THE NEW KIDSin town
Millennials—a group of roughly 72 million Americans born between 1980 and 1998—are a wildly diverse generation with a vast range of experiences, dreams and preferences. And nowhere is that heterogeneity more striking than among millennials who are purchasing their first home, a milestone that’s not only a huge financial decision, but also a deeply personal one.
There is so much nuance in what makes a particular buyer and their home click. And for many millennials, factors like their future neighborhood’s location, walkability and pet-friendliness are crucial when it comes to settling somewhere permanently.
To explore what millennials, diverse as they are, want most when purchasing their first homes, The Washington Post BrandStudio and the National Association of REALTORS® teamed up to understand what millennials are looking for when it comes to choosing a neighborhood. The findings reveal priorities that are, in many ways, unquantifiable—which is why even tech-savvy millennials benefit from working with REALTORS®, members of the National Association of REALTORS®, rather than simply combing through data on websites and apps.
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We want a neighborhood with a robust younger crowd that’s racially, culturally and politically diverse. We’re looking for a nice mixed bag.
Nikus Allen, 29, and Gina Allen, 30, are currently on the hunt for a home in Central Florida, and above all they’re looking for diversity. They’d like to be in a neighborhood with a “robust younger crowd” says Nikus, and one that is racially, culturally, and politically diverse. “We’re looking for a nice mixed bag,” he says. “I don’t want to be an echo chamber of my own.”
Orlando’s booming market means that competition is fierce, and the couple have leaned heavily on their real estate agent and REALTOR®, Valencia Martin, to help them expand their search to places like up-and-coming Brevard County. “She knows exactly what we are looking for in a neighborhood and house,” says Gina. “I can't imagine doing this without her.”
Orlando encourages and embraces diversity.
REALTOR® and agent Valencia Martin says many of her millennial clients are drawn to Orlando because of its culture of inclusivity. “Orlando is a diverse, multi-cultural destination,” Martin says. “Thousands of people from all over the world come to Orlando each year.”
“Orlando encourages and embraces diversity through its programs, policies and initiatives,” she adds, “which makes it an ideal place for millennials to become educated, find careers and buy their first home.”
There is great walkability and bikeability in Memphis.
Vonesha Mitchell, 38, bought her home in Memphis by herself—which meant she needed something low-maintenance. “As a single woman, I wanted to live in a condominium,” she says. Most of all, she needed a space that would be comfortable and accommodating for her five-pound Yorkshire Terrier, Worship.
Mitchell settled on a pet-friendly first-floor apartment in downtown Memphis, with a backyard that is close to the Mississippi River. Living in Memphis has been a homecoming of sorts for Mitchell, who lived in the city for a while during her childhood. Since then, the city has changed in ways that meet her current lifestyle; her home is close to local restaurants and entertainment, as well as the riverfront, where she walks with Worship across Big River Crossing, the longest active pedestrian bridge in the United States. But she is active even if she doesn’t have Worship in tow. “There is great walkability and bikeability in the area,” she says. “I am close to work and the places I go most frequently in the city.”
We do more than open doors and write contracts. We are the heartbeat of the city, because we drive the streets and show homes every day.
REALTOR® and agent Keira Chatman says her younger clients want to buy in up-and-coming areas where they can put TLC into a home to make it sing. “Many want to use a home as an income-producing asset if they decide to move out of town or build another home in the future,” Chatman says.
While those savvy first-time buyers may do robust research online ahead of time, Chatman says there is simply no replacing what a REALTOR® brings to the equation. “It is pivotal to work with someone who knows the local area inside and out,” she says. We do more than open doors and write contracts. We are the heartbeat of the city, because we drive the streets and show homes every day.” This means that agents, like Chatman, can help potential homebuyers select a neighborhood in Columbus that’s right for them. Millennials looking for a community defined by entrepreneurship and innovation would be directed to the Weinland Park or Southern Orchards areas, while those looking for a diverse neighborhood that feels like a “melting pot” could look in Franklinton or Olde Town East.
We were looking for the same vibrance as [an urban area], while also feeling like we owned something and could make our own.
Amy Landino, 35, runs her media and lifestyle company from her newly-purchased Columbus-area home, which she shares with her husband, Vincenzo. “We have two media companies between the two of us,” says Landino. On any given day, she might be recording a podcast in one room while her husband livestreams a virtual event for a global corporation in another. “A big, big, big factor for us when we moved was getting more space,” Landino says.
