Millennial Housing: Paving the Way for Change

New housing demands are on the rise and at the 2015 Maryland Housing Conference I focused on these demands in my presentation to a group of local developers, planners and architects, realty groups, financial institutions, and government agencies, among others. The main reasons for this new shift in demand is the emergence of the next wave of first-time home buyers, millennials. The millennial population, as I define it, are people between the ages of 18-35. As the millennial generation continues to surpass the baby boomer population, demand for housing will change even more. This is not to say that the housing market should worry, but only that it should be aware of current emerging trends as an indicator for future types of market demand growth.

For example, take the process of buying a home today. It has changed significantly from the past with online listings and mobile apps like RedFin, Trulia, and Zillow that allow potential buyers to narrow their results in seconds by applying a few filters. Another change is the diversity of housing. New types of housing have started to appear in communities including modular housing, tiny houses, and adaptive reuse where office buildings are converted into residential homes. A change in market demand results in a change in products, which leads developers, architects, realtors, and planners to ask, “What are millennials looking for in housing?”


Out with the Old, In with the New

One of the best ways to predict future real estate trends is by looking at the most recent changes and thinking about what they signal. A few changes since 2009 that we've seen in this space are:

  • Contraction of development in the suburbs has shifted to more urban-based areas
  • More concentration on urban and transit-oriented development
  • Increased saturation of multi-family rental projects
  • Diversification of project types and markets
  • Concentration on the millennial generation
  • More focus on adaptive reuse and conversion of office land to residential
  • Concerns for where the millennial generation will go next

Categories of Millennial Homebuyers

Given my experience and research into the shifts and trends in real estate, I would characterize millennials into three types of categories:

  • Traditionalists:
    Following in the footsteps of the baby boomers
  • Transitionalists:
    Experiencing a different lifestyle within previous housing types
  • Innovationalists:
    Creating permanent change through alternate housing ideas

As millennials marry and have families, many of them will be looking for real estate by thinking about non-traditional priorities such as affordability, urban sociality, monetary risk and reward, social connectivity, accessibility, and green and sustainable elements, among many other priorities of a new generation.

Expanding on the Tiny House Movement

The tiny house movement is a unique subset of housing options. For those unfamiliar with the movement, the tiny house movement is the notion of cutting costs and environmental impacts often associated with home ownership and reducing the amount of personal items owned, enabling owners to travel more and partake in experience outside the home. The tiny house movement is growing in popularity with three HGTV shows dedicated to the structures, and a Washington, D.C., Councilmember has recently proposed plans to fund the construction of 1,000 of these small homes. What this means for the future of housing is that we could see more creative types of housing including modular types of housing, such as container housing, as well as other adaptive reuse of buildings like office buildings turned residential, the transportation of existing homes to new locations, smaller housing, co-op housing, shared housing, and an increase in use of Airbnb for housing income.


Millennial Priorities

In order to think holistically about what the future of housing may look like, it's important to keep in mind what millennials with a family will look for in their housing. Some priorities include:

  • The desire to be alone but in a crowd
  • Different housing patterns to allow for shared housing costs
  • Private and public spaces in housing
  • Technology integration (nest and security)
  • Good schools and education opportunities
  • Child mentoring and nurturing
  • Accessibility to transportation (mass transit, Uber, Zipcars, bicycle access, and walkability)

Neighborhood of the Future

Keeping these concepts in mind, I designed a housing prototype plan that contains the attributes and elements that millennials are looking for. The plan consisted of homes that were smaller and more affordable and had rooftop decks and terraces for interactive outdoor living. The idea behind this design was to provide a variety of housing options including single family detached, single family attached, and multi-family options depending on the size and scale of the community. I then planned for the houses to be placed in an interactive community design which included:

  • Local neighborhood gathering spaces
  • Zen gardens
  • Small-scale community green spaces
  • Environmental site design (ESD) measures
  • Community vegetable and herb gardens/wildflower cutting gardens
  • Community activity pavilion
  • Adult play area
  • Children’s play area
  • Open play area

Community design block focuses on easy access to green and open spaces on the left and the full community layout radius is less than half a mile when fully constructed on right. (Rendering and color by Scott Taft)

After designing the micro neighborhood block, I expanded upon the concept, keeping in mind community elements that millennials may like. The design included a community center, which could potentially include a fitness space, educational opportunities, Wi-Fi café, juice station and protein bar, dry-cleaners, small grocer, ice rinks, community fire pits, live concert areas, a putting green, botanical garden, and many other convenient community amenities. In total, the community could be as large as half a mile in diameter, which means that the design could be implemented in small urban areas or tested in a small section of a town before being expanded upon. The small size of the neighborhood creates a shorter, walkable community that enables residents to walk to nearby retail centers or other surrounding services in five to ten minutes.

Duel Development

Whatever the future of housing looks like, the next generation of housing for the transitional and innovative millennials needs to be affordable, technologically savvy, experience-based, and connected to society both physically and technologically. Increased housing density and mixed-use community centers will most likely be important features of community development planning as well. As I continue to develop housing and community planning, I am already seeing the increased necessity for planning the two elements in tandem, and I expect that this trend will also continue in the future. Someday, perhaps the separation between housing development planning and community planning will become a relic of the past.

  • Dan Anderton
    Dan Anderton
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