Observations on millennial home buyers and sellers

W.C. Fields knew what he was talking about, even 100 years ago. You can define a person (or a generation) however you choose. But each individual person accepts or declines that definition by their actions and attitudes. This is not a new truth.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many who technically fall into the millennial category do not find the moniker personally applicable. This was true of prior generations—Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers. Even those referred to as “The Greatest Generation” often decline to be labeled as such.

There’s a lot of talk (one might even call it “buzz”) about this generation—not just throughout the media in general, but also across the real estate world. Headlines like “Why More Millennials Are Finally Getting Into the Real Estate Market” (Washington Post, 6/7/17), “Millennials Drive Housing Confidence Higher” (CNBC, 3/7/17) and “Who’s Powering the Housing Market? Surprise! It’s Millennials” (NBC News, 6/5/17) are just a small sampling. Oh, and let’s not forget that earlier this year Zillow launched RealEstate.com—a website designed specifically for millennials looking to buy a home.

Over the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with eight couples that fall under the broad definition of “millennials.” One of those was selling their first home. Three of them were buying their second home. Two of them were new to our area, and one was moving back after several years away. And although our market is flush with townhouses—which one might expect to be a popular option among this crowd—all seven buyers bought single family homes.

As I surveyed my experience with these clients, I looked for common denominators. What were the repeated questions, attitudes or experiences? Were there any common threads? It may surprise you (or maybe not) that I couldn’t find any. I couldn’t come up with a single cohesive element in my interactions with these eight couples.

Well, I take that back. They all financed their purchases. None of my millennial clients made all-cash purchases, so there’s that. Also, none of them were demanding, none had overly high expectations, and all seemed truly grateful for the guidance of a professional. None of those seem related to the stereotypes about their generation, though. In fact, some of it seems counter to what we’ve been led to expect.

Peter Stewart was a seller client this past spring, and I asked him about whether he had done research about the process online. “Honestly, I didn’t research anything,” he responded. I asked if he had any concerns about the selling process, and he said, “I really didn’t know how the process worked or how listing prices were determined.” Finally I asked him if he had any insights for ways to improve the real estate transaction, to which he responded: “Nothing! The process was quick and easy!” Peter was easy to work with, he did everything I asked him to do, and it was a quick and easy process.

Nate and Morgan Sullivan are repeat clients of mine; I sold them their first home in 2010, then listed it for them when they moved away in 2015. As life often does, a job opportunity brought them back to Lynchburg, so I have the opportunity to work with them again. I asked Nate some of the same questions.

“We felt very prepared—we knew exactly what we wanted and what kind of home we could afford. Zillow proved to be a valuable resource for us in the fact that we were able to compare homes and prices. There were probably more homes in our price range than we had expected.”

This time around, we looked at four homes on a Thursday, and then one more on a Saturday. That home—which had been on the market less than a day—was the one they decided to pursue, and their offer was accepted Saturday afternoon. Having an understanding of the market and the need to move quickly prepared them to take advantage of a great opportunity.

Just out of curiosity, I asked Nate what the real estate industry could do to better serve the millennial generation. I found his answer interesting: “I think many younger adults today are looking for affordable, non-traditional homes. They want homes that are affordable and unique. There is so much potential to creatively revitalize spaces that have been neglected.”

One last note: both of these clients said they didn’t really resonate with the term “millennial,” but neither seemed bothered by it either. In other words, you can go ahead and call them that, but I wouldn’t expect them to answer to it.