Before buying their current home, Landino and her husband were long-time renters of an apartment in Columbus’s downtown. So they sought out a neighborhood that had the same “vibrancy we were getting in the urban core, while feeling like we owned something and could make our own.” They got the best of both worlds with Central Columbus, which is going through a renaissance, says Landino. Her neighborhood is booming with shops, small businesses and restaurants. And during the pandemic, she and her husband have developed an even deeper appreciation for their house itself, not just the area. “Our generation is often choosing where to purchase based on the city or location, but COVID showed us you’ve got to really like your home, too,” Landino says.
Our downtown and midtown areas have a lot of older properties that are being renovated, being recreated and being re-dreamed.
REALTOR® and agent Michelle Hayes Thomas has found downtown Memphis to be a particular draw for millennial homebuyers seeking an up-and-coming neighborhood steeped in history. “Our downtown and midtown areas have a lot of older properties that are being renovated, being recreated and being re-dreamed, really,” she says, noting there are plenty of restaurants and even a local trolley line. “Millennial homebuyers just have a new vision for those areas.”
Part of her job, she says, is to know the local market so thoroughly that she can point millennial homebuyers to the hidden pockets and gems an app or website simply cannot recognize.
You're never far from outdoor adventure, or you can easily live and work right in the heart of downtown.
Rebecca Winebrenner, 27, says the area around Boise holds great appeal to nature enthusiasts like her and her husband. “You can find almost anything here. You're never far from outdoor adventure, or you can easily live and work right in the heart of downtown,” she says.
When the couple hosts out-of-town guests, they continually note the awe in their voices as they take in the breathtaking natural landscape, in such close proximity to the city scene. “People are surprised that you can live a ‘country’ life or have more of a city-focused lifestyle in Boise—with ease,” Winebrenner says. “You can have both if you want, without being house poor.”
Boise is littered with spots to fish, hike, bike on the greenbelt and ski.
REALTOR® and agent Michelle Bailey says millennial homebuyers flock to Idaho’s Treasure Valley in the Southwestern part of the state because there’s so much to do. Boise, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, “is littered with spots to fish, hike, bike on the greenbelt and ski,” Bailey says. “Within 20 minutes of Boise, I can do any of these things.”
None of the millennial homebuyers she has worked with recently grew up in the Boise area; they all relocated, attracted to the unique mix of city life and natural splendor. “Millennial homebuyers are looking for a lifestyle,” she says.
The area is growing quickly and is culturally diverse. There is also another set of gay dads in the neighborhood who we are really close with.
Chad Royse, 33, didn’t grow up in the Columbus area, nor did his partner, James. But the couple, who have a 2-year-old son, were drawn to its up-and-coming feel. “The area is growing quickly and is culturally diverse,” says Royse. “There is also another set of gay dads in the neighborhood who we are really close with.” The two young families adopted their children at the same time, and living nearby to provide plenty of support to each other was a “huge reason” why the pair opted to buy where they did, Royse says. Plus, their neighborhood has many of the benefits that are usually reserved for a suburb, like quiet nights, friendly neighbors and kids playing outside.
For Royse, moving to Columbus was a long-time dream. Growing up in “super-small-town” Ohio made him yearn for the city, and that’s what Columbus has always represented for him. “I remember driving through downtown when I was younger, and being awestruck by all of the lights. I knew then that the Columbus area would be a great place for me and my future family.”
[Millennial homebuyers] are able to put in a full day, then unwind with a run or a bike ride through the picturesque Boise Foothills.
Jeffrey Wills, a REALTOR® and agent in Boise, says that the shift to working from home—which started even before COVID-19 caused stay-at-home orders—has motivated many of his millennial clients to consider Boise. “I’ve worked with clients whose jobs have headquarters in Los Angeles, Seattle or New York. They stay on and work from Boise, because the cost of living is a lot less,” Wills says. (Overall, Boise is 67% less expensive than Los Angeles; 66% less expensive than Seattle; and 80% less expensive than New York.) They are able to put in a full day, then unwind with a run or a bike ride through the picturesque Boise Foothills.
And because millennial homebuyers have their sights set not just on a home, but also a particular way of life, the process can be quite emotional, Wills says. “You never know who is going to be across from you as a buyer or seller,” he explains. “A real estate professional needs to help the transaction move along and to give merit to the emotions.”
At the top of millennials’ desired traits in a neighborhood is an easy commute—some 56 percent of millennials surveyed said it was a “very important” factor in their home search, much higher than any other age cohort in the study. And 32 percent of millennials said they are looking for a place where they could easily work from home—a number that will likely grow as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to transform the nature and scope of remote work in this country. As those millennials navigate an uncertain world, and embark on a new phase in their life, they are looking to buy into homes and neighborhoods that allow them a sense of flexibility and work-life balance, day to day.
