The Next Wave

What will gen Y want when they buy?

Young adults, known as gen Y (also called millennials or echo boomers – those who are 20-30 years old now) are hard to predict. And yet, they are the most-studied generation of all time. About to make an impact on the housing market, builders worldwide are trying to anticipate their needs. Starting in 2016, gen Y will be the largest age group looking to buy homes.

A little digging online tells us they like to live downtown; they like to live in the suburbs. They can’t afford housing; they are investing in housing at a younger age than previous generations. They want nice countertops; they don’t want material goods. They want to walk to work; they are used to long commutes by car.

The longer you look at them, the more diverse they become – and their housing choices are reflecting that.

In this article from the Calgary Herald, Barb Livingstone profiles a very young couple that chose a condo in Auburn Bay as their first home. Their reasons for choosing the new development, Auburn Walk, are compelling.

“It’s affordable, we like the community and the amenities including access to the lake. There is shopping including plans for a Superstore and Cineplex theatres, and there are plans for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) on that end of the city. It has everything that is important to us.”

Natalia Lewandowski, new homebuyer

For another couple with a three-month-old baby, inner city living was the only choice. Their move to a development called Brunette in Bridgeland satisfies their need for being close to downtown river pathways, restaurants and shops.

“We came from Vancouver, so we are used to living in smaller spaces, and we enjoy that condo lifestyle. We like not having a yard and we enjoy the urban lifestyle.”

Shana Fairhurst, new homebuyer

You don’t have to look too hard to find completely contradictory opinions and predictions about how Gen Y will affect the housing market. Here are just a few more points of view:

On their ability to purchase a home

“More than 72% between 19 and 33 said they were pessimistic about their ability to own a home because of housing prices.”

- National Post, March 20, 2013

“72% of generation Y have confidence they will have the ability to buy a house in their lifetime.”

- BMO Wealth Institute, January 2014

On their desire for condos vs. houses

“More than three-quarters (76.9%) said they would choose a single-family home and at the top of that list was a single-family, two-storey home, followed by a bungalow.”

- Royal LePage National Real Estate Survey

“Millennials prefer proximity to public transit, walkable neighborhoods, and renting to buying in an urban setting.”

- Urban Land Institute Survey

On their preference to rent vs. own

“The survey found that Generation Y is more likely than older generations to live in apartments and in downtowns, with 54% favoring renting.”

- Urban Land Institute Survey

“An overwhelming 85.7 per cent disagreed with the statement that “I do not desire to own a property in my lifetime as renting is preferable to me.””

- Royal LePage National Real Estate Survey

Gen Y has yet to fully enter the housing market, so it will be a few more years until we see if, and how, their preferences will change our home-building habits.

In fact, maybe they are more like their parents than they realize? A BMO Wealth Institute report shows that gen Y, gen X and baby boomers have a lot in common. For example, all state their top three financial priorities as buying a home, saving for children’s education and preparing for retirement.

Are you a gen Y (also known as millennial or echo boomer)? Why do you live where you do? What are some of the things that are most important to you in a home?

December 24th, 2014
Updated: September 14th, 2017

Starting in 2016, Gen Y will be the largest age group looking to buy homes.