You know the generational drill—or at least you think you do.
Millennials, the conventional wisdom goes, are tech-obsessed, self-obsessed, debt-laden, and weirdly fascinated by beards and avocados. Generation X: cynical, self-reliant, often forgotten. Baby boomers: rebellious, materialistic, obstinate, unhealthily obsessed with late-night cable news.
But through all of their stark differences, card-carrying members of each group share one unifying goal: to live in a place that neatly checks off the boxes on their master list of needs, hopes, and dreams. As the millennials say, YOLO. Yet when it comes time to pack up the U-Haul and move to a new home, millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers all define this in different ways—and in different places.
The data team at realtor.com® set out to discover which are the hottest markets for each generation. And we confirmed that one size most definitely does not fit all when it comes to where these generation groups are moving and buying homes.
“The different generations are, for the most part, in different stages of life,” says Chris Porter, the chief demographer at John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, CA. So they “are seeking out locales that meet their specific needs.”
Despite the high cost, millennials are still headed to tech centers and cultural hot spots, where they can make good money and still have a good time. Meanwhile, Gen Xers, badly scorched by the Great Recession, are all about going to places where they can score a big home without going broke. And baby boomers/empty nesters are still heading to Sun Belt metros, where costs are lower, cold weather is in short supply, and they’ll have plenty of like-minded company.
As generations age, they’re likely to want some of the things generations before them did. But preferences change too.
Each generation “moves in the same direction [as the previous one], but not quite as far,” says Dowell Myers, an urban planning and demography professor at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. “They’ll always be uniquely different [from one another].”
To figure out the most in-demand metros for each generation, we looked at the following criteria:
- The metros where each generation is moving, according to U.S. Census Bureau migration data* from 2011 to 2015
- The metros where each generation is searching for homes on realtor.com by page views
- Percentage change in homeownership from 2016 to 2018, according to Nielsen Holdings
(The Pew Research Center defines the millennial generation as being born from 1981 to 1998, Generation X from 1965 to 1980, and baby boomers from 1946 to 1964. Definitions of generations vary, but we tried to stick as close as the data would allow to the Pew definitions.)
It’s also worth noting that although Chicago and New York City have thousands of new residents moving in every year, they lose thousands, too. So we looked at metros that gained more folks than they lost. And because it’s not fair to compare a huge metro with a smaller one, we also looked at the percentage change of new residents from each generation moving in and out. That helps to control for population size.
Got it? OK, now let’s take a closer look at where millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers are most likely to head next. Some of this just might surprise you.
Millennials are flocking to big cities, despite the cost
You thought millennials were throwing in the towel on exorbitant urban meccas? Think again. Undeterred by the mind-boggling high prices for homes and just about everything else, young adults are continuing to flock to many of the country’s biggest and buzziest cities, particularly the tech hubs. These places simply offer the largest paychecks, as well as the lifestyle these folks are seeking.
So what’s a little more debt when you’re having fun?
You can’t get much more expensive than the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet the San Francisco metro grabbed the top spot on our ranking for millennials. The median home list price in the metro was $846,400, according to realtor.com.
But that didn’t stop Kaila DeRienzo. The 27-year-old was at the top of her pay scale at her public relations job in Norfolk, VA. So she packed up and shipped her belongings to bet on a future 3,000 miles to the west.
“Jobs in the San Francisco area kept popping up in my news feed … jobs that I didn’t even know existed,” says DeRienzo. And, surprise: She turned out to love the place. “The city is so friendly.”
Hot job markets are extremely important for millennials, as is a lively nightlife scene with plenty of Instagrammable bars and eateries. And when millennials post selfies of all the fun stuff in their new hometown, it makes that place all the more enticing to pals back home.
“The biggest thing for me was that more and more people I went to college with were moving here,” DeRienzo says. “You see all things they post online and want to be part of it.”
Other tech hubs, small and large, were top places to be for millennials. Seattle came in second, followed by Houston; Dallas; Washington, DC; Denver; Boston; Ann Arbor, MI; State College, PA; and Austin, TX.
Millennials may make up only about a third of buyers overall, but their portion is likely to keep growing. (They are the country’s largest generation, after all.) And that makes attracting these soon-to-be home buyers a priority for local governments.
“Millennials are saying, ‘We are willing to move for lifestyle and job,’ as opposed to, ‘I need to stay close to home because it’s safer and lower cost,’” as previous generations may have, says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer for the Center for Generational Kinetics, a marketing firm in Austin. “If communities position themselves correctly, and have the type of lifestyle [millennials] want, they absolutely can be a top choice for the future.”
There were some surprises on the list, smaller metros far from Silicon Valley and Silicon Mountain (Denver). But what the college towns of Ann Arbor and State College lack in size and prestige, they make up for in affordability.
Every year, thousands of recent high school graduates flock to Pennsylvania State University, in State College, and the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. Many of them stick around after graduation. And why not? The median home list price is just $235,550 in State College, whereas the national median is $269,500, according to realtor.com data. While Ann Arbor’s median price of $343,625 is a bit higher, the metro has a strong job market and is within commuting distance from Detroit.
