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Real Estate Trends Don’t Favor Far-Flung Suburbs



Baby Boomers find it hard to believe that their large far-flung suburban homes may no longer be prime real estate.  When they bought these properties ten to twenty years ago features like a large yard, double or triple garages, and a big media room were coveted. Likewise, was the capacious family room /slash/ kitchen, the slate entranceway, and cathedral ceilings.


The new home buyers, the Millennial generation, can seldom afford these large suburban homes, particularly if the location is remote and depends on a long drive to reach employment centers. The Millenialls had the greatest financial setbacks during the 2007 crash, and still carry massive student debt. But, even if they could afford these homes, tastes move on. There is no law that says they have to step into the shoes, or homes, of their elders. The exception will be if they inherit these properties, and even then, they may choose to sell them and live closer-in to urban centers.

The Boomer’s homes, in many ways, were modeled after a mythical “Ozzie and Harriet” TV show, with a stay-at-home Mom and two young children. The real inhabitants, the Boomers, had 1.8 children and Mom held a full-time job. Boomer women worked many hours and commuted long distances to keep their families in these large, comfortable suburban homes.  Boomer women were the first generation to acquire a second household vehicle, and drive nearly everywhere.

Now, there is a pushback from the next generation, who view that this model has more negatives than positives. Millennials and Digital Natives are less interested in DIY weekend projects or maintaining a large lawn. They view long commutes as unnecessary, as well as expensive, wasteful, and mindless.  For working moms with children, the long commute is also a time sink that displaces family time with the kids.


The most important reason that far-flung suburban homes are languishing on the market may be that the Millennials don’t  “fill them up” well. Today, 27 percent of the U.S. population lives in one-person households. Twenty nine percent of married couples have no children, and only 26 percent of mothers with children under 15 stay-at-home. Big suburban homes conflict with modern demographics.


In a blog, we usually don’t combine fact and fiction, but a chapter in All Fall Down by the popular author Jennifer Weiner, describes the picture. Here, the heroine, a thirty something character, is lamenting the big house her husband has acquired in a Philadelphia suburb.  Here are some excerpts: ”Dave and I had both grown up in decent sized paces in the suburbs, but the ** house had rooms upon rooms, some of which seemed to have no discernible function…every piece of furniture we owned… …barely filled a quarter of the space, and it all looked wrong….I’d never considered myself indecisive or suffered from fear of commitment, but somehow the thought that bed you are buying will be your bed for the rest of your life…would make be hang up the phone or close the laptop before I could even get the first digits of my card number out.”


One of the key laments of the narrator is that she no longer takes the train to work and instead, works from home on a blog (!)**. Her daily routines are the carpools, class mom duties, package pickup, and shopping.  The narrator is living the Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle, in a suitable house.  But, she is still unhappy. The problem is that Ozzie and Harriet were fictional, and the lifestyle they portrayed went out of style nearly fifty years ago. However, their housing stock is still with us, even though the aspirations of modern households have updated. No one knows quite what to do with these old fortresses and they might make their new inhabitants feel grumpy and trapped. That is one of the puzzle pieces of Aging in Suburbia.

**Full disclosure: That fictional suburban house is on a well-served suburban train route

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