Editor's Note: This is the third installment in a series stemming from the America at Home Study, which was spearheaded by marketing expert Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki of tst ink, consumer strategist Belinda Sward of Strategic Solutions Alliance, and architect Nancy Keenan, president and CEO of Dahlin Group, to shed light on Americans’ appetite for home purchases, how they feel about and live in their current homes, and what changes they’d like as a direct result of sheltering in place. View the first and second articles.
One of the most significant, and perhaps surprising, impacts of COVID-19 is that a large number of Americans plan to move residences. According to the America at Home Study, conducted in April of 3,001 consumers 25 to 74 years old with household incomes of $50,000 plus, millennial renters wanting to own and boomer homeowners motivated to buy a different home are two groups to watch. On the flip side, the 45- to 54-year-old Gen Xers—the traditional “move-up” buyer—is now least likely to be motivated to buy. For years that group has been a core buyer segment for home builders. Understanding these differences, not broad generalizations like assuming all millennials want the same thing, will help builders understand and meet the new home demand emerging out of the pandemic.
Across all age groups, 4% of homeowner respondents say COVID has accelerated their plans to move. While that may sound low, it represents a potential new housing demand of 2.1 million households when compared with U.S. Census data, and that is over and above any preexisting demand from those who had already planned to move before the pandemic hit. This new demand breaks down by generation as shown here.
The good news for 55-plus home builders is that 35% of baby boomers 55 and older want to move out of their current home sooner than planned. This demographic also has the highest percentage (50%) with no change in plans, meaning those already planning to move still are. Health, technology, and kitchen/storage ranked highest on the list of things this buyer segment most wants and is willing to pay for in a new home. “This isn’t hypothetical, it’s real new-home demand, backed up by the specific things buyers said they want and are willing to pay for,” says Belinda Sward, founder and chief strategist of Strategic Solutions Alliance, who led the research for the study.
What Boomers Want (Very Interested and Willing to Pay For)
- Germ-resistant countertops and flooring (46%)
- Air and water filtration systems (35%)
- Greater technology/energy efficiency (45%)
- Touch-free faucets, appliances and smart toilets (38%)
- More storage for food or water (43%)
- Better equipped kitchen for cooking (36%)
What Renters Want
Nearly 50% of renters have an increased desire to buy a home after living through the pandemic. They have specific needs and wants that also differ by generation. “It’s not all bad news for multifamily developers,” says Sward, “but post-COVID success will depend more than ever on knowing your buyer and providing innovative design solutions that meet their needs.”
She also suggests looking at some of the changes renters have already made to their current homes for additional insights into their motivations. “Hygiene and control of their environments is top of mind for them,” she explains. “Renters in the study had the highest incidence of saying they are disinfecting things more at 77%. That’s something we need to pay attention to.”
Attached home types, despite many predictions otherwise, are perfectly acceptable and in fact desired by the youngest millennials 25 to 34 years old. This is the demographic group representing the highest proportion of renters wanting to buy (36% more inclined to buy due to COVID). Their top three choices are: attached townhomes (50%), high-rise apartments/condos unit (47%), and attached duplexes (40%), then single-family detached homes (39%). This may relate to both the realities of affordability, and their heightened desire to control their own space.
Baby boomers 55 and older who are renting but want to buy are also very interested in attached townhomes (47%), suggesting there could be an opportunity for post-COVID reinvention of the traditional “attached villa” homes previously designed for this buyer. Flexible spaces, the latest home technology, energy efficiency, and thoughtful private outdoor decks, patios, or porches in lieu of private yards and their associated maintenance could make an attached home type the perfect solution for this demographic.
Urban vs. Rural?
Despite multiple predictions that living through COVID will cause a flight from urban to suburban and rural living, the America at Home Study found mixed results, and cautions against making sweeping demographic generalizations. More specific insight, revealed in the study, shows renters’ willingness to accept three “location” options: “different/less expensive location,” “rural location,” and “urban location,” if it increases their ability to purchase a home.
On a list of 15 trade-offs, fully 48% of 35- to 44-year-old renters were very interested in owning a home in an urban location. And 45% of that same group were very interested and willing to move to a rural location, if it improved their ability to purchase a home—virtually the same response. What is clear is COVID has created significant new demand among renters wanting to buy a home, but when it comes to the “urban vs. rural” question, the greater difference is seen in household income versus demographic groups. Not surprisingly, renters with lower incomes are more inclined to prefer rural locations and those with higher incomes prefer urban, opening up opportunities for new urban design that addresses lifestyle needs, post-COVID, for more affluent buyers.
The America at Home Study provided insights into what “home” means to people while living with a pandemic, the impacts of which may be lasting. One way to know is to actually build a concept home and invite home buyers to experience the survey insights in real life in an actual home. Starting next month, the team behind the study will mine the data even deeper, and hold design charrettes leading to the design and construction of a concept home. Dahlin Architecture and Planning will lead the planning and architecture of the home, and Garman Homes, based in North Carolina, will build it. The study itself will be repeated and expanded this fall, to either confirm or refute whether the insights about how Americans want to live will last well beyond the pandemic.