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Key Takeaways:

  • Millennials report lowest level of satisfaction with their current homes
  • Nearly 40% of Millennials & Gen Z postponed buying a home due to pandemic
  • Florida now most popular place to live, Colorado comes in #4
  • Main reasons for moving: Climate, home prices, job market & proximity to loved ones
  • Most homeowners saved for up to five years for down payment
  • Home prices unaffordable for 66% of renters; 20% of adults living with family can’t afford to rent
  • Gen Z’s expectations for homeownership tempered in last three years with increasing concerns around credit scores & job security
  • More than half of non-owners have nothing saved for a down payment
  • Suburbia becomes top option for Gen Z and even formerly city-minded Millennials, while Gen X’s interest in rural living grows

Three years ago, we explored the differences between generations in housing preferences and readiness for homeownership. At the time, we found that Gen Z was enthusiastic about the prospect of owning a home, whereas Millennials were pessimistic about their homeownership outlook.

Now — nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and societal fallout — we once again surveyed a representative sample of U.S. homeowners, renters, and individuals living with their parents or other relatives. In particular, we looked across the three adult generations that will be driving most of the transactional activity in the housing market in the coming years: Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X. Baby Boomers — the generation with the absolute highest rates of homeownership — were not targeted for this study.

Today, Millennials are still pessimistic about the possibility of homeownership, and Gen Z’s dreams have also been dampened. At the same time, suburban living has risen in popularity — even among city-minded Millennials — and Colorado has become the fourth-most popular dream destination to live in. This comes even as all generations are feeling the ever-increasing pressure of affordability, to save enough for a down payment or achieve the financial independence to rent.

Nearly 1 in 5 Millennials Outright Dissatisfied with Their Homes

Gen Z’s wild optimism expressed in our previous study seems to have been subdued, as only 29% of adult Zoomer respondents are now homeowners, whereas 83% of them expressed a desire and plan to enter homeownership within five years of 2018. However, today, nearly one in four Zoomers in our respondent pool lives with their parents and one-third are renting.

Overall, home-sharing is most popular among adult Zoomers, with nearly one-quarter of respondents currently living with friends or roommates, compared to only 7% of Millennials and 5% of Gen X who reside in a similar setup. Gen Z respondents are also the most likely to live in an intergenerational household, with 14% sharing their home with two or more other generations. That’s similar to 11% of Gen Xers, who are living in the same type of household.

Taking living arrangements and household types into account — as well as generational and income particularities — Millennials remain the most disgruntled generation, with respondents from this generation reporting the lowest levels of satisfaction with their homes (55%), as well as the highest levels of outright dissatisfaction (17%).

Conversely, for those happy with their homes — regardless of what generation they belong to — the affordability, size and location of their current homes, along with the neighborhood community are among the leading factors for their satisfaction across all three generations. However, when it comes to available green space, that factor is more significant for Gen X and Millennial respondents, while Gen Z prizes the convenience of commuting conferred by their homes.

At the other end of the spectrum, the amount of space offered by the home, its location, and its state of repairs are the leading factors for dissatisfaction for all three generations surveyed for this study. More precisely, for Gen Xers, the home’s state of repairs is the most significant worry with one in five dissatisfied with it, while more than one in five Millennials and Gen Xers are unhappy with the size of their home.

More Than One-Third of Gen Z & Millennials Delayed Buying a Home Because of COVID-19

Generational differences also translated into respondents’ experiences with their homes during COVID lockdowns: For example, 84% of Gen Xers spent COVID lockdowns in their own residences, with that percentage steadily decreasing by generation with less than three-quarters of Gen Z doing the same. In fact, 14% of surveyed Zoomers split their time between two or more locations, whereas only 5% of Gen Xers declared to have taken a similar approach.

Moreover, three-quarters of Gen Xers felt that the home they rode out lockdowns in suited their needs at the time, with 56% of Zoomers in this survey declaring the same. However, satisfaction in how their homes met their needs during stay-at-home orders decreased from the oldest generations to the youngest: While only 15% of Gen Xers felt their lockdown home was unsuitable for their needs at the time, about one in five Millennials were of the same opinion, joined by one-quarter of Gen Z survey participants.

