there are many financing options available to first time home buyers such as low down payment and many government insured loans offering low interest rates.”

Of those home mortgages included in the Millennial Tracker data, appraisals were $50,000 less than the national average and $100,000 less than the average price other millennials were paying. Plus, more than 50 percent of the mortgages are Federal Housing Administration-insured, keeping down payments and closing costs low.

Additionally, there’s a 50/50 split between home buyers that are single or married, but the average age is a little less than 28 years old.

Velotta said what leaders like him need to focus on now is ensuring that the millennials stay put, and that’s where infrastructure projects become key.

“I feel it is essential that we continue to make efforts to attract and retain millennials by striving to provide the best community opportunities with everything from arts and entertainment and meeting quality of life expectations such as parks and recreation and a solid infrastructure including essential services to ensure a safe and healthy community,” he said. “The best and most recent example of the millennial impact was the effort to attract Lyft to the community by the Chamber Young Professionals. Just one example of a community working together for the better good of all.”

Watson said he’s interested in possibly hosting what he called a “Welcome to OBKY” party at the Owensboro Convention Center at some point to ask millennials what their reasons for coming were, because the reasons can vary so much. What’s important, however, he said, is that the data shows that — no matter the reason — young people have found a reason to stay at least for a while.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “And the recognition is, too. They think enough of our little community to plant roots here. But how long will it last? That’s what I want to know. How can we make it last?”

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