ORLANDO, Fla. — Madeline Clark wasn’t quite sure she was ready to become a homeowner yet — especially given today’s inflated real estate market.

But after seeing her floor plan advertised online for $655 more in monthly rent than what she’s currently paying, Clark realized she might not have much of a choice.

“At the end of the day, am I saving money? Am I going broke moving?” Clark said. “Based on the way houses are flying off the market, it’s probably going to be lucky to break even one way or the other.”

What You Need To Know

  • Many millennials looking to buy homes because of surging rents

  • But in Orlando, homes are so pricey that it can be tough to afford to buy

  • Millennials applied for home loans more than any other group in 2021, CoreLogic data shows

  • The trend is not true in Orlando, which is less affordable than many metro areas

It’s a question lots of millennials are weighing right now, as rent prices skyrocket across the Sun Belt and homes fly off the market at thousands of dollars above asking price. Although more millennials applied for first-time home loans than any other group last year, Orlando wasn’t their top destination, CoreLogic data shows.

That’s because in general, millennials — people born between 1981 and 1996 — have more buying power in more affordable markets than Orlando, according to CoreLogic. The group’s study also found millennials prefer to buy homes in metro areas where more high-tech job opportunities are available. 

San Jose, Calif.; Austin; Seattle and Pittsburgh were the top four metros for would-be millennial homebuyers last year, with millennials comprising at least 60% of each city’s home-loan application pool. Conversely, metro areas in Florida and Arizona saw the lowest percentage of millennials applying for home loans: in Orlando, millennials accounted for just 44% of all applications.

Weighing the options: To rent or to buy?

For Clark, Orlando’s spiking rent prices were the deciding factor, bumping up her timeline to become a homeowner. She was also worried she wouldn’t find anywhere she could afford that would accept Mooch, Clark’s beloved American staffy mix, a breed that is often restricted by residential communities or banned entirely.

But as she’s learned these past few weeks, finding an affordable place to buy in Orlando can be just as tricky as finding one to rent.

“What I'm looking for is something that I can reasonably afford and reasonably maintain,” Clark said. Her ideal price range is between $200,000 and $240,000, she said, and she’s been approved for different loan types: conventional and FHA (Federal Housing Administration).

Still, nailing down an affordable place of her own hasn’t been easy. Clark said so far, most of the homes she’s lost out on have gone to buyers bidding as high as $100,000 above asking price.

“That’s something I can’t compete with,” Clark said. “I don’t have a bucket of cash just lying around to go offer people.”

Clark’s realtor, Jelanie Nuñez, explains the current “seller’s market” also impacts rent inflation.

“There’s not a lot of houses out there, so it gives them the opportunity to raise rents,” Nuñez said. “There’s such low inventory and rentals, as well as homes to purchase.”

Without rent control, there’s no legal cap to how high rent can go. But the Orange County Board of Commissioners is set to discuss possible ways to stabilize rent increases at its next public meeting on April 5. Ahead of that meeting, county residents are encouraged to email commissioners with their own stories of rent hikes.

'Profit over people'

Clark knows, generally, rent prices tend to be higher in her Baldwin Park neighborhood than some other parts of the city. But still, she doesn’t feel the $655 rental increase she saw advertised online is fair — especially, she said, since her apartment community didn’t make any significant improvements over the past year.

Ultimately, if she were to stay another year, Clark’s lease renewal shows she’d actually have to pay $430 more per month than her current rate: a 22% increase. 

“It’s almost like profit over people,” Clark said. “I don’t believe that’s what the Orlando community is, and I don’t believe that’s the path we should be going down, either.”