While much of this smacks of the usual liberal, “force people back into the cities where we want them to live”, some of the author’s points do reflect what we’re witnessing here in Greenwich, as demand for the Back Country wanes and compact (or “congested”, your choice) neighborhoods like Riverside are increasingly popular.
And then there’s this whole set of demographic changes that we’re going through: an oversupply of large, single-family houses in conventional suburbia and an undersupply of what the next generation and aging baby boomers are going to want, which is more walkable communities.
What does “the end of the suburbs” mean for boomers who own homes there now?
It’s funny. The boomers even more than the Millennials are the big question mark. Everybody in the housing industry is dying to know where the boomers are going to live as they get older.
Many of them want to age in place, whether that’s because of the financial crisis or because they’ve built strong ties to their community. That’s all well and good until they ultimately vacate their home. With so many boomers, there’s not going to be as big a market of people interested in buying their houses.
In a blog post I wrote about how boomer home sellers can hook Millennial buyers, I quoted a housing analyst who warned that “the great senior sell-off” later this decade could cause the next housing crisis. Should suburban boomer homeowners be scared that the end of the suburbs is coming?
It depends on the kind of suburb they’re in. What people are looking for in single-family homes in the suburbs is changing, and if your house doesn’t meet the desires of future buyers, it might be a tougher sell.
Let’s talk about different types of suburbs. You draw a distinction between outer-ring suburbs and inner-ring suburbs. What’s the difference, and why does it matter?
Inner-ring suburbs tend to be a little bit older, with smaller lots that are closer together and where people walk more. Plus there’s some place to walk to.
But valuations in those types of communities are coming back up now. And many people think that’s where the Millennials are going to want to be, rather than outer-ring suburbs, because they’re closer to downtown, houses are a little smaller, you can walk around more, and it’s a little livelier.
So are you saying the further out someone lives in the suburbs, the more financial risk they’ll be taking when they want to sell?
Are suburban boomers who’ll want to sell their homes going have to accept bargain-basement prices due to a lack of buyers?
Look, the housing market’s coming back. But I think if you own a home in the suburbs, selling sooner rather than later is probably better. The prospects for selling to Millennials in the future aren’t good, unless you’re living in a place with a really, really good school district.
Won’t Millennials move to all types of suburbs once they have kids?
Everybody says wait till they have children; then they’ll do what their parents did and just go right back to suburbia. But there are going to be plenty of other options for them. And a lot of Millennials don’t like to drive — they’re not getting their drivers licenses as frequently as in the past.
What will the end of the suburbs mean for boomers who want to move for retirement?
It depends. If they want to go to a Sunbelt place, there are lots of bargains to be had there now.
But if not, what they’ll want is a community that offers some pedestrian activities and some sense of liveliness without a heavy reliance on a car.
That’s what you say Millennials want, too.
Right. And if you jumble those two groups up, that produces something that sociologists and urban planners say is really good.
One of the things about the suburbs people complain about is that they’re so homogenous — not racially (although they are), but in terms of age and life purpose. Everyone is in their 30s to 50s raising young children.
In the old days, what made a vibrant neighborhood was having young people and old people, rich people and poor people living together in different shapes and sizes of houses and from different walks of life. Maybe the walkable community of the future will combine the old and young.