The millennials surveyed were also far more likely than baby boomers to say they want to live in a neighborhood that offers plenty of community-based activities, like block parties and service opportunities. They want neighborhoods that are up-and-coming, too, and offer a growing number of shops, restaurants and housing options. And in a sign that many millennial home buyers are settling down, more than half of those surveyed said that buying in an area with “great schools” was a top priority.
[With millennial homebuyers] there is more talk about walkability, commute times and access to green space.
Sara Briseño Gerrish, a REALTOR® and agent in San Antonio, says first-time homebuyers are drawn to San Antonio for its abundant parks, fields and trails, which make it easy to work from home (or close to home) and still get outdoors daily. With millennial homebuyers, “there is more talk about walkability, commute times and access to green space,” she says. “They don’t want to spend most of their time in the car. They see [it] as a waste.”
San Antonio’s millennial homebuyers often come to her with a strong sense of their particular wants and needs, like proximity to inviting outdoor and community spaces, as well as that relatively short commute, so one of her roles is to help vet and validate the research they’ve done so they actually get what they’re looking for. “Every transaction is different in the details and it is up to us to help that buyer guide the process,” Briseño Gerrish says.
Our community is being revitalized in a way that honors its past. You can see the many cultural influences that have shaped who we are together.
Al Arreola Jr., 36, says his reasons for wanting to become a homeowner are rooted in tradition: “I’ve been a long-time believer of the American dream,” he says. As president and CEO of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, he is deeply committed to everything his hometown has to offer. He worked with REALTOR® Sara Briseño Gerrish to find a home near a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with her deep expertise of the local housing market, Briseño Gerrish was able to secure Arreola a “steal of a deal,” he says. Arreola is also a true millennial when it comes to his desire for an easy commute, which is easy for him to achieve in San Antonio. He rarely drives on highways, opting instead for a different mode of transportation altogether: “I own an electric scooter that I like to use to get around the neighborhood.”
During his time in San Antonio, Arreola Jr. has watched the city develop while retaining the essence of what makes it so special. “Our community is being revitalized in a way that honors its past. Throughout the 300 year history of San Antonio, you can see the many cultural influences that have shaped who we are together.”
In San Antonio, you get the live music, you get the bars and you get the hometown feel in a large city.
REALTOR® and agent Marquis Williams says millennials are attracted to up-and-coming cities like San Antonio because it provides the vibrant mix of restaurants, shops and wellness opportunities they crave at a relatively affordable price. “In San Antonio, you get the live music, you get the bars and you get the hometown feel in a large city,” Williams says, but at a fraction of the cost of neighboring Austin.
That can be a particular sticking point for millennial homebuyers, many of whom have some level of student loan debt—46% of younger millennial home buyers and 38% of older millennial home buyers had student debt last year, according to data from NAR. “A lot of millennials are, of course, dealing with student loan debt, credit card debt, or they’re trying to start anew,” Williams says. They’re looking for affordability as well as an appealing daily lifestyle, and being in an up-and-coming city like San Antonio manages to check both boxes.
Boise still has a bustling energy, but at a fraction of the cost.
Antonio Robinson, 40, lived in California’s Bay Area for roughly 15 years, and loved its vibrant culture. But when it came time to buy a home, he and his wife prioritized one thing: family. The pair moved to the Boise because they craved “more” for their 4-year-old and 8-month-old kids: more space and more quality time together as a family. Robinson and his wife now both work from home, which eliminates commute time. (Robinson is a small business owner who consults with private medical centers and works as a health coach; his wife works remotely for the company that employed her in California.)
Above all, the move has given them space and balance. The city still has the bustling energy that Robinson wants, but at a fraction of the cost of what they had in California. And saving money on a lower cost of living has allowed them to spend more time in their neighborhood than they were able to in San Francisco; the family is able to actually get out and enjoy the local restaurants and shops, when they’re open.
“We wanted to have a better life for our kids,” says Robinson. “We were tired of the rat race.”
Columbus offers a truly unique mix: New homes provide convenient access to shops and restaurants, and farmland is just 20 minutes outside the city.
Katie Crocco, a REALTOR® and agent in Columbus, says the city offers her millennial homebuyers a truly unique mix: They’re generally drawn to the area’s new homes, which are efficient, move-in ready, and provide convenient access to the city’s shops and restaurants—or they’re craving wide open farmland, which they can get just 20 minutes outside of the city. That variety means millennial homebuyers don’t need to compromise when it comes to building the kind of lifestyle they’ve dreamt of.