In particular, 26% of all respondents who were unhappy named the home being too small as the main factor. This was closely followed by insufficient space for work and insufficient space for recreational activities, while one in five named overcrowding as the main factor. Only 3% of our pool of respondents said that their home was too large.

As for the pandemic’s long-term effects on housing plans, Gen Xers seem to have been the least affected, with 78% reporting no impact whatsoever on their homeownership plans, compared to 61% of Millennials and 58% of Zoomers surveyed. At the same time, 21% of Millennials and 27% of Gen Z reported having to delay buying, as opposed to 13% of Gen X. At 8%, Millennials also reported the highest figure for those who ended up purchasing a home sooner than planned due to the pandemic.

What’s more, when categorizing respondents not only by generation, but also homeownership status, it’s obvious that homeowners were less affected than those living with family or renting: Just over half (52%) reported no effects on their homeownership plans, while 41% of Millennials and 36% of Gen Z non-owners had to delay buying their own homes. Furthermore, 4% of all non-owners reported losing their homes due to COVID-19, with Millennials most affected at 5%.

Colorado Becomes 4th Most Popular Place to Move to

More than half of all respondents looking to move from their current homes plan to stay within their own state. Otherwise, when considering dream destinations to move to, rankings were mostly in line with national demographics: the 10 most populous states ranked the highest overall, with Florida at the top, followed by California and Texas.

Click on each generation to see which states they’d like to live in:

However, Colorado is a different story: 21st in terms of population size among the 50 states, Colorado was among the 15 most popular states to move to in our 2018 generational study. Fast forward to today and the Centennial State is now the fourth-most popular dream destination, boosted by its popularity among Millennials.

Even looking into differences by homeownership status, Colorado remains firmly the fourth-most popular new destination, while the top three interchange. For example, Florida is the #1 dream destination for homeowners, followed by Texas and then California, while non-owner respondents prefer California over the Sunshine State, with Texas third in line.

At a generational level, Gen X respondents would like to relocate to Florida first, with Colorado barely the ninth-most popular option. In comparison, Zoomers would choose California first, with Colorado fifth — outranked by New York. For Millennials, however, Florida ranks first, followed by Texas and California at a tie and Colorado third.

It’s also worth mentioning that those looking to move are primarily driven by a state’s climate and proximity to loved ones, followed by home price trends and job markets. They’re joined by respondents who want to be closer to nature or a better social scene.

Flip through the tabs below to see how priorities shift along homeownership status:

Renters are primarily driven to relocate by the climate, followed by job markets, home prices and proximity to loved ones. Of course, generational particularities are at play here, as well, with Gen X renters in our survey considering proximity to the great outdoors as their third-most essential factor, while a more active social scene is Gen Z renters’ second-most important factor.

Similarly, those living with parents or other relatives are also most motivated by the climate, as well as being closer to friends, family and significant others, with more dynamic job markets and better home prices third. Here, too, Gen Z’s love of entertainment makes its mark, with a location’s social scene ranking as the third-most significant factor.

Overall, homeowners are most motivated to move by the desire to be closer to friends, family and significant others, while more attractive home prices and climates are also major factors. Once again, generational particularities arise, with retirement as the fourth-most significant factor for Gen X homeowners who participated in this study. On the opposite end, a vibrant social scene is just as important for Zoomers as being close to loved ones, ranking as their #3 priority.

Lifestyle Changes Push Homeowner Relocations

Drilling down into the particularities of homeowners, about two-thirds of Millennial and Gen Z homeowners, as well as close to half of Gen Xers in our survey declared they plan to move. The top two factors inspiring moves among homeowners? Lifestyle changes, such as retirement or starting a family, and upsizing, regardless of what generation they belong to.

As expected, these lifestyle changes are much more of a factor for older generations, with one in five Gen Xers in our survey spurred by lifestyles changes, in addition to one in 10 who are upsizing. At the same time, Gen X’s more established personal and professional lives mean that one in 10 are also moving to downsize — representing, most likely, empty nesters — and only 5% are moving for the job market.

