What do millennials want, anyway? Marketing execs all over the country have been tripping over themselves for years to find the answer. After all, as America’s largest and youngest adult generation, millennials have an insane amount of collective purchasing power, the clout to move markets according to their whims—and the ability to do so for decades to come.
As a group, they’re also somewhat elusive. Are they aimless or driven? Apathetic or activist? IPhone or Android? Taco Bell or Chipotle?
Well, here’s something we do know: In ever-increasing numbers, they’re home buyers. In fact, they’re the biggest group of ’em in the nation. Sure, they’re devotees of the borrowers’ economy—eagerly sharing bikes, music, rides, vacation places, you name it—but like most generations before them, they’re hungry for home ownership. Buyers under 36 now make up the biggest chunk of Americans signing on the line that is dotted: 34% of all home buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®. And they make up 64% of first-time home buyers (even though they only account for 13% of the population).
So if millennials are checking out your hometown, you’d best pay attention.
“There are some very specific things you see millennials looking for in a community right now,” says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Center for Generational Kinetics, a marketing firm in Austin, TX. On the list of must-haves: supershort commutes, and amenities like parks, cultural centers, and restaurants. And yeah, maybe even some really fun stuff to do on a Thursday night. That’s because many of these 25- to 34-year-olds are delaying marriage and even a serious career, and want to enjoy the single life, he says.
As Dorsey points out, they also face an UberXL load of unique financial challenges: “College debt, thinner credit history, less savings—and all at a time when home prices have gone up. For many millennials, it’s much harder to buy houses.” On their path to ownership, they’re very much on the prowl for a bargain.
So what are the places that pique millennials’ interest? The realtor.com economic data team analyzed the 60 largest U.S. cities and how much millennials were checking out listings in those areas, compared with the national average, from August 2016 to February 2017.
Ready? Let’s take a closer look at these millennial magnets.
Salt Lake City has a lot more going for it than Mormons, the first KFC franchise (1952), and a big, briny body of water (the Great Salt Lake). There’s also a burgeoning tech scene that lures young people to companies like Adobe and Electronic Arts. In fact, the city has come to be known as “Silicon Slopes,” with homes at one-third of Silicon Valley prices and plenty of sweet skiing and boarding a short ride away.
Even those outside the tech biz have a good chance of snagging a nice gig—Salt Lake has the lowest unemployment rate of all the markets on our list, at 2.9%, well below the national unemployment rate of 4.7%.
And if your dream job hasn’t yet kicked in, there are plenty of cheap, fun things to do.
“This is an extremely livable, affordable city, especially for those that are just starting out,” says Brook Bernier, a Realtor with Equity Real Estate.
Adventure awaits in SLC’s many bike lanes and mountain bike trails. There’s even a Bike Prom (a costumed bike rally party) and Tour de Brewtah, which combines two of the (clichéd, but true) great loves of millennials: bikes and micro-brewed beers. The weekly farmers market even offers valet bike parking.
Millennial lure: SLC may be known as a conservative place, but it was named the “Gayest City in the USA” in 2012 by the LGBT magazine the Advocate. It was ranked eighth last year.
It’s not just sun birds or aging boomers who flock to Florida in droves, fleeing cold weather. So do millennials! The sunshine is nice, but young folk are attracted to a hopping scene with relatively affordable homes and decent job opportunities. Many find employment in tourism, international trading, and construction—the entire region is enjoying a building boom.
It’s not all work and no play, though. While the South Beach is known for its club scene, events like Calle Ocho Festival, Carnaval Miami, and Art Basel Miami turn the entire city into a party. In addition to numerous art galleries and music venues, the Adrienne Arsht Center was opened in 2006 as the country’s second-largest performing arts center (after NYC’s Metropolitan Opera House).
Up-and-coming neighborhoods like Little Haiti and North Miami are getting fresh interest from young buyers, says Realtor Giovanna Calimano, of Yes Real Estate.
