From Silent to Gen Z: How Each Generation Is Buying Homes
To better serve the different generations, real estate professionals must understand their distinct preferences, behaviors, economic circumstances and motivations.
“In this country we rent, we date, we mate, we marry and, three and a half years later, we have kids,” says Logan Mohtashami, lead analyst at HousingWire and a regular contributor to CNBC and NPR Marketplace. He notes that nowadays people tend to marry in their late 20s and start a family in their 30s.
“Meanwhile, the 28- to 35-year-old age demographic is the largest in America, and the homes they can buy now are so much bigger than what the baby boomer generation was used to in the late-’70s and 1980s.” The median square footage in 1975 was 1,500, he says, and by 2014 it had grown to 2,700. “Ironically, for decades we’ve been building bigger homes while our family sizes have gotten smaller. So, in a sense, there is no starter home anymore.”
Today’s homebuyers fall into five generational categories: Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Understanding housing economics is easy when you understand the human behavior of the different generations, says Mohtashami.
The struggle for some baby boomers who want to downsize is that there aren’t a lot of smaller, single-story 1950s to 1970s houses on the market. “It’s like the Hungry Hungry Hippos [game] premise where everyone is fighting for the same marbles to eat,” Mohtashami says. When you’re young and single, a condo makes sense, but it’s challenging for the traditional American who seeks a single-family home. One reason for the low inventory is that baby boomers are living in their homes longer and not downsizing as much as originally thought, he adds.
Here’s a look at how each generation is buying homes and what real estate professionals should know about working with them.
Silent Generation: A quiet transition
According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) 2023 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, only 4% of current buyers are from the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945). This group grew up during a period of great societal change, including the Great Depression and World War II and came of age at the dawn of the Cold War. Now in their 80s and 90s, these elderly homeowners typically move following the death of a household member. They are most likely to purchase in senior-related housing or in neighborhoods convenient to healthcare facilities—and they want to live closer to friends and family.
Ann Meyerson, an SRES® (Seniors Real Estate Specialist®) designee and sales associate with The Keyes Co. in Boca Raton, has learned that working with older homeowners often involves helping them navigate through a lifetime of possessions and memories.
In Florida, 21% of the population is over 60 and the life expectancy is about 85 years. “Most of my clients are in their 80s or 90s,” says Meyerson, who holds a Ph.D. in counseling and educational leadership. “Unlike the younger generations, it’s not about what they want in a home. It’s about what they want with their next phase of life.” That could be assisted living, memory care or moving in with loved ones.
Baby Boomers: Leading the pack
After World War II, the country experienced unprecedented prosperity that triggered a spike in birth rates. Known as the baby boom, this demographic phenomenon gave rise to the term “baby boomers.”
Currently, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are the largest generation of buyers and, according to the NAR report, they account for 39% of all home purchases. “The interesting statistic is that baby boomers have surpassed millennials,” says Mohtashami.
Now that the majority of baby boomers are in their 60s and 70s, many are downsizing from larger homes into smaller, more manageable properties or retirement communities, Mohtashami says.
“Baby boomers are old fashioned in the sense that they absolutely want phone calls and to sign paperwork in person,” says Cheryl Core, chief operating officer and co-owner of Core Group Real Estate in Oviedo. “They also want to look with their eyes and kick the tires, so to speak.”
These buyers aren’t just motivated by the desire for less maintenance. They’re typically looking for amenities better suited to healthy aging like single-level homes, community centers for group activities, fitness centers and proximity to entertainment, shopping and healthcare facilities.
“It’s significant that baby boomers and millennials are such large generations that they’re divided into two subcategories: younger baby boomers and older baby boomers, and younger millennials and older millennials,” Mohtashami says. According to the NAR report, younger baby boomers (born between 1955 and 1964) prefer new homes that give them the opportunity to select their own design features.
Many older baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1954); however, are choosing homes specifically designed for seniors—and they’re willing to relocate nearly 100 miles away, if necessary. Both boomer subsets view six homes before deciding on one, and they expect to live in their home for up to 20 years. Less than half of older baby boomers need to pursue a mortgage because they often have the means to be cash buyers.
“No country has a Dorian Gray labor market, and no country has a Dorian Gray homeowner,” Mohtashami says. “Toward the end of this decade we’ll see more baby boomers passing their homes off to their children. Whether their children live in it, rent it or sell is the question.”
Gen X: Holding their own
Much like the middle child, Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) may not always occupy the spotlight, but they do make up 24% of homebuyers.
“Boomers and millennials are so big that, as a percentage, nobody cares about Generation X,” Mohtashami says, adding that they shouldn’t be underestimated. “Even as move-up or move-down buyers with nested equity [that enables them to] sell one property and buy another, it doesn’t add up to active listings. They are definitely buying.”