On the other hand, only 5% of surveyed Gen Z homeowners declared they are looking to downsize and an additional 11% said they plan to move because of more attractive job markets. Unsurprisingly, Millennial homeowners — many of whom have young families — lead in terms of upsizing, with 18% looking for more space in their next home.

Most Homeowners Saved Up to 5 Years for the Down Payment

Considering that housing costs (home prices and rents) are considered the top impediment toward homeownership, it’s important to look into how much money different generations put toward their down payment.

Overall, approximately half of all three generations in our survey declared to have paid less than $10,000 for their down payment. That percentage is especially significant for Gen Z owners, as it suggests that they made purchases in affordable markets, which most others in their generation — such as those living near large urban centers — won’t be able to replicate.

While half of Gen Z buyers surveyed in 2018 spent the same amount on their down payments, only 31% of Millennials did the same three years ago. That’s a stark change compared to the 49% of Millennials who reported similar down payment costs now. That suggests that many Millennials may have reoriented toward more affordable markets, such as suburban areas outside large urban centers, boosted by significantly increased share of Millennial respondents looking to buy in suburbia.

All in all, when it comes to down payment costs, no significant differences arose between Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z respondents in our survey: Just over a quarter of all three cohorts paid between $10,000 and $25,000, with an additional 13% paying up to $50,000, and 9% putting up more than $50,000.

Similarly, all three generations also had nearly the same saving timeline, with nearly 90% of all homeowner respondents saving for up to five years. Here, again, Millennial trends have shifted compared to 2018, when only 68% of this cohort reported saving for no longer than five years.

Housing Market Even More Unaffordable for Non-Owners

With the eldest Gen Xers now 56 years old, elder Millennials looking at 41 this year, and the forefront of Gen Z hitting 27 in 2022, homeownership rates among respondents from the three generations stand at 78%, 64% and 29%, respectively. So, what’s keeping 22% of Gen X, 36% of Millennials and 71% of adult Zoomers out of the housing market?

As expected, the main issue is affordability. Of all non-owners who participated in our survey, 53% view today’s housing market as just as inaccessible or even more inaccessible than in 2018, with Millennials most pessimistic. And, for those living with parents or other family members, the outlook is even more stark than it is for renters, with 59% of Millennials who live at home feeling that the prospect of homeownership is now even further removed. 

Flip through the tabs below to see how outlooks shift along living arrangement lines:

On the flip side, Gen Z non-owners’ outlook is most optimistic, with 53% viewing today’s housing prices as just as or even more accessible compared to 2018. In fact, more than one-third of Zoomer respondents feel accessibility has improved, although that figure drops to 25% when looking at Zoomers living with family, rather than renting. But, Gen Z’s more optimistic view of accessibility could also be the result of personal experiences within their professional lives, as the eldest Zoomers are only now turning 27 and entering higher-income jobs.

Two-Thirds of Renters Can’t Afford to Buy; 1 in 5 Adults Living with Family Can’t Afford Rental Costs

Millennials, especially, are struggling with unaffordability: Of Millennial renters surveyed, nearly three-quarters — the highest share of all three generations — are barred from homeownership by unaffordable home prices. Likewise, 60% of Gen X and Gen Z renter respondents find themselves in similar positions, with less than one in five renting for lifestyle reasons and a similar percentage stuck on the sidelines of the market due to tight inventories.

What’s more, respondents living with their parents or other relatives find themselves in even more dire straits, with 70% naming financial constraints as their main reason. Specifically, more than one-third are living with relatives because both buying a home and renting are unaffordable, with a similar percentage needing to save up before leaving the family home. Notably, only 14% of respondents are choosing to live with relatives in order to help out.

To that end, Gen Xers living with parents or other relatives are the least likely to be doing so out of financial considerations. Instead, the decision to home-share with relatives overwhelmingly revolves around personal reasons, with nearly one-third of Gen Xers choosing this type of living arrangement to help out family members — a significant increase compared to 2018, when just one in five Gen Xers reported the same.

