Jan. 22, 2010, Las Vegas — We've all heard the saying "It's not your father's (fill in the blank)" to describe trend shifts that separate one generation from another. But when it comes to future housing needs, differences between Baby Boomers, who have dominated American culture for 40 years, and the younger Millennials (who will dominate for the next 40) might not be as wide as is generally thought.
That was the premise of "From Woodstock to Wii," a thought-provoking seminar at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas on Thursday, where a leading architect, Realtor, and model-home designer sought to bridge the generation gap by emphasizing what these two massive demographic groups might have in common as home buyers.
Gian Hasbrock, a former executive with David Weekley Homes, who now runs the real estate firm Go Realty in Cary, N.C., believes the "secular crisis" created by the economic recession is affecting all generations and actually bringing them together. Consequently, Millennials are embracing a "low-maintenance lifestyle" and are looking for living experiences that are "authentic" and support their individuality.
Lita Dirks, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based model home merchandiser, said that while Millennials are demonstrably less materialistic than their parents, "they still have dreams" about where they want to live. "You have to give them choices" in terms of detail and customization, said Dirks, who talked about creating "focus points" and "memory points" in model homes to excite these buyers. Dirks added that models need to be updated more frequently than in the past, because Millennials' sensibilities shift more often and rapidly than in previous generations.
The underlying theme of the seminar was that Boomers, as they yield cultural ground to Millennials, will accept many of the lifestyle changes the younger group demands. Both want customization, said Manny Gonzalez, a principal with the Irvine, Calif.-headquartered architectural design firm KTGY Group. For example, he pointed to a 500-unit apartment complex in Tempe, Ariz., called Grigio, whose design, amenities, and price points target students at Arizona State University and young professionals. This complex has had success drawing 50-plus buyers as well, "who are looking for a contemporary edge." He and Dirks agreed that the two generations want a "cleaned up, simplified" design in the homes in which they live.
The speakers touched on other areas where the generations' sensibilities mesh, such as favoring green building and technology (which also plays into these buyers' preference for smaller dwellings). "Show technology in every spot possible," said Dirks, who admitted that she has been putting Nintendo Wii gaming consoles in every model she can to give buyers a chance to engage the living experience in the model. Hasbrock said that experience might lead to "a moment of self discovery" for the buyers that connects them to that home.
Health and fitness is another point of intersection between the buyer generations. Gonzalez alluded to research that has found that 75 percent of Boomers say they are maintaining an active lifestyle: 40 percent even think they are healthier now than they were in their 20s. Builders must find a way to accommodate these active buyers, although Gonzalez also recommended that common rooms within communities be flexible in their configurations, so that the owners themselves can adapt them to their particular activities. Gonzalez also encouraged builders to look at communities they've done years ago to see how their residents have modified those spaces.
There's evidence, said the speakers, that both generations are becoming increasingly enamored of transit-oriented urban living. Dirks suggested that access to public transportation options such as light rail supports the individualistic personalities of the generations. And Gonzalez showed BB09, a community near a light rail stop in California's San Bernardino County, where his firm was able to get 22 single-family detached homes with gardens onto a single acre.
The seminar came full circle when its speakers broached the topic of multigenerational housing and how a bad economy is forcing the younger generation to move back in with their parents. These "boomerangs," as Dirks described them, are requiring builders, architects, and designers to rethink how houses are laid out, and is leading some to create zones within rooms for the different generations.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.