Skip to main content

When Generation Rent Becomes Generation Buy

Regions where Millennials are renting don't look like where they will buy homes.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
(Photo: Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock)

Albeit delayed, Millennials will buy houses. The bow wave of the largest generation is here, as far as the real estate market is concerned. The early returns:

We're certainly grateful to even be able to do this — a lot of friends my age living in bigger cities like Denver and Portland simply can't right now, as they're faced with an extremely competitive housing market and sky-high price tags.

"This" is first-time homebuying. "This" isn't happening in the likes of Denver and Portland. "This" requires geographic analysis. How "this" looks in Washington, D.C.:

“Over the past decade, the Washington area attracted lots of young, talented workers,” said Ellen Harpel, an Arlington, Va.-based business consultant, who helped lead the study. “But now other metropolitan areas are growing faster, and they’re increasingly offering more compelling job and career opportunities.”

Rival areas “offer easier, less expensive but still attractive lifestyles,” Harpel said at a meeting Thursday with business and civic leaders in a group called the Roadmap for the Washington Region’s Economic Future. “The Washington region really needs to up its game.”

One can find in Carbondale, Illinois, a cheaper version of Washington, D.C. Dream on. The D.C. value proposition for a migrant is unique. It will remain so for many generations to come. Why the panic?

D.C. thrives as generation rent, a town that re-invents itself every election cycle. An intern from Iowa gets a job as a congressional staffer. She meets a similar suburban brat from Massachusetts. They raise kids in Fairfax County, Virginia. That's how it used be, way back in Generation X.

Today, a Generation Y intern gets a job as a congressional staffer and meets a suburban brat from Pennsylvania. To Pittsburgh they will go to raise their brood.

In Rust Belt Pittsburgh, the young couple will embrace urban living and urban culture at Washington, D.C., prices some 20 years ago. They needn't buy your renovation project in Eastern Market that your dad helped finance. They can and will go wherever.

Jim Russell, a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development, writes regularly for Pacific Standard.