And, while three-quarters of survey participants living with parents or other relatives are planning to move out in the next five years, 35% have nothing saved to do so; one-quarter have less than $1,000 saved; and one in five have no more than $5,000.

Furthermore, considering that 40% of those living with relatives are planning to buy, it’s worth mentioning that only 20% have more than $5,000 in savings; and a mere 8% have between $10,000 and $50,000. Instead, most will enter the rental market — either independently, with a partner or with friends. And, for some, it seems as though they’ll be living with family or renting forever, as they don’t ever see themselves becoming homeowners.

Gen Z’s Dreams of Homeownership Delayed Due to Credit Score & Job Security Pressure

Of respondents looking to eventually buy a home, more than one in five respondents named housing costs — including home prices and rental costs — as the main impediment, with a somewhat lower percentage prevented by credit scores. Job security and saving for the down payment were the next-biggest hurdles, while one in 10 potential homeowners was worried about the economy at large.

Although housing costs remain the greatest challenge for all generations, differences do arise within each cohort. For instance, Gen X respondents are most worried about the down payment, with 14% naming this a top impediment. In contrast, indecisiveness is most prevalent among Zoomers, with 12% naming it among their three biggest worries. Adult Zoomers’ outlooks have shifted here, too: Three years ago, they viewed college debt as one of their top impediments to homeownership. But, today, their credit scores and concerns about job security have taken over, with only 7% considering student debt a major roadblock toward homeownership.

Taking all of this into account, it should come as no surprise that a mere 6% of non-owners expect to buy within a year, while nearly one-third don’t have a specific timeline and only 41% of respondents expect to buy within five years. Gen Z expectations on homeownership timelines have also been tempered since 2018, when a whopping 83% expected to buy a home within five years. Today, 29% of adult Zoomers in our survey are homeowners and 19% now expect their ownership timelines to stretch beyond six years.

56% of Non-Owners Have Nothing Saved for the Down Payment

It’s worth noting that those timelines arise mostly from issues regarding individuals’ financial readiness to enter the housing market. Overall, more than three-quarters of survey participants expect the down payment to be no more than $50,000, with 34% of respondents expecting to need no more than $25,000 for their down payment. Gen Xers, in particular, are most optimistic about their financial prospects, as nearly half expect to stay below that threshold.

However, Millennials — most of whom plan to buy urban and suburban homes — will have to keep a close eye on these markets, considering that 39% expect their down payments to stay below $25,000. Maligned as perpetual renters, the outlook for Millennials who don’t yet own seems potentially problematic: Three out of five Millennials surveyed said they have nothing saved and nearly one-third have less than $25,000.

And, although most current Gen Z homeowners spent less than $10,000 on their down payments, 65% expect to spend up to $50,000 now. Quite notably, though, nearly one in 10 Zoomer respondents expect their down payment to surpass $100,000. This likely stems from an Instagram-influenced aspiration (potentially paired with a negative outlook on the housing market’s evolution) because more than half have nothing saved and an additional 40% have less than $25,000 saved for the down payment.

Meanwhile, Gen Xers looking to buy are the most prepared, claiming the lowest share of wannabe owners with nothing saved for the down payment (47%), as well as boasting the highest share of potential buyers with more than $50,000 (5%) put aside for down payment expenses.

Considering that 56% of all respondents have nothing saved, the question becomes: What are their timelines? Well, 8% expect they’ll need more than a decade to save up, and nearly one-quarter expect to need six to 10 years, while one in 10 expect to be ready within the year. It’s also worth noting that the same share of Millennials who have nothing saved for the down payment — 61% — also expect to save the necessary amount within five years.

Gen X Dreams of Rural Life, While Suburbia Reigns Supreme for Gen Z & Even Millennials

Notably, those looking to buy remain centered around large urban centers. Alternatively, rural living would be ideal for 29% of respondents — especially Gen Xers, 42% of whom named it their top choice. Gen Z’s shifting tastes and priorities are also evident here, with the number of adult Zoomers looking at rural living nearly doubling since 2018. Even so, Gen Z is still committed to urban centers, with nearly one-third set on city life and half committed to suburbia.

