Millennials, those born from 1981 to 1996, have been slow in embracing home ownership but much of that hesitation is now changing as they begin to marry and start families. Burdened by massive amounts of student loan debt, $1.5 trillion, according to national statistics, many millennials postponed home buying and marriage and rented in urban downtown areas. However, as they have aged they are moving to the suburbs, back tracking in the footsteps of their parents and seeking out and buying the type of homes where they were raised. In other words, they are moving to the suburbs.
The National Association of Realtors data for 2017 showed an increased share of buyers 36 and younger who purchased in a suburb location and bought a single family home. They also reported that 49% of those buyers have children under the age of 18, 66% are married and 13% are unmarried couples which is the largest share of all generations. Of these groups, 66% were first time homebuyers.
Here in Anchorage we see this trend emerging with a few Alaskan quirks. I like to say I’ve seen more babies in my office in the past year than in the previous five years altogether. Dwell’s Marketing Director, who edits this column for me, is a millennial. She married last year, adopted two Alaskan style dogs and just purchased her first home. She searched online for six months and bought the first home she and her husband physically went to see. It has three bedrooms, two baths, a single car garage and was built in 1976. They sacrificed age for a square foot lot with a fenced yard for the dogs, a nice storage shed and two cords of wood for the wood stove. They are now remodeling and concerned they may need to replace the roof.
I share this story with you because I hope Anchorage, as a community, doesn’t respond to the myth that all millennials are urbanites and want to live on top of parking garage or in a multi-story condo building in downtown Anchorage which seems to be the direction the municipality is encouraging. Yes, there are millennials, generation X and Ys and snow birds who want to lock and leave and/or be close to dining, entertainment and the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail but according to national statistics, the vast majority of home buyers still prefer living in a single family dwelling, whether it be a zero lot line, PUD (planned unit development), cluster home or simply a small lot community. Buyers, particularly those in Alaska, want to park their truck in a garage with direct access to their living space;have a back yard at least 20×20 square feet to BBQ on a warm summer day and a deck to view the Northern Lights in the winter. The irony of this urban advocacy is that almost all of our city planners and elected officials, regardless of their age and income, live in a single family community, while at the same time advocating for the urban lifestyle for others.