Who cares what baby boomers or generation Xers want these days in home features, interior design, and outdoor space? The cohort now poised to rule the world is the millennials — loosely defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s and numbering between 80 million and 90 million. It’s the largest group to emerge since baby boomers, and it’s changing how home buying and design is conducted — along with the results.
Millennials are sparking some new trends, though the rules are loose. “Preconceived notions about what is correct have been shaken and stirred, and the boundary between formal versus informal seems less important to them,” says designer Chad Graci of Graci Interiors in New Orleans, who just missed being a millennial but whose business partner and sister Christina is a member of the generation.
Real estate pros should understand what millennials are after to help them find the right house or condo. But beware: One of this generation’s mantras is that nothing needs to be forever! Here are 10 tips:
1. Fast information gathering.
Whether looking for a house or what material to use for a kitchen countertop, this niche doesn’t immediately dial up a pro. They first look for ideas for what’s chic online from resources such as Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy, and retailers’ websites. And they tend to make decisions fast after sharing information with friends for feedback, says Kevin Woody, CRS, GRI, broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Go Realty in Cary, N.C. Millennials are also a generation that wants to make its distinctive mark, says New York designer and millennial Jack Ovadia of Ovadia Design Group. They often contact real estate and design professionals to validate their own choices, so the best way to work with them is to make them part of the process, says Chicago designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design.
2. Urban and smaller.
“Location, location, location” for this generation means close to an urban core so they can easily get to services, says Woody. “Home is not necessarily where they camp out; they’re very active. Home is more of a base for other activities,” he says. Besides living in dense downtowns, cost is another factor for diminished square footage. They tend to be financially conservative for a host of reasons: Many saw parents and older counterparts reel from the recession and foreclosures; they face repaying their own huge student loans; they’re interested in putting down a higher down payment than prior buyers have rather than qualifying for the biggest loan available. “They don’t want to be maxed out,” Woody says.
3. Fewer embellishments.
Millennials are not generally looking for all the traditional details and fancy materials that can increase a home’s price. Moldings, which used to be a sign of status and craftsmanship, no longer hold allure and make some buyers wonder what’s hiding behind them, says Larry Abbott, a remodeling and home improvement specialist in Houston and member of the Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association.
4. Open, multifunctional interiors.
The interior layouts that attract millennials come in all sorts of variations, but the key is fewer partitions and walls since this group likes to socialize and live casually, Abbott says. Many don’t want a formal living or dining room, says designer Shana Jacobs of MP Studio in Houston. And in smaller homes and condos, multifunctional spaces take on greater importance. Exercise equipment may share space in a bedroom, and a hammock may get tucked into a dining room corner if there’s no or little outdoor space, says Arthur Lasky of Silberstang Lasky Architects in New York.
5. Less maintenance.
Because millennials work long hours and have many interests, they prefer materials that require minimal time and care, such as faux wood or porcelain tiled floors that mimic wood or ventless fireplaces like the type Lasky developed for his Hearth Cabinet line. And these buyers may not even be interested in built-in bookcases, since they reach for a tablet rather than a book to read, says Abbott.
6. Technologically efficient, green, and healthy.
High on millennials’ wish list is being able to use all their “toys,” — tablets, phones, audio systems, programmable LED lighting, and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and all the rest. Interiors with lots of outlets and flexible placement of charging stations are also appealing. Renewable and reclaimable materials such as bamboo and glass rank high, as do low-VOC paints and adhesives and appliances like steam ovens
7. Colorful pow, industrial wow, and comfortable chic.
While many of their parents and older counterparts made beige the new white, this generation has veered toward grays and bold accents such as the burgundy accent wall, says Jacobs. And they like the industrial look of weathered furniture and metal, which has helped popularize the Restoration Hardware mix, says Brittany Biddle, an MP Studio designer. But their choices also have to be comfortable. Many work from home, so they might sit on a couch at times to perform tasks instead of a desk, she says.
8. Less outdoor space.
While spending time outdoors still matters, having a large space to maintain is not of interest to this group. A small balcony or terrace will do nicely with gravel and some cactus rather than labor-intensive grass and rose bushes, says Abbott. And they’re often willing to share a community garden or green roof space, says Lasky. But millennials still crave light and air, which suggests big windows, skylights, and glass walls that open, says Ovadia.
While they may splurge on a favorite furnishing or appliance—maybe an imported coffee machine that grinds and brews their favorite beans—they’re also highly value-conscious. A big reason is that they know trends keep changing, especially technological ones, says designer Susan Brunstrum, owner of Sweet Peas Design in the Chicago area.
10. Ready, set, go.
Because millennials think in shorter time frames, they like the idea of a finished house. “The more the seller has done, the better, so the buyer doesn’t have to spend time making changes,” says MP Studio designer Allison Endres. A real estate salesperson would do well catching millennial buyers’ attention by guiding them on how to use a house through staging that piques their interest, she says.
Bottom line: Millennials don’t view their homes as a status symbol or long-term investment but as an important purchase for living now and enjoying life. But they also know that as they age, their tastes and style of doing everything may also evolve.