As much as pigeonholing millennials has become widely accepted sport (Selfie sticks! Avocado toast! Gross entitlement!), you can’t really squeeze the ginormous mass of Americans born between 1981 and 1996 into one eco-friendly, sustainably produced basket. Maybe two baskets. There are the older ones in their 30s who graduated straight into the hellscape of the Great Recession, and then the youngsters in their 20s who caught a break and got out of school when the economy was booming again.
It’s no surprise then, that when it comes to home buying, the older half tends to be jaded and a bit battle-scarred, while the younger group is more optimistic.
But here’s the thing: While millennials have been the biggest chunk of U.S. home buyers already for a few years, we’re about to see the younger half hit the housing market en masse. The biggest years for millennial births were between 1989 and 1993, and over the next five years those folks will all be hitting their 30s—the core first-time home-buying years. This group will help determine where the next “hot” markets are and what the most desirable homes of the future will be. Their tastes and preferences will shape the housing market for years to come.
So the realtor.com® data team set out to find the metropolitan areas* with the most home buyers still in their 20s—not just younger millennials, but also the first vestiges of the next demo group, the ominously titled Generation Z.
Get ready for some changes, folks.
“Younger Americans don’t have the baggage of the recession and are better positioned to become home buyers—and reverse some of that narrative that millennials aren’t buyers,” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Austin, TX–based research group Center for Generational Kinetics.
So where are they going? “Cost is still the driving factor” of where they want to settle down, says Dorsey. “They need to be in a place where they think there are enough job opportunities and job security for them to make the commitment to buy a home.”
But they don’t want to go to the middle of nowhere just because it’s cheap. And they aren’t necessarily settling down to accommodate growing families yet, as the median age for a first-time parent was 26 in 2016—up from 23 in 1994, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. They wants jobs and fun. Stability and nightlife. Affordability and culture. And they don’t mind taking on a fixer-upper or a less traditional neighborhood to make it happen,
To figure out where 20- to 29-year-olds are buying the most homes, we calculated where they took out the highest percentage of mortgages in 2018** in the 200 largest metropolitan areas. The ranking was limited to one metro per state to ensure geographic diversity.
So what are the top hot spots for buyers in their 20s?
Best cities for 20-somethings
Median list price: $155,000 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29**: 33.2%
This Midwestern river town is striving to become a place where young folks want to live and hang out on the weekends. The city purchased a private lot downtown with plans to turn it into a park, music venue, and maybe even an ice rink. Events like the Evansville Food Truck Festival, in its third year, and the buzzy Evansville Donut Festival are stemming the flow of 20-somethings to Louisville, two hours east, and Indianapolis, about three hours northeast.
Baked treats aside, the biggest draw here is affordability. Median-priced homes cost about $100,000 less than in those bigger metros.
“These younger buyers are realizing they can get homes they actually own and spend less on a mortgage than they would on rent,” says local real estate agent Trae Dauby of Keller Williams Capital Realty. “Most are locals who were born and raised in the area.”
The city doesn’t have a lot of new condo developments, so many buyers in their 20s are grabbing 100-year-old, single-family homes that need work. The hottest spot for these buyers is just west of downtown along the Ohio River in the 47712 ZIP code. They can score four-bedroom beauties for about $130,000 in neighborhoods such as Poplar Grove and Bunny Grove within the ZIP. About half of those taking out mortgages in this area were under 30.
2. Duluth, MN
Median list price: $178,600 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 32.5%
Park Point, Duluth, MN
Located in northern Minnesota and right on the banks of Lake Superior, Duluth attracts outdoorsy folks looking for a low-key lifestyle with lots of fresh air, kayaking, and cross-country skiing.
“We attract a certain younger demographic: the micro-beer-drinking bike rider,” says Jonathan Thornton, managing broker of Coldwell Banker East-West Realty in Duluth. (Nice targeting!)
These days these sudsy cyclists have plenty of options, including Ursa Minor Brewing, opened last fall by a former high school chemistry teacher and his brother and serving signature ales such as Hazy Bastard and Porcupine Pilsner. They’re popular with the college set (21-plus, of course) since the city is home to the University of Minnesota Duluth and its roughly 10,000 students.
Home prices here are much cheaper than in Minneapolis, a two-hour hour drive away. Twenty-somethings are gravitating toward single-family fixer-uppers priced under $100,000 in Lincoln Park, a historic neighborhood right on the lake’s shoreline and where most of the breweries are opening.
Median list price: $226,800 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 31.8%
Downtown Clarksville, TN
Clarksville is known for Fort Campbell, an Army base that sits just outside of town. For decades young military families have been the top home buyers in town—but recently they’re competing with an influx of 20-somethings priced out of Nashville.
Prices have soared in the Music City to $350,000. So Clarksville, about 45 minutes away, has become an appealing alternative.
“People can find more affordable housing and a lot more house here,” says local real estate agent Valerie Hunter-Kelly of Keller Williams. “Those younger buyers don’t want to deal with the stress of a competitive market, so they come to Clarksville instead.”
Younger buyers are usually looking for three-bed, two-bath, newly constructed houses or remodeled bungalows in the $150,000 to $220,000 range, Hunter-Kelly says. On the weekends they go out in Nashville, or stay in town and maybe tour Old Glory Distilling, a whiskey distillery. (G’head, try the Smooth Shine Moonshine. Straight up, please.)
Median list price: $210,100 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 31.7%
Young folks looking for a good time have no need to drive the two hours from Lafayette to New Orleans. Known for its Southern charm and cajun eats, this Louisiana city hosts its own Mardi Gras celebration every March complete with elaborate costumes and masked balls.
