Millennials Are Finally Buying. Are You Ready to Sell to Them?

Updated: 01 Mar, 2016 | Dan O'Brien

Millennials have long confounded economists who hoped they would boost the home-buying industry. Now, after years of delay, they seem to be finally doing their generational part to boost demand. But they may continue to confuse industry thought leaders, as their home-buying preferences stand in contrast to many stereotypes about them.

If you are a real estate agent who can get your arms around the seeming contradictions, you may create a home-selling practice directed at millennials that will grow your business and feed your career right into a luxurious retirement.

So where is this large, highly educated generation of urban “hipsters,” coffee-shop hoppers, meaning-seekers, and shunners of materialism buying? You might think that they’d wish to root themselves and their families in the cities and next to convenient public transportation nodes. You would be wrong.

They are flocking back to the suburbs!

Over the last two years, millennials represent nearly two-thirds of first-time home-buyers. According to Nora Sato of NPR’s Marketplace, half of the ones buying are heading back to the suburbs. They are looking for value and space, and the (brace yourself) nostalgic three-bedroom, two-bath structure. That’s right, as out-of-the-box as it might seem for these contrarians, they want that traditional suburban space.

But they want it with a twist. Unlike the original transplants to the suburbs of last century, who were often fleeing urban decay, these folks are often returning to the ‘burbs after a stint in the city; they want to bring their urban amenities (the organic farmer’s market, the corner coffee shop, etc.) with them.

So how can a real estate agent tune in and take advantage of this trend? Being a bit urban-hip as you walk them down memory lane may make them feel less compromised.

Tommy Choi is such an agent in Chicago. According to Sato, he wears five colors––a blue plaid suit and lots of purple. Choi is in his mid-30s, nearly a millennial himself, and many of the clients at his downtown Chicago real estate agency, Weinberg Choi Realty, are millennials. And business is booming.

A bit of therapy-like sensitivity can go a long way, too. Some of these new buyers may have spent years lambasting suburban life. But having waited so long to buy, they may not have time for that small starter condo in the city. They are looking for value and space; and with kids on the way, being near family can be a plus. 

Alison Bernstein, founder of Suburban Jungle Realty, specializes in helping millennials make the transition to the suburbs in five markets: Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. She says that the process is often part home-buying and lots of therapy. She starts that therapy with a survey to help her clients remember the positive aspects of their childhood in the suburbs, and then helps them find those suburban places that have good walk-scores to schools, public transit, and retail hubs.

The American Dream was once getting a good job, starting a family, and buying the home you would live in until you retire. Millennials have bucked this mold, often waiting longer to purchase homes and starting families. A down-turned economy makes the reality of living in the city and raising a family a daunting prospect. The population is aging, as it always does, and millennials are now those prime buyers who have some savings and are looking to invest in their future with real estate.

Understanding them and having a continual process for online business networking (they are not looking in the Yellow Pages) enables you to reach this group of home-buyers who will be essential to any agent’s business in the years to come. And once your real estate business has grown to a certain point, it may be time to look into a virtual executive assistant.

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