Millennials still love cities, but may choose to purchase a home elsewhere

A recent survey about Millennial city preferences by Abodo shows that Millennials prefer big cities. As they marry, will they choose to stay?

Elaine Thompson/AP/File
Pedestrians wait to cross the street and catch the bus in Seattle's University District neighborhood.

A survey released on June 1 by Abodo, an apartment search engine, revealed what Millennials prefer in a city and which US cities they like best.

The top four city qualities Millennials chose were: a thriving job market, affordable rent, affordable home prices, and parks or hiking trails. The three cities that had the highest percentage of Millennials' top 20 qualities were Philadelphia (95), Boston (90), and Washington, D.C. (90), all in the top 25 biggest cities in the United States. The Abodo survey targeted a random sample of 2,000 people born between 1982 and 1998.

As the now-largest generation in America begins to marry and raise families, many are looking for new homes, but the cities they adore may not have everything they desire. For example, Abodo's survey showed that of the cities that fit Millennial criteria best, only Seattle has top-rated schools – meaning some millennial parents may have to decide whether downtown's other charms are enough to make them stay in their urban roost. 

"I'm an example of a millennial who has lived for a decade in a small loft in the city because I love the neighborhood and lifestyle. But now I'm getting married, and have been looking for houses for three months. It seems you developers did not expect us to grow up and need more than 1,100 square feet of living space," Rukiya Eaddy, an Atlantica mass transit employee, said during the 2015 Urban Land Institute Spring Meeting.

The findings of Abodo's study reflect a change in the structure of this generation compared to others. For example, the study showed that only Millennials ages 29 to 34 prefer affordable home prices to affordable rent, which signifies this age group is looking to own their own homes later in life than previous generations. This delay and the generation's size may be two of the most significant differences between Millennials and previous generations.

But Millennials are not unique in their young love for cities. College graduates of all generations have chosen cities over the suburbs, as Stephanie Hanes reported for The Christian Science Monitor in a February 2015 cover story on "The new 'cool' cities for Millennials":

They are more mobile, more willing to live with roommates, and more inclined to rent than to buy. But the Millennial generation seems even more intent on urban living. Two-thirds of the country’s 25-to-34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree live in the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas. And many of those pick close-in urban neighborhoods, where they are able to walk or take public transportation to work and recreational activities."

Today, 62 percent of Millennials prefer living in mixed-use communities such as those found near urban centers, according to Nielsen, a consumer analytics firm, but this largest generation has a greater desire to buy a home in the future than older generations: 89 percent of Millennials want to own real estate, compared to 77 percent of Gen Xers (35 to 54 years old), according to a 2015 online survey conducted for Trulia by Harris Poll.

There may be evidence for a changing Millennial mindset. The National Association of Realtors' 2016 Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report says 35 percent of home buyers in 2015 were Millennials, the largest share of buyers. However, only 17 percent of Millennials bought a home in an urban area, down from 21 percent in 2014. According to a statement by NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, "The need for more space at an affordable price is for the most part pushing [Millennials'] search further out."

If schools, developers, and retailers find ways to satisfy Millennial desires within city limits, this largest generation could have a significant impact on the way city life transforms in the years to come. If not, they may follow the the well-tread path of generations before them and trade in urban life to head to the suburbs to buy homes and raise their families.

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