3 Ways the Boomer Housing Crisis Benefits Millennials
Life + Money

3 Ways the Boomer Housing Crisis Benefits Millennials

As baby boomers grudgingly age into their sunset years, they may find it increasingly difficult to find or afford housing that meets their needs.

In particular, younger boomers who are now in their 50s are poorer and have more debt than previous generations (in addition to lower home ownership rates). They may be unable to cover the cost of housing or long-term care in their retirement years, according to a recent report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The youngest of the 76 million boomers have begun turning 50 this year – and 10,000 boomers a day will turn 65 from now through 2030.

Related: Boomers Pioneer New Retirement Housing Trends 

The vast majority want to stay in their homes, but those homes often lack accessibility features, such as single-level living and wider hallways and doors, that would allow them to operate a wheelchair, for example. Furthermore, suburban or rural areas with inadequate public transportation can isolate them from family and friends as well as health care providers. 

“The housing stock of America is pretty inflexible,” says David Eckerdt, director of the Gerontology Center and a sociology at the University of Kansas. “You can’t resize it or move it, and the ‘build’ environment can’t quickly acquire the necessary transit or parks or supermarkets.” 

There may be a silver lining here, though: a real estate market that’s more welcoming to millennials. Here are four boomer-led housing trends that may help the younger generation in the long term.

ONE: A Housing Swap. For financial reasons and because they’re healthier than previous generations, boomers are staying in suburban single-family homes far longer than their parents did. That’s OK, because thanks to college loans and a tough job market, it’s taking millennials longer to gain the financial independence they need to buy a house. Despite witnessing one of the worst housing busts in American history, two-thirds of millennials recently polled by Zillow agreed with the statement that owning a home is necessary to living the “good life” and is central to the American dream.

Related: The Booming Housing Market for Boomer Retirees

“By the time millennials start to step up their home purchases, it’s going to be a favorable time that coincides with baby boomers looking to downsize,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

TWO: Multigenerational Housing. We’ve long known about millennials living at home with their parents in the wake of the recession, but experts expect that trend to reverse in coming years as more aging parents consider moving in with their kids. A record 57 million Americans or 18 percent of the population live right now in multi-generational housing, more than twice as many as in 1980, according to Pew Research.

The good news for millennials is that in many cases the parents have the financial wherewithal to help out with the bills. “With the escalating costs of housing and health care, it’s more cost effective for generations to live together, and today’s boomers and their children are more compatible than you would think,” says Jeffrey Rosenfeld, co-author of Unassisted Living.

Builders have responded to the trend with new homes designed specifically to provide the privacy necessary to make such accommodations work.

THREE: Greater Accessibility. Universal design is meant to make life easier for everyone. The latest iteration of the trend has a high-design aesthetic that makes it not only more appealing to baby boomers, but also more palatable to younger generations who will also benefit from the design.

Related: Two Housing Markets for the Two Americas

Nearly a quarter of remodelers surveyed last year were undertaking work so that boomers could age in their own homes, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The most popular projects included the addition of grab bars, higher toilets, and non-slip floors. 

Subtler design changes, such as door handles (instead of knobs), raised dishwashers, and lowered light switches are becoming standard in new houses. New homes also often include a Wi-Fi-equipped office space, perfect for semi-retirees doing some consulting work at home or for younger telecommuters.

The trend toward accessibility extends beyond the home, however, as governments are increasingly looking at ways to beef up their mass transit offerings to previously car-dependent parts of the country. That’s also good news for millennials who are less likely to drive than previous generations because of financial limitations and growing concerns about one’s environmental footprint. The youngest drivers drove 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001, and millennials are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than their parents, according to a report released last year by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group

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