In an age when consumers go online to order groceries, download music and book plane tickets, it’s no surprise they do the same at the start of their house hunt.
That’s the route Julia, 30, and her husband took when planning their move from Atlanta to Manhattan last summer. Knowing they wanted a two‑to‑three-bedroom home with a doorman, washer/dryer and gym in the building, they plugged their needs into several real estate search engines and explored from afar. Once they got a feel for what was available and their move-out date became more of a reality, they contacted a real estate agent.
“Because we had not found the right fit, we asked him to step in and show us some things we may not have seen, or that were coming on the market soon and we wouldn’t have seen online,” Julia said.
This is not news to agents, who say clients often do extensive homework online before seeing physical properties. “You have a much more well-informed buyer,” said KJ Kohlmyer, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate in San Francisco and member of the National Association of Realtors®. “People do a lot of research.” In fact, 89 percent of prospective homebuyers use a mobile search engine at the beginning of their research, and throughout the process, according to a National Association of Realtors® study.
Online house hunting is just one of the myriad forces shaping today’s housing market. Technological advances have encouraged the growth of apps and websites that equip consumers with more information. And social and economic changes are driving a desire for urban living, walkability and housing that accommodates a quick commute to work.
Though today’s house hunters are well-informed, a real estate professional can help them navigate the process more easily than they would on their own, Kohlmyer said. “A good agent can bring everything to the table,” he said. “There can be Byzantine-like local aspects that are not widely known.”
Today’s homebuyers value “experiences over things,” said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraiser and consulting firm. “They are in love with the new urbanism trend that has been in place since the financial crisis began. Urban living, walkability and close-knit communities define the experience many in this generation aspire to be part of.”
Homebuyers today are seeking both urban conveniences and a sense of community—but price pressures and a desire for more living space are motivating them to look outside cities for this holistic living experience. Home prices in the Boston metro area have increased from $389,000 to $421,000 in two years. It’s a similar story in Denver, where prices jumped from $310,000 to $384,000.
“Beginning in 2015, we began to observe a flight to the suburbs in urban markets as this generation grew impatient with falling affordability,” Miller said. “Renters are becoming first-time buyers, and trade-up buyers are being drawn to the suburbs.”
These complex dynamics are driving changes to suburban enclaves that were once entirely dominated by automobiles and set apart from downtown areas and the workplace. Many suburbs are reducing auto dependence by introducing retail and office spaces into residential neighborhoods; rerouting traffic patterns; constructing sidewalks and trails; and incorporating more public transit options.
Suburbs are increasingly offering conveniences and the sense of community that goes with having retail outlets and restaurants nearby. A National Association of Realtors® survey found that 58 percent of respondents favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods over those that require more driving between home, work and recreation.
New, multi-use, pedestrian-friendly communities are popping up in places like Waverly in Charlotte, N.C., which offers 400 apartments and 150 single-family and townhomes anchored by a 40,000 square-foot grocery store and a 250,000 square-foot retail complex.
Retrofitted older suburbs are also being transformed. Mashpee Commons in Massachusetts is a mixed-use, walkable community that was built on the site of a former shopping center.
Sonia, 31, and her husband decided to buy a home outside New York City last year. Since they both worked in Manhattan, they were looking for areas that were easily accessible, and a town that was walkable. They settled in picturesque Pound Ridge, minutes from Stamford, CT.
“We were looking for towns that had an upstate feel but were easily accessible to New York City,” she said.
It’s clear that financial necessity and love of urban conveniences are driving millennials to the suburbs. “This generation is redefining the traditional suburban housing market,” Miller said. “And they are just getting started. Pent-up demand will likely be unleashed on the suburbs over the coming years.”