The death of suburbs?

What will the Back Country smell like in 2019? Depends.

What will the Back Country smell like in 2019? Depends.

As boomers age, suburbs lose their appeal.

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.


Filed under Back Country, Buying/Selling Greenwich Real Estate, Cos Cob, Mid Country, Old Greenwich, Riverside

16 responses to “The death of suburbs?

  1. Anonymous

    not a buyer of this thesis

  2. Far Right Winger

    Haven’t I read about some scheme that the Obama Admin has to “fully” integrate the suburbs in their never ending quest for “equality”? Do any FWIW readers have any information on this grandiose social engineering scheme?

  3. CEA

    Greenwich in the first half of the 20th century saw huge houses being built, Later (though still way back in the dark ages, late 60s, early 70s, when my folks were looking to buy in Greenwich), you couldn’t GIVE away those big homes. They saw one place in Khakum Wood that was gigantic and cost LESS than the smaller house they ended up buying. Everyone wanted smaller houses because they were less expensive to maintain and heat.

    Today, people want huge houses again – the bigger the better.

    While I hear what people are saying about “boomers”, I also think there is a pendulum that swings back and forth regarding tastes. We shall see.

    • The demand for maxi pads has declined again in recent years, although what is considered “small” these days is probably twice the size of how your parents defined the term.

      • Anonymous

        I believe a lot of it is due to affordability. People like Riverside because it is neighborly, but let’s be honest they also like it because they don’t feel the need to fork out $120K a year to pay for 3 kids to attend private school, $20K a year in landscaping, and $20K a year in extra property tax vs. mid country. Just on those factors alone you need an extra $250K in pre-tax income to live in mid country, assuming you go the private school route. The flip side is that affordability, or lack thereof, will keep the NY suburbs popular because who can afford to live in New York City these days when 3 bedroom apartments in good neighborhoods can easily sell for $5mm and up.

        • anon22

          I prefer the word prioritize rather than affordability. Some couples might want a larger home so in turn they give up a vacation or two. Some might want golf/tennis/yacht club
          memberships or a summer rental so they buy a smaller home to balance the finances. Life isn’t so much a box of chocolates as it is a series of compromises.

  4. Chief Scrotum

    That could be Chris’ new slogan – “Riverside – for those who can’t afford NYC or mid-country”

    • Riverside Chick

      I’ve had friends visit Riverside from all over the US and they always comment on how beautiful, lush etc the neighborhood is. “One of the most beautiful neighborhoods i’ve even been in”. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

  5. Anonymous2

    The piece you quote ignores not only the Administration’s plans for forced integration but their plans to create a Soviet-style series of ultra-high density cities and suburbs.

    I’m no urban planner, but it’s logical to expect that were Obama’s dreams to become reality a lot of people might react somewhat differently than the article anticipates.

    That same logic might suggest a lot of folks will head towards a new series of exurbs or to deep red states where Obamanista dreams are less welcome and less practical.

  6. Anonymous

    Anonymous 11:31 am where are you getting those numbers? I live in midcountry and my property taxes are way less than 20k per year and landscaping (I’m on one acre) is like 4500 per year. Also North Street schools aren’t exactly shoddy even in comparison to OG or Riverside.

    In fact, we bought in mid country because it was way more affordable/had more bang for our buck than OG or Riverside. I notice you didn’t mention the additional mortgage payment would have to make if you bought something similar in OG vs midcountry. By the way, I have a friend with three young kids who very recently moved out of their house in OG to backcountry because it was cheaper to buy a bigger and almost brand new house there.

    I agree though that somehow the town is underassessing properties in OG and Riverside based on sales prices vis a vis mid country and backcountry but that’s a separate issue. Not sure why residents haven’t tried to take collective action on this issue.

    • Anonymous

      I live in mid country myself, I was quoting back some of the factors that people cite for preferring Riverside to mid country, even if the actual house is more expensive nowadays. Joking aside, both communities are fantastic, I am sure if I had landed in Riverside not mid country after moving from Manhattan years ago I would have been very happy there also.

  7. Anonymous

    more & more empty nesters coming into nyc as tenants/renters, prefering full service buildings. oftentimes even fully furnished.

    pals who are agents in town are telling me its a steady inflow.