“Within 15 minutes you can be hiking in the mountains or trout fishing,” says Tom Fountaine, the borough manager who oversees the administrative management for State College’s city government. “Thousands of acres in just minutes.“
Gen Xers want big paychecks and big homes
With older, college-bound kids putting more of a dent in their wallets, many Gen Xers are moving away from costly coastal metros in pursuit of more space and good schools at a better price. And as everyone knows, everything is bigger in Texas. So it makes sense that five of the top 10 metros for Gen X are in the Lone Star State, with its cheaper cost of living, lower taxes, and more affordable homes.
“Generation X is looking for housing affordability, where they can meet the needs of growing families,” says John Burns’ Porter, adding they often prefer warmer weather and more business-friendly states as well. That may help to explain why “Texas has been one of the fastest-growing regions in the country for a while.”
Houston took the top spot. Among other Texas towns, Dallas came in third, Austin was sixth, Odessa was seventh, and San Antonio hit No. 8. The other top metros for Gen Xers were Miami, at No. 2, and Washington, DC, at No. 4. Rounding out the top 10 were Riverside, CA, at fifth; Atlanta at ninth; and Charlotte, NC, at 10th.
Gen Xers are big fans of 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom suburban homes in the $260,000 price range in Houston, says Greg Nino. And he would know: The Houston real estate agent at Re/Max Compass has a lot of these clients.
But that ardor was put on pause last year when Hurricane Harvey roiled the Houston housing market in August, destroying more than 15,000 homes, and causing more than $125 billion in damages, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Homes in flood plain areas are seeing price decreases. And some homeowners without flood insurance are now facing foreclosure.
Yet things aren’t as bad as some had feared; much of the area was spared the devastation. And there is no shortage of eager buyers moving in as the affected areas rebuild.
“We’re such a big city with so many jobs being added, that [Harvey] isn’t crippling us. It was a punch in the face, but we didn’t fall down,” Nino says. Gen Xers in particular, he adds, are “still taking advantage of the low prices and the low cost of living.”
The median list price in Houston is $318,000, compared with $846,400 in San Francisco. For a generational group badly hit by the recent financial downturns, that’s a life-changer.
The Dallas region, where the median home price is $342,500, has also seen a spike in buyers, as many companies have recently transferred to, expanded in, or opened up shop in the region. That includes Toyota, which relocated nearly 4,000 employees from other parts of the country.
Buyers there are seeking single-family homes in good school districts with reasonable commutes to their jobs, says local real estate broker Debbie Murray, of Allie Beth Allman Associates. In recent years the housing market has gotten hot, she says, and everything under $1 million goes fast.
“Gen Xers many times are looking for master-planned communities, with lots of amenities for their families,” Murray says.
Baby boomers are still moving to Florida—but it’s not No. 1
Some things never change. Wisconsin is crazy about the Packers. The car registration line at the local DMV doesn’t seem to ever move. And retiring Americans flock to the Sunshine State.
Florida claimed six of the top 10 metros for baby boomers, but—stop the internet—not the top spot. That honor went to Phoenix, where the median home price is $329,000. That’s not exactly cheap, but it’s still much lower than many other Western metros.
“A lot of [baby boomers] are looking to downsize,” says Lori Corwin, a local real estate agent at Realty Executives. Many of these buyers want to be near golf courses in Phoenix or in homes that require little maintenance, such as in 55-plus communities.
One of the pioneers of such communities is located in the Phoenix metro area. Sun City opened in 1960 specifically for retirees and snowbirds. During the peak winter months, its population soars to around 40,000.
Many of these locales also offer reasonable median home prices—which are quite a bit less than what these folks may have been paying in the pricier Northeastern states. For example, the median home list price in North Port was $350,000. Compare that with $493,000 in Boston and $415,000 in Washington, DC.
Did we mention the lower taxes? In Florida, retirees don’t pay income tax on withdrawals from their retirement accounts.
North Port–area real estate agent Mireille Devos has slowly watched baby boomers move in during her 15 years in the region. Initially, they bought second homes in the state while still working up north. She says many lost those homes when the housing bubble popped.
In recent years, things have picked back up because the economy’s improved. And North Port has been among the top beneficiaries. Devos, a real estate agent at U.S. Invest International, says the hurricane-free region has an edge over other Gulf locations.
The metro has also added the things baby boomers want: great restaurants, museums, cultural organizations, and beach activities.
“Fifteen years ago you had to look around for good cuisine,” Devos says. “Over the last three years it’s improved an awful lot.”
* The U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t group people by generation, so the realtor.com data team, like other publications, defined millennials as those aged 20 to 34, Gen X as those aged 35 to 49, and baby boomers as those aged 50 to 69. Individuals were grouped based on their age when they responded to the Census during the five-year period of 2011 through 2015.