The love story of Alex Gordon and Alexa Doering began on the shores of Wisconsin’s Fox River — two hearts meeting in the nation’s heartland, while working as servers in a local restaurant.
“We were just hardworking college kids at the time,” Gordon recalled. “On a break, I went to the restaurant’s banquet room, looking for extra food. She walked out of the kitchen, and I was stunned! I’d never seen her before, and I asked my pal, ‘Who the heck is that?!’”
Three years later, that encounter is a sweet memory for the couple as they plan their wedding for the fall, he said. They also recently became homeowners, finding a great starter home they just had to go after in the highly competitive housing market of their hometown, Appleton, Wisconsin.
“It’s just perfect for us,” Doering said. “We’re pretty much inseparable. We’re close to our families, we volunteer in the community together, we’re passionate about helping others, and we’ve adopted two dogs. Now, we have a backyard where they can run and play.”
As millennial first-time homeowners, Gordon and Doering, both 24, represent the present and future of the U.S. housing industry. Millennials ages 21 to 38 continue to be the largest share of the country’s homebuyers, according to the National Association of Realtors (PDF).
Though the homeownership rate among millennials has languished for years, there are signs the sleeping giant is awakening. In 2017, for example, a surge in millennial homebuying helped lift the overall U.S. homeownership rate for the first time in 13 years, U.S. Census figures show (PDF).
More recently, as millennials and other homebuyers have faced soaring prices and other hurdles to housing affordability, new research indicates the vast majority of homeowners are still glad they worked hard and overcame the obstacles to buying a home.
In fact, nearly all homeowners (95%) agree owning a house provides more ‘bang for your buck’ in the long run than renting, according to Wells Fargo’s “How America Views Homeownership” survey, conducted by The Harris Poll.1
Millennials share that commitment to homeownership, the study said. Ninety-five percent of millennial homeowners said buying their home was worth all the sacrifice to save for it, and 86% of millennials as a whole agreed the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Gordon and Doering said they definitely faced their share of homebuying adversity. They shopped around for nearly two years, looking at nearly 60 houses — sometimes making offers and being outbid along the way. They also couldn’t find a home lender they really liked, Gordon said. Then they finally met Philip Mears of Wells Fargo, and everything changed.
“I reached out to a lot of people — brokers, banks, credit unions, and others — and consistently, it felt like people were selling me something and telling me the house we should buy, not asking what we wanted,” he said. “Working with Wells Fargo and Phil Mears was entirely different. He took the time to understand our story and our background. He really cared enough to ask, ‘What can I do to make this easier for you?’”
“After all they had been through, when Alex got the green light they could go buy a house, he was just crazy excited. I went to the closing with them, and it was such a joy for me to be at the finish line and see them so happy. It’s one of the blessings of my job.”
— Phil Mears
Mears and his associate Joe Schwartz found a loan that was just the right fit for the couple, through Wells Fargo’s yourFirstMortgage® program, which is designed especially, but not exclusively, for first-time homebuyers. Features include a down payment as low as 3% and a closing costs credit for eligible buyers who complete a HUD-approved counseling or homebuying education course.
Since its launch in 2016, the loan program has taken off for Wells Fargo, drawing more than 61,000 customers and funding more than $13 billion in mortgage financing, according to company data.
Despite the couple’s student loan debt — a homebuying obstacle for many millennials — Gordon and Doering brought other positive credentials to the table, including good credit, favorable debt-to-income ratio, and solid employment. (He’s a business systems analyst for a financial services firm; she’s a human resources coordinator for a credit union.)
Mears remembered the day he called Gordon to tell him the couple had received preapproval for their home loan.
“After all they had been through, when Alex got the green light they could go buy a house, he was just crazy excited,” Mears said. “I went to the closing with them, and it was such a joy for me to be at the finish line and see them so happy. It’s one of the blessings of my job.”
For a young couple making such big decisions in their lives, Gordon and Doering showed tremendous grace and savvy under pressure, Schwartz said.
“They do have a lot of things happening in their lives,” Schwartz said. “It was so good to help them get their first home and become the first of their friends to do that. You could see the pride they had in that accomplishment. Now they’re planning their wedding, too. They were just awesome people to work with.”
Although their wedding is just a few months away — in the same local restaurant where they met — the couple has still managed to relax and enjoy the benefits of homeownership after renting an apartment — benefits that extend far beyond dollars and cents.
“The first thing we wanted to do was to take all those home improvement classes to figure out things like great painting techniques and other ways we could make this home our own,” Doering said. “We can cook over a fire in our backyard, let our dogs play in the yard, have friends over until 2 a.m. — without worrying about bothering someone in an apartment below. It’s a great feeling of the freedom of really being adults.”
1 Survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Wells Fargo between April 17 and April 29, 2019, among 1,004 adults 21 and older in the U.S., of which 211 are millennials (ages 21-38). The sample included 701 homeowners and 303 non-homeowners.