Known as the original “latch-key kids,” this group was the first to experience dual-income households and rampant divorce. “Generation X is the sandwich generation because we know the old-school ways, but we also enjoy and appreciate technology,” Core says.
Now in their mid-40s to mid-50s, they are at a life stage where their children are just starting college. Driven by their desire to provide their young adult children with a stable home base, they often keep their family home for an extended period.
Core Group strikes a balance between old and new business practices. “Our tagline is ‘Real Estate Evolution’ because we realized when we started the company eight years ago that real estate is continually changing,” Core says. “We are customer focused and not one-size-fits-all, and we also use artificial intelligence (AI) and automatic texting that talks to visitors on our website and alerts our agents what they need to do.”
They also set aside specific days for regular client calls. “Our Gen X and baby boomer clients want a phone call, so every Tuesday they know they will hear from us on the phone—not a text, not an email, but a live phone call,” Core explains. “We also send a video that says, ‘Hey, we want to touch base with you today about what’s happening in your file.’ That being said, there’s always going to be the need for a face-to-face local expert to help you get from point A to point B.”
Mohtashami says the work-from-home model is one of the biggest game-changers in history. Remote work is popular among Gen Xers because they value work-life balance, and it gives them flexibility to manage personal commitments and professional responsibilities simultaneously. “Generation X, especially those in managerial occupations, have the skills and experience to successfully work independently,” Mohtashami says. “Also, if you can move and somewhat keep your same income, then you have more choices for where you can move to.”
Millennials: Embracing the American Dream
“Florida was one of the top states people were moving to when COVID started the relocation boom and people could work from anywhere,” says Marcus Larrea, team lead and broker-associate of Palm Paradise Real Estate. That brought more millennials and Gen Zs to the Gulf Coast. With offices in Fort Myers, Naples and downtown St. Petersburg, Larrea and his team of 65 agents focus on going beyond the basics. “You have to provide valuable information that can help these buyers make proper decisions when looking for a home.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are the largest population group in the country, and more than half of them now own their own home. In fact, NAR® says they account for 28% of all homebuyers. “Millennials were becoming the biggest segment [of homebuyers] until interest rates took off, and they were hit hardest,” Mohtashami says.
Millennials prefer tech-savvy agents who offer online tools for property searches, virtual tours and paperless transactions. Transparency and responsive communication are a must and, since they tend to make eco-friendly choices, they prefer energy-efficient homes and sustainability. Like Generation X, millennials prefer homes that offer dedicated spaces for remote work.
In May, Larrea’s team started holding quarterly seminars designed to educate first-time buyers, many of whom are millennials. She’s says a big topic of discussion is down payment, as there is confusion around how much they have to put down.
“Millennials have been buying homes since 2013, but with so much housing inflation in such a short period of time they got hit right in their peak buying years,” Mohtashami explains. “The good news is that dual household incomes are more prevalent now than in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, and buying power actually dwarfs generations in previous decades. Also, home prices have taken off not only here but around the world, which is a plus for the economics of housing.”
Gen Z: Newest homeowners
Low mortgage rates during 2020 and 2021 gave Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) buyers the opportunity to become homeowners. “Gen Z is still young, but they are buying homes faster than their parents,” says Mohtashami. “They might also benefit from the wealth transfer from baby boomers in terms of a gift, a down payment or even a home itself.”
Cheryl Goff, sales associate with RE/MAX Crown Realty in Vero Beach, enjoys working with younger generations because they’re tech savvy, and they do their homework. “They’re usually ready to make a decision,” says Goff. During the pandemic she guided two twentysomethings through the purchase of their first home. “I worked with this couple for well over a year, and they’d put in offers and lose out,” she says. They eventually persevered after partnering with a local lender. “They also qualified under the Florida Hometown Heroes program,” Goff adds. “She’s in nursing, and he’s in law enforcement,.”
Goff also recently listed a property for a 19-year-old homeowner. The young woman had purchased a starter home at age 18 but, after getting engaged, she and her fiancé decided they needed a larger space. Then, not long after upsizing, they had to sell again because they were relocating for a job opportunity. “Those two fixed that house up and turned it into an Airbnb,” she says. “We closed on their house, and they already found another home they’re going to buy and renovate.”
Goff, who is immediate past president of the Realtors® Association of Indian River County, gets most of her business from past clients and referrals. “Younger buyers tend to find me on my website, welcome2vero.com,” she adds. “They’re much more tech-savvy and are always watching their phone.”
No matter the generation, though, it’s all about a relationship. No two people are the same, and no two transactions are the same. “I think a lot of agents don’t want to push into [generative artificial intelligence] AI because they’re afraid but watching how [prospects] behave online tells you more about them and helps you to interact at a higher level,” says Core. “Younger generations are buying houses without walking in the door. They are doing remote online notary and aren’t even coming into the title company at closing.
As the generations fade out, that’s going to be the new real estate.”
Leslie C. Stone is a Vero Beach-based freelance writer.