“A lot of these areas are developing little by little,” she says. “They’re hot because the houses there right now aren’t overpriced. People can live there while the communities are still developing and improving.”
Millennial lure: Beach culture—fun, sexy, and cheap (or, actually, free). What’s not to love?
There’s much more to Orlando than theme parks, oversized mice, and sleepy time-shares overlooking golf courses. In fact, this fast-growing metro is getting a lot of serious attention from young people.
“You’ve got the best of both worlds,” says Realtor Lorisa Motko of Charles Rutenberg Realty. “You’ve got the beaches 45 minutes in any direction, and you have plenty of entertainment and nightlife for millennials.”
New mixed-use developments designed to appeal to both city-loving millennials and baby boomers (hey, what happened to Gen Xers, anyway?), many of which are pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Thornton Park, just east of downtown, has also become popular among younger homeowners seeking a unique historic neighborhood with cobbled streets and lined with bungalows.
The Orlando metro area leads Florida in job creation, and added 54,600 jobs in January, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Millennial lure: Orlando was the birthplace of the megastar boy bands, ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys, which dominated the airwaves back in the ’90s. And, in case you hadn’t heard, the ’90s are cool again … with millennials. Go figure.
Seattle checks off quite a few items on the millennial home buyer’s list: well-paid jobs (at Amazon, Microsoft, and Costco) quality coffeehouses around almost every corner, more than 50 bike trails, and some of the country’s best tree-lined streets.
It’s also a welcoming place for nonconforming young people. The city had one of the nation’s biggest turnouts for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, hometown titan Starbucks announced a plan to hire refugees, and it’s the first major U.S. metro to approve a $15 minimum wage.
“Seattle is hip, it’s current, it’s progressive,” says Chris Bajuk, a broker at HomeSmart. “We’re at the leading edge of social and technology trends.”
Millennial lure: The upscale marijuana shop Vela (it’s legal here!), with gleaming counters and an on-site processing lab, was labeled “the Louis Vuitton of weed stores” by none other than Snoop Dogg.
Good news for broke millennials: A paycheck in Houston stretches further than in other metros. Houston has the second-highest pay on our list, at $62,300, after adjusting for the cost of living, trailing only San Jose, according to Forbes. Plus, Texas is one of the only seven states with no income tax.
Granted, you may well find yourself fighting through Houston traffic, but several master-planned communities in the suburbs mix residential homes with businesses, so you may not even need to head downtown.
“Restaurants, bars, shops—it almost feels like an urban setting. It’s a very neat trend that’s going to take off,” says Cheri Fama, president of John Daugherty Realtors.
Millennial lure: One of Houston’s more eccentric tourist attractions is the Beer Can House—the odd brainchild of retired upholsterer John Milkovisch, who covered his home with more than 50,000 flattened cans, bottles, and caps.
Los Angeles is still “La La Land” for young people dreaming of a Hollywood career, waiting for that life-changing phone call while writing in a café, waiting tables, or driving for Lyft.
“Yes, a lot of people who want to break into the business still come here,” says Gwen Lane, a 33-year-old millennial who runs the blog The LA Girl. “For creatives, it’s such a good place to be.”
But a more recent arrival, the tech industry, is also making itself known—especially the stretch of ocean-adjacent Westside known as “Silicon Beach.” Here you’ll find the parent company of Snapchat; virtual reality hardware/software producer Oculus; and a major outpost of Google.
And despite a median home price of $672,000, there are still pockets of L.A. that are affordable. Northeast neighborhoods like Highland Park and Atwater Village, once dismissed as the boonies, are now among the trendiest choices for laying down roots. Downtown L.A. is vibrant again, and the newly expanded metro system offers options for getting around without a car. For even lower price tags, South Los Angeles is worth considering—the area is going through major changes, with new outdoor plazas, a farmers market, public gardens, and more than 1,000 apartments and condos.
Millennial lure: The Whiskey a Go Go, once the hometown club of the Doors, is still one of the country’s best joints to see up-and-coming bands.