But the local market for first time homebuyers can be crowded, Crocco says, which is why her job as a real estate professional is to know exactly when homes will hit the market. “There’s stiff competition in Columbus,” she says. “You have to have an agent to be on top of things.”
Because San Marcos isn’t over-saturated, it’s the perfect place to grow.
Mattison Bills, 29, says work was the top factor that led her to the greater San Marcos region. She runs a small food company, Three Six General, which sells locally-sourced meats and condiments. San Marcos offers her convenience at a fraction of the cost of nearby Austin. “It is truly the perfect location for distribution, located directly between Austin and San Antonio,” Bills says. She also relishes the opportunity to be on the forefront of the area’s burgeoning food and retail scene. “Because it isn’t over-saturated, it’s the perfect place to grow.”
An added bonus? The area offers an active, easy-going lifestyle, so when Bills is not working, she can really relax. “We are incredibly lucky to live in a bikeable city, with a spring fed river that’s 72 degrees year-round,” she raves.
It's a very social lifestyle in Orlando. Anything that's walkable and where people can bring their dogs, that's the lifestyle they want.
Cecille Rodriguez, a REALTOR® and agent in Orlando, says that “everyone is looking for something that's pet friendly,” since 37 million millennials own pets and they take those pets very seriously when looking to buy a home. That means they seek out plenty of wide, safe sidewalks and a community that embraces animals. Rodriguez says many of Orlando’s outdoor restaurants, breweries and cafes are open to pets.
“It's a very social lifestyle in Orlando,” Rodriguez says. “Anything that's walkable and where people can bring their dogs, that's the lifestyle they want.”
I have lived here all my life and I am so excited to see what is going on in and around the city...There is always something fun to do.
Amanda Lott, a REALTOR® and agent in Memphis, says that above all else, first-time home buyers in Memphis want to live in a neighborhood brimming with a sense of liveliness and community. “Memphis is an amazing city, but especially right now. I have lived here all my life and I am so excited to see what is going on in and around the city,” Lott says. “There is always something fun to do.”
But that makes Memphis a highly competitive market. “We’ve had low inventory for a couple years now and properties in hot areas are often in multiple-offer situations in the first few days, or hours,” Lott explains. “Having a real estate agent who is a REALTOR® in your corner is critical to ensure you have the best chance possible at getting that house.”
Every time we go out for a walk, it seems like some new, cool spot is opening up.
Matt Lamb, 30, and Caitlin Murphy, 28, recently purchased a townhouse in the South Main Arts District of downtown Memphis, and they cannot imagine living anywhere else. “Downtown Memphis is experiencing a renaissance right now, and the South Main Arts District is the heart of it,” Murphy says. “New coffee shops, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, hotels—every time we go out for a walk, it seems like some new, cool spot is opening up.”
In many cities, that lifestyle comes at a steep price, but the couple says affordability was one of the main things that attracted them to the area. “Our real estate agent did a great job helping us find something that checked all of our boxes,” they say. “Within our budget, plenty of parking, no crazy HOA fees and within walking distance to all of our favorite spots.”
The city is so widespread that there is a pocket for everyone...singles, art enthusiasts, LGBTQ+, sports fans, science buffs, thrill-seekers—and everyone in between.
Lemar Scott, 30, says that as he enters a new decade in his own life embarks on his home search, he finds himself torn between two different identities: he wants to be in a bustling, young community, but he also appreciates all that classic suburban neighborhoods have to offer. He is centering his home search on Orlando-adjacent Ocoee, which offers greater affordability and more space, but is still a part of the action.
After all, Scott—who hails from Brooklyn, New York—is a true city boy, he says. And as a single, LGBTQ+ buyer, diversity of all kinds is important to him. “Orlando carries a huge family-centric crowd, but the city is so widespread that there is a pocket for everyone...singles, art enthusiasts, LGBTQ+, sports fans, science buffs, thrill-seekers,” he says, “and everyone in between.”
All of these traits indicate that millennial homebuyers aren’t just looking for a house or an apartment. They’re also seeking a particular lifestyle, the exact contours of which depend so much on their particular aspirations and needs.
But data doesn’t tell the whole story behind what millennials want from a neighborhood. Real-life perspectives from actual homebuyers—as well as the real estate agents who are also REALTORS® that guide those purchases—give clues into how this generation is choosing where they live.