This is How Gen Y Will Revolutionize Housing

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Generation Y, the 80 million or so Americans born between 1979 and 1995, are expected to reverse the last 60 years or so of housing policy in the U.S.


One of the more persistent questions among housing analysts is how Generation Y, the generation of Americans born between 1979 and 1995 that currently totals roughly 80 million people, will change the makeup of the U.S. housing market, and whether those changes will, in turn, affect how real estate operations are conducted. Numerous studies and hypotheses on the subject have trickled out in recent months, but the Urban Land Institute (ULI) may have released the most authoritative survey on the subject. Bearing the rather grandiose title of “America in 2013,” the ULI surveyed more than 1,200 adults in early 2013 about their housing and lifestyle preferences, and the results suggest a pronounced change for housing in the coming years.

Housing Preferences in the Gen Y

Perhaps the most radical change that Generation Y homebuyers will likely bring to housing will be a return to walkable, dense urban environments. Though sprawl and large lots have defined housing in the U.S. for the last 60-odd years, ULI’s survey finds a much different outlook among Gen Yers:

  • For instance, regarding the density and walkability of an area, 62 percent of Gen Yers prefer mixed-use developments, and 76 percent place a high value on the walkability of a community.
  • Meanwhile, 40 percent of Gen Yers prefer city living, while 54 percent are renters.
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, 18 percent of Gen Yers used public transit for their commute to either work or school (compared to just 6 percent of all respondents). Furthermore, more than half place a high priority on their proximity to public transit, and 23 percent report walking to their destinations, the highest percentage among all generations.
  • Even when incorporating other generations, the aforementioned trends were largely unchanged: 61 percent of respondents prefer a smaller home that allows for a shorter commute to work; 53 percent want to live close to shopping; 52 percent prefer mixed-income housing; and 51 percent prefer access to public transportation.

A Return to Urbanism in the U.S.?

So, what does all this mean? Though ULI’s survey does not necessarily suggest an about-face for American housing – that homebuyers will immediately sell their suburban dwellings and frolic to densely packed urban environments – it does show, rather clearly, a definite shift in residential preferences among American homebuyers, one away from car-dependent developments and towards closer-knit, walkable environments, and likely a shifting perception among Americans of what a “neighborhood” looks like.

Such trends, though, are by no means news for Joe Siciliano, a managing broker for Coldwell Banker in Lakeview, who has been seeing young homebuyers  for years flock to Chicago’s North Side for its strong public transit network and relative proximity to their places of work.

“They’ve made the market better,” Siciliano said. “Instead of leaving to the suburbs, they want to stick around here. This is a great trend.”

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