Buffalo’s inexpensive housing—the median home price is only $158,000—is particularly attractive to young people carrying mounds of college debt. Jobs are flowing in, too. Elon Musk’s SolarCity factory alone, a solar energy equipment supplier, promises 3,000 jobs.
“It’s a city where young people can make their presence felt, whereas in large cities like New York, it’s hard to make an impact,” says E. Frits Abell, chief operating officer of Green Machine, a lithium-ion battery manufacturer in Buffalo.
“Buffalo has a very conducive environment for entrepreneurs … people are also involved in charities, spend time fixing neighbors’ homes, or volunteer with refugee communities to make a positive social impact here.”
Among cities of similar size, Buffalo has a remarkable selection of cultural attractions. And after extensive renovation over the last decade or so, Buffalo has turned its waterfront into a recreation zone for skating and curling.
Millennial lure: Buffalo’s Turkey Trot is the oldest annual public footrace in the nation. The 8K run was first held all the way back in 1896.
Albany, one of America’s first cities, is embracing a shining new future. Faded industrial districts in North Albany have become thriving enclaves, with colorful street life. The historic downtown of the state capital has witnessed a resurgence, with enough bars, hotels, and restaurants to justify a hipster’s guide to downtown.
“Albany is kicking it with the micro-brewery and cider business,” says Bill Pettit, a landscape painter who has lived in Albany since 1988. Pettit works with local art galleries and aspiring young artists for 1st Friday, a monthly event disseminating arts and culture throughout the city.
Albany has six colleges, including the State University of New York at Albany. Until recently, graduates vamoosed for better jobs, but now that the city has rebranded itself as a budding tech hub, many choose to stay. Companies like IBM and GlobalFoundries have set up research centers here, and the city is expected to fill 1,180 new software jobs by 2020, according to the New York Department of Labor.
Millennial lure: There’s a surprisingly vibrant local indie band scene here. Really.
The old adage goes, “San Francisco is a place where young people come to retire.” It’s less true today, given that the cost of living is freakishly high—median rent for a one-bedroom is $3,270, and the median price of a home is $849,000. Now the city is filling up with ambitious young tech folks who aren’t retiring anytime soon.
The young vibe is found in hoodies, ping-pong tables, and beer-stocked fridges in the offices of Airbnb, Pinterest, and lesser-known startups. It’s also present at company IPO parties or 20-something meetups in warehouse-turned-event spaces like the Folsom Street Foundry.
The whole city is basically a giant adult playground. Visit the Academy of Sciences with a drink in your hand during NightLife Thursdays, lie in Dolores Park on a sunny summer day and consider buying a marijuana-laced lollipop, or join a citywide scavenger hunt with your friends.
“It’s the best city ever for young designers,” says Lisa Zhang, 26, who studies interactive design at Academy of Art University. “I see inspiration everywhere, on streets, at bus stations. … I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.”
Yes, housing prices in Silicon Valley are insane. With a median price of $950,000, a down payment in the San Jose metro market could buy you an entire house in much of the United States.
Perhaps the generous paychecks of Valley tech companies provide some justification. Year after year, ambitious young engineers come to work for companies like Apple, Cisco, and Netflix, and claim enviable perks such as taking their pets to work and free, chef-prepared lunches. San Jose was recently ranked the happiest city to work in by Forbes. (Until recently, we at realtor.com had our headquarters there, and we’re pretty darn happy!)
Tech entrepreneurs have good prospects here, “Silicon Valley is the new Wall Street,” says Realtor Manu Changotra of MaxReal. “Young people come here to do cutting-edge work that’s not available anywhere in the country.”
A nearly endless supply of California sunshine and plenty of outdoor activities—a 30-minute drive can take you to nearby beaches and nature preserves—balance out the fast-paced work life.
Millennial lure: Downtown excitement? Endless suburban-like California sprawl? This city has it all.
* Percentage of income needed to buy a home is based on the median income of each metro.