Likewise, Millennials’ preferences have also shifted: While two out of five Millennials surveyed were set on city living in 2018, that figure has nearly halved. This could be due to the ongoing effects and restrictions of the pandemic, paired with the fact that more Millennials have started or are planning to start families. As a result, only 23% would choose urban environments today, with nearly half now eyeing suburban sprawls.

Suburbia’s appeal is mostly driven by the continued popularity of single family detached homes, with three out of five respondents set on buying their own slice of the American dream. In fact, single family homes are the top choice for more than half of each generation. Even so, close to one in five Zoomers plan to buy a condo — the highest share of any generation — with townhomes and duplexes also most popular with Gen Z.

Meanwhile, for Gen X and Millennials, homesteads and farms are the second-most popular options, while mobile homes are also most popular among Gen Xers, 9% of whom are eyeing this option. Additionally, 3% of all potential buyers said they are looking at alternative homes, such as cabins, RVs, tiny homes and skoolies (converted school buses).

And, when choosing a potential home, the old adage rings true, with location being the most important factor across generations (aside from pricing). Location is then followed by outdoor areas and green spaces. For Millennial respondents, the third-most important factor is storage space, while Gen Z’s next must-have is quality internet connectivity. Following location and outdoor spaces, Gen Xers equally prize storage space, the home’s architecture, and sustainable and energy-efficient features.

Flip through the tabs below to see how priorities shift along generational lines:

However, compromises are almost always necessary in today’s tight housing markets and with rising prices. For 41% of potential buyers, amenities are the first to go, while 31% are open to less-advantageous locations.

Notably, space is the aspect that buyers are least likely to compromise on — with the exception of the amenity-minded Gen Z, who would rather give up location. In contrast, Gen Xers and Millennials — the largest cohorts currently working from home — are least likely to compromise on space, with only one-quarter of both generations open to the idea.

As for the most important factors when choosing a neighborhood to buy in, potential buyers most often prioritize safety, the neighborhood community and the convenience of commuting. At a generational level, area schools are the next-most important factor for Millennial respondents, while the neighborhood’s built environment (such as bike paths, green belts, public spaces and highways) are next on the list for both Gen Z and Gen X.

Conclusions

All in all, despite the homebuying boom of 2020, the dream of homeownership seems further removed than just three years ago for many potential buyers — especially Millennials. Even Gen Z — the youngest cohort of homebuyers, who, a mere three years ago, were overwhelmingly optimistic — has seen its dreams dampened.

Across the board, worries about the economy, job security and vertical home price trends are increasingly concerning for all three generations surveyed. After all, just 10% of those looking to buy have at least $25,000 saved for the down payment, while two-thirds of renters can’t afford to buy, and one in five respondents who are living with relatives are doing so because of prohibitive rental costs.

Beyond that, city living has also noticeably decreased in popularity — even among Millennials, whose previous preferences drove much of the revitalization of American downtowns. Nowadays, urban environments rank last, outpaced by even rural settings, with most would-be homebuyers eyeing suburbia for their homes — a major shift from the urban-centric trends of the past decade.

Methodology

For this study, we surveyed 2,399 U.S. homeowners, renters, and individuals living with their parents or other family members via Clickworker. The survey sample size has a 3% margin of error and a 95% confidence level.

All respondents were between the ages of 18 and 56.

Generations were defined as follows:

  • Generation X or Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1980
  • Millennials: Born between 1981 and 1994
  • Generation Z, Gen Z or Zoomers: Born between 1995 and 2010

The respondents were asked individual questions about current housing status; homeownership plans; savings; and amenity and community preferences; as well as some demographic data regarding employment, marital status and living arrangements.

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss is a senior writer reporting real estate trends in the US. Her work has been cited by CBS News, Curbed, The Los Angeles Times, and Forbes among others. With an academic background in journalism, Eliza has been covering real estate since 2012. Before joining PropertyShark, Eliza was an associate editor at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive. Eliza writes for both PropertyShark and CommercialEdge. Reach her at [email protected]