I see America changing every day when I talk to home buyers. American’s expectations about housing are switching rapidly from the “American Dream” of Mom, Dad, kids and a house in the suburbs, not as much because of the financial decay of the last three years, but rather because the current generation of Home Buyers, the so called “GenY”, has moved away from the highly conformist expectations of their grandparents – the “Baby Boomers” – to a highly diverse, multicultural, multidimensional society.
The Baby Boomers experience, viewed as a cultural event or milestone, has had more impact on American society, real estate and home ownership than any other event in American society since the Civil War. Boomers were raised with these expectations and typically only owned three or four homes in their lives – this is the generation that had mortgage burning parties when they paid off their homes and built a pool.
The Gen X’ers, the children and grandchildren of the Baby Boomers, never fully adopted the lifestyle of their elders. This is the generation that came of age in the boom years of the 80’s and 90’s. This generation used credit cards, car loans and mortgages like no generation before. This is the generation the treated their homes as Piggy Banks and expecting to buy low and sell high on every home they would ever own and they expected to own a lot of them too! Gen X’ers as a group expected to stay in multiple homes for short periods – three to four years max – disposable lifestyles. Their generation is much smaller then the “Baby Boomers” as a group but has had a disproportionate impact on the housing market. While these Gen X’ers have had an immediate short term negative effect on housing and the American Economy as a whole, the effect on real estate will be short term because this is a small generation. The dramatically different “Generation Y”, aka “The Microwave Generation”, influence is already being felt on the real estate market and the economy as a whole.
“Generation Y” is much larger than the Gen X’ers and has a completely different agenda. Financially, socially and educationally, Gen Y is dramatically different than either of the two prior generations of Americans. Gen Y is much more likely to have an IRA or a 401K than either of the earlier generations and at a much earlier stage in life: Baby Boomers expected a pension, Social Security and the equity in their home to carry them through retirement; the Gen X’ers expected to flip houses to infinity and beyond with minimal reserves and limited funding of retirement accounts.
“Generation Y’s” effect on housing will be as dramatic as that of the post World War II baby Boomers or greater. The Y’s are happy to not own a home any time soon if at all. It’s more important to the Y’s to have flexibility and cash. This is a generation that has student loans like no other before but that’s because as a group they view education not as just as important but imperative to their lives. Lifestyle choices such as access to services, an elegant downtown – clubs and shopping – is more important than owning a home. Y’s as a group are looking for housing that meets those criterion rather than a quarter acre lot and a three bedroom house.
Sure, Generation Y’s expect to own homes, but it is not an urgent first order of business as it was for their parent and grandparents. Generation Y’s perspective on real estate ownership is colored by their willingness to rent. (Sixty plus per cent of renters want to own their own home someday according to a recent survey by PulteCorp.) The Y’s interest in savings is reflected in the much higher contribution rates to IRA’s and 401K’s than either of the prior generations combined with their much higher student loans and need for “a lifestyle” that is more cosmopolitan and focused on convenience than the Generations of “Boomers” and “X’s” that came before them.
By Dick Thackston CRB, ABR, ABRM
Broker NH, MA & VT