These kids, they’re different. They’re not like you and I.
They don’t buy the American Dream—they hate suburbia and the whole 9-to-5 grind. They don’t want what their parents had, the two-car garage, the 2.5 children. They want something else, something more.
Sound familiar? Decades ago, that’s how demographers talked about hippies. They supposedly represented a new paradigm, a structural sociological shift. To most observers, it was a foregone conclusion that those kids dancing in that muddy field at Woodstock weren’t going to chase the whole white-picket-fence scene.
Then, of course, many of them did.
In this month’s cover story, Daniel Bachman, a senior economist at Deloitte, summed it up: “I’m always skeptical that the Millennials are going to behave differently because I’m a Baby Boomer, and if you go back in history and look at what was said about us, it’s that we were going to be different.”
We talk about Millennials like they’re some kind of exotic animal species: The North American Digital Native. “If we hide in the bushes long enough, we can study their nesting habits!”
But they’re not so mysterious or unique. They’re your grandchildren or children, your neighbors, your nieces and nephews. They’re the face staring back at you in the mirror. They are their parent’s children.
So, I don’t buy the story that Millennials, en masse, aren’t interested in homeownership. I don’t buy all that talk about how they only prefer dense urban environments.
Because, Millennials are farmers too, and mechanics, and army veterans. They’re immigrant day laborers and stock brokers, ballerinas and bodybuilders. Some live in rural places too, and like it. Some of them even get married and buy a house in their 20s.
They’re not just one thing is what I’m trying to say.
It’s like, when I travel overseas, I often get questions that begin “Why do Americans …”
And I have to stop the conversation there, before it starts.
“You can’t talk about Americans like we’re one group,” I’ll say. “We’re a collection of hundreds of special interest groups. We can barely agree on anything.”
So it is with Millennials—you can’t paint them with a broad brush. And you can’t discount the timeless allure of a home.
Think about that word, home. There’s a reason our culture uses the terms “home builder” and “home owner” and “home buyer.” We don’t talk about “houselessness,” (in fact, Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognize “houselessness” as a word, I just found out).
Why do you think that is? Because a house is just a physical structure, an investment. But a home is as much about love as it is about a mortgage—your child can’t take their first steps on a Treasury bond, and your parents can’t reminisce on a stock portfolio.
Too often, when we talk about Millennials and housing, we couch it only in economic terms: student debt, underwriting, downpayment.
But a home is an abstract concept that appeals to pretty much every human being that ever lived. It’s an (apple) pie in the sky, a chance at redemption.
A home is an opportunity to construct your own little Eden, the manifestation of a timeless, collective belief that through the force of our own will, we can (as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young once sang) “get ourselves back to the Garden.”
Be it ever so humble.