They’re young; they’re hip. They’re digital natives and city-dwellers. But perhaps not for much longer. In fact, while the 2010s have often been referred to as the decade of the city, current studies show all that is changing, and millennials are leading the way. But what exactly is it that’s drawing these young hipsters out of the cities and into the ‘burbs or even out to the countryside? And what does that mean for small-town life in Canada, the US, and beyond?
More Bang for Your Buck
For all the stereotype of the indulged and decadent millennial, as these young adults come of age, they’re proving more cost-conscious and financially savvy than they’ve often been given credit for. And, let’s face it, life is a lot more expensive in the city. But in addition to the overall lower cost of living in the suburbs and countryside, you can also get a lot more house for a lot less money outside of the metropolis. That means a lot to millennials, not only because of the pleasure of homeownership but also because owning property means building equity. Millennials, who are not only often burdened with student loan debt but who also likely have stark memories of their families struggling in the Great Recession, are looking to establish a stable source of wealth without taking on more mortgage debt than they can comfortably manage. This rising generation of young homeowners does its homework and is determined not to settle for anything short of the perfect home at the perfect price.
Small Town Living with a Big City Feel
Just because you take the millennial out of the city doesn’t mean you take the city out of the millennial. In fact, even as millennials embrace the quiet life of small-town living, there are still some urban conveniences they’re not willing to do without. But these digital natives and the advent of smart home technologies are the perfect marriage, helping to propel this big-city exodus. However, these aren’t your grandmother’s old school homebuyers. Would-be rural and suburbanite millennials, however, are looking for houses that are truly tricked out, customized with all the state-of-the-art gadgets a digital native needs to feel at home, from wireless security systems to remote home monitoring to voice-activated entertainment tech. Millennials want the ultimate in smart home convenience, even smack in the middle of nowhere.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Despite the turn that many millennials are making to rural living, the grass is not always greener. The trend toward the growth of a sort of millennial “hipsturbia” is strong and growing, with no signs of slowing anytime soon. Nevertheless, the number of millennials who choose to remain in the city and rent continues, for the time being at least, to exceed the number of newly-minted millennial suburbanites. This is perhaps not surprising, since many millennials are choosing to delay or avoid starting families due to financial insecurity, and thus are reluctant to take on the financial burden of a 15 or 30-year mortgage.
In addition, for all its claims of affordability, the lower cost of living in suburban and rural areas may be offset by extra expenses not incurred by urban renters, from property taxes to the costs of fuel and transportation in what may be a significant work commute. Small towns and rural communities are also not immune from the scourge of poverty. In fact, according to a 2015 study, in the United States, there were 16.5 million people in the suburbs living below the poverty line, compared with 13.5 million people living in poverty in the city.
Finally, for all the perks of owning your own home (and there are many!), there are also some drawbacks as well. Owning your own home is a large responsibility. You’re responsible for your own upkeep and maintenance, and, unlike renting, when something goes wrong, it’s on you to fix it. So before you make the leap into homeownership, be sure to look beyond the fantasy to the reality. Consider whether you truly have the time, resources, and desire to take on the responsibility of caring for a home.
No doubt about it, millennials are changing the face of our cities and our communities. No longer just a generation of urban hipster apartment-dwellers, more and more millennials are turning to homeownership in small and mid-sized communities. Many are even venturing so far as to take on a quiet life in the countryside. That doesn’t mean, however, that these urban expatriates are entirely renouncing the comforts of big city life. Instead, they’re simply bringing those comforts home, seeking properties already outfitted with the latest devices, apps, and gadgets to make country and community life feel a bit more cosmopolitan. These young suburban homeowners are also looking to invest in a more stable form of wealth, acutely aware, thanks to the lessons of the housing collapse of 2008, of the dangers of overextension and of the significant student debt many of them already carry.
At the same time, however, the familiar image of the millennials and their city lifestyle isn’t going to have to be abandoned anytime soon. Compared with homeownership among Baby Boomers when they were the millennials’ current age, today’s young adults are renting more and buying less, but this also often coincides with other important life decisions, such as the decision to delay having children or not to become parents at all. Such choices seem to reflect the overall sense of financial insecurity many millennials feel as they take their first steps into adulthood.
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