It’s prime time for “18-hour cities”

It’s prime time for
“18-hour cities”

Big city amenities but “without the big-city headaches,”
millennials are flocking to places like Kansas City.

Big city amenities but “without the big-city headaches,” millennials are flocking to places like Kansas City.

Photo credit: Caroline Ghetes

Rise of the 18-hour city

When Amanda Wilson, 29, traveled from Cincinnati to Kansas to interview for a new job, her prospective employers took her out to dinner in upscale Overland Park, 12 miles southwest of Kansas City. While snacking on appetizers, her hosts asked Wilson about what sort of lifestyle she would like to lead if she moved to Kansas.

As soon as Wilson started telling them about her desire to live in a place with urban character where she could walk to breweries and restaurants, her potential new bosses said, “We have to leave here.” They paid the bill and whisked her away before dinner even arrived. They drove her to downtown Kansas City, an area called Country Club Plaza.

“It was just blocks and blocks of local shops mixed with major chains and tons of restaurants,” Wilson said. “We had dinner there at Jack Stack, a barbecue place. It’s the best. Really good food. I felt a lot more comfortable about Kansas City.”

It helped that Wilson’s prospective employers worked in real estate. They recognized that like many millennial homebuyers, Wilson was looking for a so-called “18-hour city,” one that is lively all day and into the night–but not all night like New York City, Los Angeles or other 24-hour cities. They understood her desire for a city vibe. After the second dinner, she took the offered job, as the new membership director with the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors®.

Kansas City and dozens of smaller cities around the country are attracting millennials who crave urban culture and the space they could never afford in a major metropolis. In these thriving urban centers, young home buyers are still able to find affordable single-family homes, as opposed to condos or apartments their income might limit them to in bigger cities.

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Kansas City offers everything you can get in some of the bigger cities without the big-city headaches.— Realtor® Christian Zarif

“It was just blocks and blocks of local shops mixed with major chains and tons of restaurants,” Wilson said. “We had dinner there at Jack Stack, a barbecue place. It’s the best. Really good food. I felt a lot more comfortable about Kansas City.”

It helped that Wilson’s prospective employers worked in real estate. They recognized that like many millennial homebuyers, Wilson was looking for a so-called “18-hour city,” one that is lively all day and into the night–but not all night like New York City, Los Angeles or other 24-hour cities. They understood her desire for a city vibe. After the second dinner, she took the offered job, as the new membership director with the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors®.

Kansas City and dozens of smaller cities around the country are attracting millennials who crave urban culture and the space they could never afford in a major metropolis. In these thriving urban centers, young home buyers are still able to find affordable single-family homes, as opposed to condos or apartments their income might limit them to in bigger cities.

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“Kansas City offers everything you can get in some of the bigger cities without the big-city headaches,” said Christian Zarif, a real estate agent and Realtor®–a member of the National Association of Realtors®–with Better Homes and Gardens Kansas City Homes. “It’s got an affordable cost of living, affordable housing and it really doesn’t have the traffic problems of a lot of cities.”

Like many 18-hour cities around the country, Kansas City offers an outsized sense of culture for a mid-sized metropolis. “We have a full-time, full-blown symphony performing in a relatively new facility,” said Zarif. “The Sprint Center downtown hosts national artists and tours. We have pro football, baseball and soccer teams and both minor league hockey and baseball teams. We find that a lot of millennials are moving here for that culture, and then they’re looking for a job.”

Healthy economies are characteristic of 18-hour cities around the country, which is why many millennials are willing to move to them without necessarily having work lined up. Wilson landed her job before she moved to Kansas City, but her fiancé, 27-year-old Zac Brewer, did not. “It was a little intimidating,” said Brewer, who left a management position in a downtown Cincinnati hotel. “I loved my old job.”

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But Wilson told Brewer about Kansas City’s diverse and stable economy. A healthy mix of traditional corporations and tech growth firms are headquartered in the area, including Sprint, Garmin, H&R Block, Cerner, Applebee’s and Hallmark. Add strong pharmaceutical, insurance, freight and agricultural interests and the local economy features a highly resilient base. “I knew I would find something good in Kansas City,” Brewer said.

He found work within fifteen days—ironically, managing the very restaurant Wilson had abruptly left on her interview—and the couple fell in love with the city.

“Every single person we met was so incredibly nice to us, strikingly nice,” Brewer said. “The neighborhood our real estate agent helped us find is literally perfect for us. It’s very eclectic. There’s tons of things to do.”

Zarif helped Brewer and Wilson find and purchase a two-story, three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom house in a neighborhood called Waldo. They looked at 25 houses in two days.

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“Her negotiation skills are what got us this house,” Wilson said of Zarif. Wilson’s own experience in real estate, taught her the value of working with the right person. “There’s just so much paperwork and language, you could end up in a bad situation if you didn’t have someone who knew what they were doing.”

Zarif thinks helping millennial homebuyers in any market requires a slightly different perspective. “With this generation it goes beyond a house. It’s more about lifestyle,” she said. “Where realtors can provide real value is in digging down to what kind of lifestyle people want. I can help educate them on different pockets of the city that fit what they want.”

Zarif said that a combination of income restrictions, high entry-level housing prices and a strong sense of community make millennials willing to invest in formerly declining areas bouncing back after years of decline with strong neighborhood characteristics.

“It’s cool to see these areas are being revitalized organically by an influx of these younger buyers, and they’re creating value for themselves with their investment,” Zarif said.

It’s cool to see these areas are being revitalized organically by an influx of these younger buyers, and they’re creating value for themselves with their investment.— Realtor® Christian Zarif

“Her negotiation skills are what got us this house,” Wilson said of Zarif. Wilson’s own experience in real estate, taught her the value of working with the right person. “There’s just so much paperwork and language, you could end up in a bad situation if you didn’t have someone who knew what they were doing.”

Zarif thinks helping millennial homebuyers in any market requires a slightly different perspective. “With this generation it goes beyond a house. It’s more about lifestyle,” she said. “Where realtors can provide real value is in digging down to what kind of lifestyle people want. I can help educate them on different pockets of the city that fit what they want.”

Zarif said that a combination of income restrictions, high entry-level housing prices and a strong sense of community make millennials willing to invest in formerly declining areas bouncing back after years of decline with strong neighborhood characteristics.

“It’s cool to see these areas are being revitalized organically by an influx of these younger buyers, and they’re creating value for themselves with their investment,” Zarif said.

Like other millennials flocking to 18-hour cities nationwide, Wilson and Brewer enjoy the space they have without sacrificing urban amenities. They walk to the restaurants and bars of Waldo and enjoy its walking paths and nearby parks. They ride bikes and ride-share to other pockets of cool in the city like Westport or Brookside, visit art installations in the Crossroads and make all-day events out of baseball or football games.

The couple next door has become their best friends—within six months, the foursome took an Alaskan cruise vacation, and now they regularly head out on the town together.

“It reminds me of a TV show,” Wilson said. “We’re just really happy here.”