Monday, August 19, 2013

Minnenials Love that City Life

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a potential real estate buyer come sit with me in my office and tell me what she wanted in a new (or different) home. Normally buyers are not exactly sure what they want, I have sent many of them home with a pad and pencils, and the assignment to have a glass of wine and write down what they want in their next home. But mostly there are only two kinds of buyers, ones who already live in the area and are moving up or down; and buyers from out of town who now need to be in the area due to retirement or a job change. These buyers may also be moving up or down, but they generally don’t know the area, home prices and tax rates, (or even the local amenities, golf courses, marinas and quality of the schools), so they need information and almost always, hand holding. What brings this topic to mind is an article in the current Fortune magazine which takes the position that the demand for a home in the suburbs is dying: The End of the Suburbs. The article goes on to say that the suburbs were “ground-zero” for foreclosures and short sales and that the urge to own a large home on a large lot has waned. More and more buyers are choosing to move back into the cities. The story cites homeowners distaste for long commutes, the growth of suburban crime (and conversely less urban crime), the social aspect of having many nearby neighbors of all heritages, and the ability to walk to services and restaurants. Since WWII the United States population shift has been from the cities out to the suburbs, but now according to the author, that tide seems to be reversing. Even though the American dream of home ownership--meaning a cute house with a picket fence and enough lawn to toss a football or room for an outdoor play set, is still in the majority--there are families who are turning their backs on that lifestyle and are opting for a city based condo or apartment, or perhaps more of a planned unit development. Those who practice conspicuous consumption and live in a McMansion, or have a fancy waterfront home, or maybe an honest-to-goodness mansion--if they really want to flaunt their wealth--probably will never change their minds and join the smaller-is-better group. But there may be a trend here and it's worth watching. As I look at this trend, I assume that the shift here is really a generational shift, and not a “hey I have an idea, let’s sell the 4-bedroom home and buy a little apartment,” kind of a shift. I am a proponent of the old theory that “You Are Now What You Were Then”. This theory states that what ever was going on while you were in your teen years will affect you your entire life. Look at the years you were in your teens and see if this isn't right. I could see this in my parents who were in their teen years during the depression, and the days leading up to WWII. They knew what being poor was like--they saw their families lose almost everything. So they were careful with money their whole lives. And they feared war and were very vocal about national politics--because they had seen the results of world politics, League of Nations, et. al. leading up to the “big” one. Looking at the people in their 70's, who were in their teens in the 1950’s, these are the ones who saw their folks recently home from the war, strive to buy a little house, then a bigger one. They saw their folks being able--in some cases--to buy 2 cars, and take vacations. And today, these folks are restoring 1954 Chevy's and are retiring to warmer climates. They don’t mind taking risks, because in their teens and the years after, they saw many years of a good economy. And they have been the ones buying larger homes. Those who were teenagers in the 1960’s and are now in their 60's were affected by Viet Nam, the marijuana scene, psychedelic music and "peace and love". These folks are from the age of Aquarius, they are former hippies and the earth mothers and tree huggers. They have led the EPA and OSHA, and are behind the movement to remove the Glen Canyon Dam and save the Snail Darters and Scrub Jays. I believe these 60-somethings are the group that has moved back into the commune concept of city life--even if it is modified to become “The Villages”. Those who were teenagers in the 1970’s and 1980's , are the ones who are now evaluating “village vs. suburbs”. They are the helicopter moms and dads who hover over their kids, who arrange play dates and won’t let their kids walk to the school bus. You see them parked at the bus stop, which to me misses the point of having a publicly supported school bus system. If you’re going to get up, get dressed, and get in the car, you may as well drive the children to school, and save the tax-payers the cost of the bus. The first buyer I ever met who wanted to live in a “commune-concept” was a Canadian who was being transferred to New England, as I recall he was with Bauer Skates. These people wanted neighbors so close that they could shout to them if they needed help or were in some kind of trouble. It’s not that this didn’t make sense, but this is a foreign concept in New England. Everyone I was used to working with wanted PRIVACY. Large lots. Views (not of other homes), and well, privacy. Remember Robert Frost's poem, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors"--that's the New England viewpoint. Oddly there was a brand new smallish subdivision under construction that offered homes on 1/5 acre lots that was exactly what this customer wanted--and bought. But specifically New Hampshire--home drinking water mostly comes from a private well and home sewage goes into your own septic tank and leach field. This is because most of the towns don't (or didn't) offer municipal services. This means that your water and sewage may require 1.5 acres so they can be far enough apart--just so you are not drinking your sewage. The smallish sub division I refer to was the first to be built on the new sewer system and in that part of town which already had “public” water--it was the first in which the zoning was adjusted to handle smaller lots. So will the trend of new buyers wanting to make the move back to the city get “legs”? Time will tell, but there seem to be no shortage of homes in the Englewood area that appeal to both those who need big, and those who prefer small clusters, so I think we're in pretty good shape for now. Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte Counties. You can reach him at 941-681-0312 or at See him on the web at

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