What is Hipsturbia?
Hipsturbia is a well-documented phenomenon of millennial couples and families leaving their urban enclaves and moving to the suburbs for the good schools and the sense of community they find. Once they arrive, they often remake these towns to suit, opening small businesses and driving an economic shift away from big box retailers.
In our series, we’re featuring suburban areas that are seeing this trend play out. We are using these towns as a backdrop to examine millennial homebuying trends as they exist on the ground — not in think pieces and theory.
We’re used to thinking about Seattle in terms of its downtown core: Public Market, Starbucks, Amazon and the Space Needle. However, for its residents, the outlying areas of this iconic city hold their own kind of charm — and a degree of affordability you just won’t find downtown.
We checked in with Roy Powell of Coldwell Banker Bain, part of the Team Diva Real Estate group. As a millennial himself, he’s tuned in to the factors that are driving his market and his peers, including affordability, proximity, and even some quintessential Seattle factors.
I think we already think of the millennial demographic as ensconced in cities like Seattle. What impact are they having on the exurbs, suburbs, or even rural areas beyond the city?
Roy: Seattle’s city center is an hourglass shape that blooms at the top and bottom, but our urban core is only one mile across. After that, it spreads out into single-family homes. I am looking at the Space Needle as I’m talking to you, but everything around me is single-family or town homes. We get suburban very quickly.
That kind of layout leads to a lot of sprawl, but when you start to get priced out of the city, you’re looking further out. I’m at the top-end of the millennial demographic living in an unincorporated part right outside of the city. I’m part of the movement of people you’re talking about, those who are looking in places which are their own cities but are managed more like neighborhoods or outposts of Seattle.
King County goes from Seattle all the way to the Cascade Mountains, so there are farmlands 40 minutes outside of the city in both directions. You can take a ferry or drive just a few minutes out past Bellevue and get into areas where you can buy acreage, if that’s what you want.
What kinds of shifts are you seeing in the market that you attribute to millennial homebuyers and their families?
Roy: A lot of the people I’m seeing are moving out of the city. I’ve had friends who are renting small farms while also renting an apartment. I’m in an unincorporated area experiencing a huge shift. It’s becoming the hip new neighborhood.
Millennials are moving where it’s affordable and changing the area to get what they want. A lot of the places are not hip places now, but they will be in five years. Of course, that does come with some aspects of gentrification that are tough to navigate.
We have a large tech sector, and we’ve been seeing huge influxes of people coming into town. They start in an apartment, and then in a few years, they think, “Do I want to be in a condo and be close to work?” or “Do I want to move further out and convince my boss to let me work remotely?”
Beyond the rural areas surrounding the city, you can drive an hour and be in a rain forest, on top of a mountain or in a desert. You get pulled here for a job, but you soon find out that the things that make the area attractive aren’t necessarily about setting down roots in the city.
For me, graduating and going out into the workforce and then going into a recession, I never thought I’d be able to buy anything. Even when I bought my house, I was joking that we were already priced out of Seattle.
A lot of millennials — like my friends and the clients I’m helping — are really worried about taking on extreme debt. I have clients who are approved for huge amounts of money, and they are being super pragmatic with what they’re buying, which is leading to this market trend of moving out of the really expensive regions.
How are communities responding to the demands of these homebuyers?
Roy: We’re extremely fortunate to already have the three counties that make up our region (King, Pierce and Snohomish) work together to create transit that will work to serve everyone. Our light rail system is starting to see expansion to under-served areas, as well. We’re seeing bus and transit service on a county level instead of a city level.
I have yet to see any of the smaller cities throw out a welcome banner, but when you sell two or three houses in a small town, there’s suddenly a cool coffee shop or brewery. You’re doing your own thing because you can afford to do it due to the lower home prices.
There’s a growing sense of “I’m going to move out of Seattle to Spokane so I can follow my dreams.” We saw a huge exodus to Tacoma. People say, “I can open the record shop I wanted because I can afford a storefront.” The smaller areas are becoming more favorable.
That being said, a lot of these areas of affordability were already home to people of color and people of lesser means. The weight of gentrification is not lost on millennial buyers.
We do have a lot of farmland in the middle of the state where artist friends are moving, and they can buy a building and have studio space instead of a condo. In a town called Tieton, outside Yakima, there’s a burgeoning artist community that’s growing. It’s in the middle of hops fields and wine country with a storefront where they sell print goods in the city, then live further out.
There are pocket collectives like a town called Twisp with a population of 300. The town was turned a compound into studios and art collectives, where they make jewelry and bags.
What’s interesting about our generation is that the job we got a degree for doesn’t exist. Housing stock isn’t there, so we’ve learned to shift and maneuver.
Last year, one of my favorite clients bought a house she could afford on her own in the area of SeaTac, where the airport is. She has five roommates, and started an artist’s collective. They can all afford to live there and build out this idea of community. It’s a normal, middle-of-the-block, single-family home. You make what you can with what you’ve got.
What should homeowners do to more effectively attract younger buyers? What can listing agents say to their homeowners to help them market their property most effectively?
Roy: I think it’s garbage that millennials want everything done for them. A lot of the people I know are not afraid of doing the work. The ones that want things done are the ones who have money because they work 80 hours a week, and they don’t want to paint or do weekend repairs.
Many people are saying, “I’ll take an ugly house that’s livable, and I’ll do the renovations as I go.” There’s a broad spectrum from “fancy backsplash” to “I have to install a kitchen because right now, there’s only a bucket and a faucet.”
It’s easy to broadly generalize any group, but it’s all about the market and what you deem valuable. You can have a valuable house even if it needs a lot of work.
When I bought my house I thought I wanted something turnkey, but I wanted to build in additional value once I got there. I think a lot of people feel that way. Maybe that’s the clients I attract — those who make good monetary decisions based on the market and the fundamental sturdiness of the house, then build equity that way.
There are a lot of people my age who will learn from YouTube or turn to friends who bought three years ago for advice.
How can real estate agents more effectively reach younger buyers and help them in their home search?
Roy: I think that it’s an authenticity thing. Houses haven’t changed so much, so what makes buying a house the right option is still the same as it was. I think millennials want to have someone they can trust, and they don’t want to be sold. Be an advocate instead of a salesperson. Share your knowledge in a way that’s comfortable and inviting.
I’ve had potential clients tell me they want to work with someone who reminds them of their mom. They need that energy and advice. Your knowledge and maturity becomes your tool. You can give them that first-hand knowledge and the language of home-buying. Teach them that language.
“How can I make a good decision because I never thought I would get to buy?” “The market can shift because I’ve seen it happen before.” These are the concerns millennial buyers have. The skill set for real estate agents hasn’t changed, even though the technology has. The relationship doesn’t change.
Christy Murdock Edgar is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant with Writing Real Estate. She is also a Florida Realtors faculty member. Follow Writing Real Estate on Facebook, Twitter, Instagr