Forget, for a moment, the whole generational cohort thing. That construct tells us that "Millennials" cropped up starting in 1981 and finished being born in 1997, and that there are between 74 million and 76 million of them now.
That, and about two bucks, will get you home on the bus in most places.
But, what if looking at 75 million young adults as a single homogeneously motivated entity is the wrong way to look at a home builder's challenge right now? Maybe there's another way.
For instance, the folks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta decided to research the notion that young adult buyers are not as active in pursuit of homeownership as their counterparts from prior generations. Their conclusion is that the numbers may not support such a claim, and that geography may actually play a bigger part in explaining the fall-off in first-time home buying than age demographics. They write:.
We did not see a strong explanation for dramatic declines in first-time homebuyers when we compared younger and older adults. It doesn't appear that millennials are driving the decline. By comparison, when we reviewed the number of first-time home purchases by state, we found very dramatic differences that population alone cannot explain. Unsurprisingly, first-time homebuying fell further in places where the housing crisis hit the hardest.
The point here is this. Housing macroeconomic math and being successful as a home builder right now are two very different things. Builders need, particularly, to steer clear of myths about generational behaviors, preferences, attitudes, and sentiments that will distract them from getting the job done of building homes that young adults will find to be both compelling and within reach.
Perhaps more important than the "Millennial" cohort as an organizing principal for positioning, marketing, targeting, segmenting, designing, pricing and messaging, is looking at a sub-segment of a sub-segment of that group that we know we can get our minds around. So, forget about the big 76 million number. Let's put the people data into smaller boxes that are more helpful, both to understand that 1. it's pure fiction to say that Millennials don't want and don't intend to attain homeownership; 2. it's also a myth that Millennials are turning away in droves forever from the notion of living in suburbs; and 3. that it's Millennials who have high educational attainment, good jobs, and low debt that we should be aiming at and basing our assumptions around, not some broad amorphous marketing concept.
So, we're skeptical of both the truth and the helpfulness of research like this, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, titled 2015 Housing Matters Survey, that concludes in broad-brush style that Millennials are categorically disadvantaged in relation to reaching the American Dream.
Let's start with the number 3.6 million, which is the number of live births to mothers in the United States in the year 1981, the year many agree is the start of the Millennial cohort population boomlet.
So, those three-and-a-half million people are 34 years old, and about one-in-four of them has a college degree, and probably one-in-four of those has either retired or put a dent in their college debt (or never had any), and one in four of those is in a two-income household with wherewithal to make a down payment.
So, about 56,000 people from this one year's birth-year cohort of 34 year-olds would be prime candidates in 2015 to make a choice between an existing home or new.
This is the "cohort" or target group our partners at TRI Pointe and Pardee Homes are aiming at as we plan, design, and this week, break ground on our Responsive Home(s) project at Inspirada in Henderson, Nev.
Millennials are a math problem more than anything else. Solve it by forgetting about the term and thinking about the people. The smartest insights we're hearing about "the people" is that they're discriminating and practical, and they're going to enter homeownership their way, using tools, resources, and effort that are only available now, never before. They're a "wait-and-then-hurry-up" group of decision-makers.
Here's an infographic developed with information from our exclusive research on our Responsive Homes from the folks at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics. With your mouse, you can scroll, zoom, pan, and highlight the parts of the image that you want.