What’s the Key Age Demographic for Real Estate in This Decade?

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

A recent report from the Urban Land Institute outlines a few important demographic groups in real estate going into the new decade. (The Teens? The Tens? Are we going to have another debate about decade labels after we failed to definitively resolve the last one?)

Anyway, according to ULI, the following three generational groups will shape the fortunes of the housing market over the next 10 years:

1. Aging baby boomers (ages 55 to 64 years old): They will keep working, and many will be forced to stay in their suburban homes until values recover. Those who are able to move will choose mixed-age living environments that cater to active lifestyles. Walkable suburban town centers also will appeal to this group.

2. Younger baby boomers (46 to 54 years old): They are now entering their prime earning years but they will lack home equity and unlike the older members of their generation, they won’t be able to purchase second homes. This will likely curb the prospects for the second-home market.

3. Generation Y: They are larger than the baby boom generation (with a population of about 86 million). As they enter the housing market, they are less interested in homeownership than their parents were when they were young adults. “They will be renters by necessity or choice for years ahead,” says John K. McIlwain, author of the report.

(Note: The fourth demographic was not broken out by age, but rather by country of origin. ULI says the approximately 40 million legal and illegal immigrants will also factor into the fortunes of real estate in a big way.)

When reviewing ULI’s generational list, one major question comes to mind: Where are the buyers going to come from? If the characterizations above prove accurate, then many of the boomers are going to remain fairly stationary due to financial and employment insecurities, while members of Generation Y, the oldest of whom are now in their twenties, won’t be interested in the commitments involved with homeownership due to their age and income.

The answer may lie in a group ULI left off the list: the Gen Xers. This group, which numbers somewhere between 40-50 million, will be entering their peak earning years during this decade. Also, as they’re currently between their early thirties and mid forties, many of them are just beginning to consider homeownership—undoubtedly due in part to the fact that many of them have just started or will soon start families.

Sure, there will be some Generation Y and boomer buyers in the mix during the next decade, and not all Generation Xers will be anxious to purchase homes. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Generation X plays a bigger role in housing than any of these other groups. Plan your marketing and sales strategies accordingly.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at bsummerfield@realtors.org.

More Posts

  1. As the saying goes – know your customer. There will still be buyers in every age group, you just need to understand where they are coming from and what their goals are.

  2. TGR500

    Interesting blog. Yes, the “younger baby boomers” are a crucial segment to grasp in understanding housing trends. Fortunately, we are learning more and more about them now that they have a name (Generation Jones) and identity which is receiving so much national atttention. Google “Generation Jones”, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964

    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953

    Generation Jones: 1954-1965

    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Sophisticated players in the housing industry will make serious bucks by learning about the key differences in consumer and real estate purchasing behavior among Jonesers which differs from its surrounding generations.

  3. Doug Bullis

    I read one article from Realtor Magazine that states Gen X’s were rank highest in foreclosure. Then I read your blog that states Gen X’s are the one’s to watch with regards to home buying this decade. It’s hard to visualize Gen Xer’s doing much home buying anytime soon until they get their credit cleaned up. I do believe they’ll enter the market again, but not anytime too soon. Maybe 3-5 years. Sounds like a credit jail sentence doesn’t it? I feel the market will be decent in the next few years, but I’m not inclined to focus my marketing strategy on any one particular group. Not at this point. Diversify. That’s my strategy.