by Erin Sipe
As the oldest millennials hit their mid-30’s, many are now saying “no” to rent and “yes” to their first-time mortgages. With marriage and children, the commitment to home buying among millennials is stronger than ever. According to Reuters, “half of all home buyers are under 36, as well as 56 percent of all first-time homebuyers.” That means many Georgia builder clients are making their first-time home purchase. With this younger generation buying homes in larger numbers than ever before, it is important for builders to understand what drives millennials’ building wishes. What may come as a surprise is that millennials are largely looking for the same house as aging Baby Boomers who are downsizing from their sprawling ranches and multi-level family homes.

The National Association of Realtors cites a Demand Institute report indicating that millennials largely want what previous generations have wanted: a home in the suburbs with space for raising a family. “A fundamental question about millennials is whether their coming of age in the Great Recession has shaped their goals and aspirations to be different from those of previous generations,” said Louise Keely, president of the Demand Institute and senior vice-president at Nielsen. “We found that, while this generation has many unique characteristics when it comes to housing choices, they share many of the same intentions as young adults in previous decades.”*

So what is different about millennials’ home buying wishes? Perhaps it’s not the “what” but the “why” that has changed from past building clients to the present. For builders, understanding the “why” behind millennials’ wishes will improve client-builder communication and trust. Millennials don’t want bigger homes; they want more practical homes that utilize space well. They don’t want to maximize their budgets. They want financial wiggle room for travel, recreation, and retirement. They see their home not as an emotional, sentimental purchase but as a functional purpose that is one part of their lifestyle—not the entire purpose for why they get up and go to work in the morning.

Tips for Building in the Millennial Marketplace
Practical, Open Concept Retreat
Millennials are on a budget, but they have big demands thanks to HGTV. With student loan payoffs being a reality for many 30-somethings, extra cash is not being spent for wasted space like a formal dining room. Instead, millennials want a floor plan that maximizes their space with few to no walls between the kitchen and living area. Yet, millennials want beautiful spaces that are timeless. They do not want their Mom’s kitchen or bathroom. They want fresh space that reflects the retreat and relaxation they desire when not at work.

The kitchen is the new family hangout, and building a space that offers ample counter space for gathering, preparing, and eating meals is preferable to a separated kitchen and family room. Millennials enjoy cooking, so a well-planned kitchen is worth the effort. The formal living room square footage should be combined with the den for one large living space that flows naturally with the kitchen.

Ample traveling space without confining hallways appeals to millennials who want fluid space to work with in their interior design. Millennials love to entertain, so they also value ease of movement to and from designated areas and inside to outside, so wide walkways between living spaces and wide entry spaces are optimal. Extending living space beyond the traditional dwelling square footage to outdoor spaces appeals to millennials as well. To them, home is where you rest and relax with your loved ones, so creating a space conducive to that retreat is key.

Clutter-Free and Beautiful
Millennials are new minimalists who value clean space. Closed, covered storage space in the laundry room and in bathrooms is important. Extra storage in stairwells and hidden places dedicated to technology charging ports, routers, and cords are bonuses that will “wow” your millennial clients.
Open, floating shelving in the kitchen design allows for function and art design to blend. Millennials won’t be storing an endless supply of plastic containers and lids in the kitchen cabinets or a dozen floral vases crammed in an under sink cabinet. Instead they will use the open shelving space to showcase a beautiful bowl or serving dish set or use it to store a clean line of drinking glasses. For the millennial, clutter-free space is practical and beautiful. Building spaces that enhance open lines and clear views will excite your young clients.

Millennials are generally drawn to the industrial finishes of metal features and weathered wood largely popularized by reality TV shows. Cabinet hardware is an eye-catching feature blending form and function for millennials. Giving them choices in a newly purchased condo or spec house is key. Instead of their parents’ beige or warm-tone color schemes, millennials are drawn to more gray finishes with a pop of color on an accent wall—offering a customized feature in a master bedroom or den to the client.

Low Maintenance
Many millennial households include two career-minded professionals who may or may not have children. Either way their weekends are spent in recreation—either traveling and socializing or spending time at the ballfield or in the backyard with the kids. Millennials do not want to spend their down time repairing aging appliances, re-tiling bathrooms, or pruning perennials. For those looking at older properties, millennials primarily want a house that is already renovated. They want the kitchen and bathrooms already updated with timeless finishes and surfaces.

Millennials know that they may move several times in their working careers, so they see their home as somewhere to live and enjoy life rather than as a status symbol. That’s why a finished home with low maintenance finishes is important. Porcelain floors that resemble wood finishes or faux wood floors are appealing options to offer millennials. With 36 percent of millennials being pet owners, most do not want carpet at all. Brick or siding exteriors are favorable to something that will require painting or replacing every 5-10 years.

Consider collaboration with a landscape contractor to offer beautiful curb appeal that is low maintenance for the new homeowner. Instead of a deck that requires staining and even replacing, perhaps a paver patio for extended outdoor living space would appeal to the millennials seeking a backyard oasis that does not involve them wielding a paint brush on their free Saturday.

To build an ongoing relationship with millennials who often live where their jobs are instead of in their hometowns near their parents, consider offering a bi-yearly handyman service as a professional builder. Think of all the tasks around a home that require handyman skills from time to time. Offering a menu of repairs to millennials such as gutter cleanout, threshold repair, cathedral ceiling lightbulb replacement, and more could yield a few hours’ work in your slow season while keeping your name in front of the millennial who may eventually want to finish their bonus room, construct an outdoor room, or build a new home.

Home Office Space
Current U. S. Census data reveals more than 13 million Americans work from home, and that trend is continuing to rise. Millennials are perhaps the first generation to spend as much time at home as the 1950’s housewives. However, instead of slaving away in the kitchen or cleaning house all day, millennials are looking for a home that offers a dedicated space for their work. Having a separate space that has excellent internet connectivity and quiet workspace with great lighting for conference calls and computer work is key. Dedicated work space is important to most millennials who want to separate their work day from their family and entertaining environment. Rather than creating office space in an open loft on a second floor or a built-in desk in the kitchen, using the bonus room, dining room, or spare bedroom for a home office is optimal. Having moveable options for device charging and multiple outlets in rooms used for work are important to millennials who work from home.

When building a custom home for millennials, having a cabinet maker who offers customized work stations or built-in shelving may be a potential upsale to offer, especially if those custom pieces can be dual-purpose for a home office and a bedroom or playroom. If staging a new construction property, consider working with a realtor or staging service to set-up a spare bedroom as a home office showing clients the possibilities. A closet with organizational shelving and drawer space may be appealing.

Although internet service is out of the builders’ control, knowing the general internet service of an area is helpful as many millennials fully rely on having dependable internet service for their work from home. Millennials will ask about internet coverage in an area, so if you are your own broker, be prepared for this question.

Embracing millennials means offering the same timeless features builders are accustomed to offering all their clients while understanding that the reasons behind the concepts may be different. Realizing that millennials are practical and cost-conscious in some ways yet desire the most luxury per square foot gives builders valuable insight when planning to build a beautiful dwelling for this new home-buying generation.