The Evolving Behaviors of Homeowners: Millennials versus Gen Xers
November 29, 2016
A version of this article originally appeared on Modern Builder & Design.
Building or designing a new home? Here’s the playbook – open concept, an outdoor space for entertaining, granite countertops and a man cave. Done.
OK, maybe watching HGTV too often makes it easy to oversimplify home building and design trends. Like all stereotypes, what you see on TV doesn’t always reflect reality. It’s not just about being on trend, but connecting with homeowners and designing for their needs. More often, builders and designers are finding Millennials and Gen Xers are looking for very different things.
As a GenX homeowner who happens to study Millennial home-owning habits, I can tell you some generational differences can be attributed to life stage. Gen Xers are older and in their highest income earning years while Millennials are ramping up their careers and earning power. However, most are the direct result of their values and the influence of what I call “home enrichment.” Allow me to explain.
You’ve heard the stereotype that Millennials aren’t buying homes because they’re living with their parents. That’s because they’re in more student debt and have had a more difficult time starting their career. To be clear, they’re buying homes, but it happens later in life and often in tandem with other major life events. On the other hand, you’ve probably also heard Gen Xers are helicopter parents. We saw a lot of friends’ parents getting divorced. Out of that, we grew to appreciate the time we have with our kids more so than other generations, and maybe too much!
Understanding if a trend is the product of differing life stages or a generational personality is key to understanding the differences between Millennials and Gen Xers. And that’s what “Home Enrichment” is all about – understanding the home enthusiast as a full person, not just as a customer.
While there is much separating these two generations, one connective thread is both view their home as the central, focal point in their lives. For Gen Xers and Millennials, the home is often their largest investment. It’s a source of pride and passion while also driving the need for constant improvement. But that’s where the similarities stop; Gen Xers and Millennials take distinctly different paths to enrich their home.
The Gen Xer: Give the Gift of Time
Sandwiched between two larger generations and often overlooked, this “forgotten” generation is in the midst of their peak earning years. They’re balancing home improvement needs for their property as well as the home of a widowed or aging parent, or maybe they’re considering having that parent move in. So what’s a Gen Xer looking for in a building or design partner?
- Convenience – Their kids are heavily involved with school and activities, their careers are at their peak, and the needs of their families are continuously evolving. All of this means heightened demand on their time. And guilt. Lots of it. Therefore, anything that can make their life easier – smart tech, rooms pre-wired with built-in shelving, and – with aging parents in mind – a first floor office adaptable for a bedroom, and a full bathroom on the first floor – is just the ticket.
- Work/Life Balance – Gen Xers learned early to make the most of their time, money and space. Achievement and careers have long been the priority. For them, home is their sanctuary, a brief pause away from it all. Gen Xers have worked hard and now they want their family to bear the fruits of that labor. This means entertainment rooms with the latest video and audio technology; outdoor living spaces for a Saturday night family BBQ, accessible kitchens with room and storage for the family to prep meals together and catch up on the day.
Millennials: Make It Personal
Finally emerging as homeowners after delaying milestones like marriage and children, Millennials are a mature and prepared homeowner. As a result, they want a more future-proof home – and low interest rates have made more square feet more possible. A sizable and confident group, Millennials are the most educated generation to-date. Combined with their digital-savvy consumption patterns and you’ve identified two values builders and designers must consider:
- Individuality – Millennials grew up with phones and computers they could customize. While they often can’t afford to design an entire home (or even a room), they will seek something to make it uniquely theirs. A distinctive bathroom tile or kitchen backsplash highlights their willingness to spend on small, but unique solutions. Millennials also have a tendency to upcycle everything from trashcans to old doors – anything that can be theirs and theirs alone.
- Confidence/Control – Access to inspiration and how-to videos has made it easy for Millennials to fulfill their design vision, learn home improvement solutions and become confident DIYers. This generation believes in their skills (using technology as a boost) but also know when they’re in over their heads. Millennials are early adopters of smart technology, like the Nest thermostat, but have little patience for technology that isn’t user-friendly (the lack of interoperability among the competing smart technologies has slowed Millennial user adoption.)
It’s easy to stereotype the different generations based on what’s seen on TV. And while it takes more work to empathize with each generation and understand the reasons behind their preferences, this insight is what turns trendy products into long-term brand loyalties.