But it’s all of the good-paying oil jobs in this Gulf Coast community that are the real draw for 20-something residents.
Shocking as it may seem to denizens of East or West Coast cities, it’s common for Lafayette locals to be on their second home before they even hit 30. That’s because two-bedroom, starter homes sell for less than $140,000.
Median list price: $288,500 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 31.1%
Des Moines, IA
When it comes to Midwest real estate, Des Moines, which has been grappling with flooding in recent days, is actually on the more expensive side. Places such as Detroit, Indianapolis, and St. Louis all have lower prices. So why are folks under 30 buying in the state capital of Iowa? They’re drawn to good-paying jobs at companies such as Wells Fargo, Nationwide, and Principal Financial and the quaint music and arts scenes.
“We’re getting young workers from Chicago and the East Coast and the West Coast who want the lifestyle of a smaller town,” says Paul Walter, a real estate agent with Re/Max Real Estate Group in Des Moines. The region’s population jumped 13% from 2010 to 2017, with lots of those newcomers being on the younger side.
Many of these buyers are trying to snag condos in the heart of downtown. But if price is an issue, they’re looking at Beaverdale, a quiet suburban neighborhood with lots of renovated homes priced around $200,000.
“A lot of those folks are at the point where they’re tired of renting or living at home with Mom and Dad. They’re eager to get out on their own,” Walter says.
6. Provo, UT
Median list price: $380,000 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 30.4%
Shopping district in Provo, UT
Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images
When 20-somethings buy a home, it’s usually because they’re getting a bargain. That isn’t the case in Provo, the most expensive market on our ranking. Instead Provo offers a booming job market with employers such as Ancestry.com and Brigham Young University, as well as a startup scene that punches above its belt.
Simply put: Folks have more money to spend on homes here. Plus, it’s a little cheaper than Salt Lake City, about 45 minutes north.
Buyers are getting a helping hand from the city, too. Provo offers down payment assistance up to $10,000 for first-timers. Just last month realtor.com named Provo one of the best places in America for folks looking to snag a starter home.
The biggest group of home buyers in their 20s can be found in the 84058 ZIP code, in Orem, in the northern section of the metro. Home to Utah Valley University, the ZIP has more than 40% of buyers under 30.
Median list price: $119,300 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 30.2%
When the American steel industry started going belly up in the ’70s, Youngstown went down with it. The area hasn’t fully recovered to this day.
Despite revitalization efforts and a drop in crime, the city is still battling persistent poverty with the median household income just under $26,300, according to Census data. In an attempt to stem the brain drain, the city invested in the Youngstown Business Incubator, providing funding and office space to tech and 3D printing companies.
Most of all, the low home prices, even by Rust Belt standards, are an incentive to stick around. Folks can snag three-bedroom homes with front porches for under $60,000.
While many of the most expensive housing markets are seeing home prices fall, median home prices are so low in Youngstown that they had room to jump 12.1% over the past year. That’s by far the largest increase among the places we ranked.
8. Wichita, KS
Median list price: $197,500 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 29.4%
Downtown Wichita, KS
Wichita State University grads don’t need to head to the bigger cities to start their careers. The area is home to large employers such as Koch Industries and Cessna. A strong local economy combined with reasonable home prices makes it easier to save up for a first down payment.
There are also plenty of things for 20-somethings to do in the Great Plains college town. Enjoy imbibing? There’s Aero Plains Brewing, where the bar is made out of an old airplane wing, festivals like Autumn & Art, where folks can drink wine while walking through the open-air gallery, and the Midwest Beerfest, where attendees taste craft beers from more than 400 breweries.
Home buyers get a lot for their money as we ranked the city No. 5 for having the most homes over 3,000 square feet.
9. Utica, NY
Median list price: $130,000 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 29.2%
Utica was once known as the Sin City of the East thanks to the strong presence of the mob. But thankfully, the former textile manufacturing town is now better known for low prices than organized crime.
Homes in this upstate New York metro are way cheaper than those in Albany, about 90 minutes east, which carry median list prices of $300,000. And because Utica is so cheap, first-time buyers tend to be young.
Most 20-something homeowners are purchasing three-bed, one-bath homes for $100,000 or less—about a third of the national median home price, says local real estate broker David Paciello of One Realty Partners
“That age group is our bread and butter,” says Paciello.
10. Grand Rapids, MI
Median list price: $286,500 Percentage of mortgages issued to buyers aged 20 to 29: 29.1%
Meijer Gardens and Greenhouse in Grand Rapids, MI
This old former industrial town has transformed into something of a Midwest hipster haven. By design.
“The city made a plan a few years ago to really market itself toward young people. They made improvements to downtown and brought in employment opportunities,” says Trisha Cornelius, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Grand Rapids. “They built those loft condos downtown … specifically marketed toward younger buyers.”
Those who can’t afford those lofts, which can easily top $350,000, can scoop up cheaper fixer-uppers in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Eastown. The walkable community is filled with cafes and local restaurants populated by the younger set.
And these young buyers are helping to keep the housing market strong here. Indeed, realtor.com projected earlier this year that Grand Rapids would be the second-hottest real estate market in 2019.
* A metropolitan statistical area is a designation that includes the urban core of a city and the surrounding smaller towns and cities.
** This figure is calculated using mortgage data from Optimal Blue, a real estate data firm that specializes in lending records. We excluded mortgages that were refinances or purchases for second homes or investment properties.
Allison Underhill contributed to this report.
Source: Housing Trends Feed