May 9, 2006

Better, Not Bigger: What Today’s Homebuyers Really Want

While developers and policymakers continue to assume that the "American Dream" means ever bigger, more isolated homes in exurban sprawl, a new generation of real American homebuyers wants something else, the New York Times reports in Younger Buyers Want Better, not Bigger.

"Reach Advisors, a market-research firm in Boston, would argue ... that there is a disconnect between affluent 'Generation X' home buyers and the home builders and land developers who are supposed to be catering to them," the article says. "James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, said he believes there is a 'generational shift,' with buyers ages 25 to 39 demanding features that are different from what their parents, the baby boomers, have sought. 'Yet, most home builders are reluctant to change the formula that made them so profitable over the past 10 years,' Mr. Chung said."

So are most community planners, who are ignoring shifting market trends at their peril.

"Based on 6,800 interviews conducted for five different studies on 25- to 39-year-olds, Mr. Chung contends that affluent members of that generation, despite household incomes of $100,000 and up, are determined to spend thoughtfully rather than embrace living large. ... The younger buyers prefer layouts that emphasize family space rather than humongous master suites and are more attuned to the concept of neighborly interaction fostered by dog parks and sidewalks."

However, it's largely the "Baby Boom" generation, brought up to think that most people naturally want a huge home on an enormous lot in a neighborhood with nothing but other residences, who are doing the planning and developing. And many continue to assume that anyone who can afford one, lusts after a McMansion on an acre or two. Wrong! After a generation or two of cookie-cutter subdivisions, an increasing number of American homebuyers are longing for more traditional communities where a motorized vehicle isn't a necessity for every single errand (including mowing one's vast acreage of lawn).

"Such preferences make adults in the late 20's and 30's prime clients for the 'new urbanism,' Mr. Chung said. Defined as a return to traditional neighborhood design, these communities are built to resemble, in spirit, older, more varied and more connected residential areas and to seem less like suburban subdivisions."

That was what led one couple profiled in the article, Kathryn and Dan Drury, to sell their new 4,000-square-foot home and buy something smaller in a community with "a neighborhood feeling, hiking trails nearby and a diverse population with whom they could feel connected."

Older, more densely developed communities like downtown Framingham could benefit from this shift in real estate desires, if downtown Framingham could be redeveloped offering amenities such buyers want. But that means giving people walkable neighborhoods, appealing streetscapes and nearby amenities as well as the traditional necessities like good schools and safe communities.

1 comment:

  1. "walkable neighborhoods, appealing streetscapes and nearby amenities as well as traditional necessities like good schools and safe communities"
    That about sums it up. I think that is what we're all looking for as residents/homeowners and as developers/planners/advocates/etc. People will flock to it if we can provide it. I suspect that part of why this isn't absolutely everywhere is that the individual people involved get distracted and forget the big picture. Got to stay focused on the long-term goal!