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Mar 31

Millennials look to buy homes in suburbs with city perks – Houston Chronicle

Perhaps Alex Dale and Stephanie LeBlanc lost their copy of the millennial script. Somehow, they’re looking to buy a house in The Woodlands and not inside the Loop, where they had rented a place close enough to walk or summon an Uber ride to their favorite restaurants and bars.

Or maybe observers got the narrative wrong.

While millennials, that generation born after 1980, still love the sometimes rowdy, sometimes gritty atmosphere of urban life, Dale and LeBlanc and many others can envision a future in the suburbs as they earn more money and get ready to settle down – not unlike their parents and grandparents.

“We are city people,” Dale, 28, said. “We like having a lot of things to do.” But he and LeBlanc, 26, who have been married for more than two years, also want to own a house with a backyard roomy enough for their two dogs and maybe a pool.

In other words, they want a suburb with a city’s perks.

They consider The Woodlands to be a happy medium despite being some 30 miles north of downtown. The master-planned community has concerts, organic grocers, pubs with billiards and bingo, and a beloved café that also can be found in Rice Village, near their old apartment. And it has a lot of jobs.

MORE INFORMATION

By the numbers

18 percent

Percentage of Houston’s population who are working-age millennials, according to 2014 census estimates.

14 percent

Percentage of Texas’ population who are working-age millennials.

35 percent

Percentage of homebuyers who are millennials.

Dale and LeBlanc are not alone in leaving the city. A new survey by the National Association of Realtors found more than half of millennials buying houses are choosing the suburbs. The reasons are many, including price and proximity to work.

In Houston, working-age millennials – ages 25 to 34 – accounted for 18 percent of its population in 2014, census data show. That’s a higher percentage than in any of the booming suburbs in the metro area and in the state as a whole. The age group made up 14 percent of Texans and of residents in Pearland, 12 percent in Katy, 10 percent in Sugar Land and Tomball and 9 percent in The Woodlands.

New figures from The Woodlands Development Co. indicate that working-age millennials are now 12 percent of the township’s population.

“The city is right here now,” said Joseph Delos Reyes, 31, an agent at The Woodlands office of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene.

Millennials’ housing preferences matter because they now represent the largest generational group of homebuyers. They made up 35 percent of those purchasing homes last year, followed by those in Generation X – ages 36 to 50 – at 26 percent, the National Association of Realtors found.

And millennials, as they age, are displaying more traditional buying habits by purchasing homes in the suburbs despite their supposed preference for city living, the real estate group concluded.

Cost is a factor

It’s likely many of them would have purchased houses sooner if not for their circumstances since graduating college. As a whole, millennials were slow to homeownership because of the recession, low-paying jobs and heavy student loan debt, said Dowell Myers, professor of demography and urban planning at the University of Southern California.

He also said some young people are choosing the suburbs because the age group is large and there’s a housing supply problem in many cities. They are more likely to find a detached, single-family house for an affordable price outside the urban core.

“Millennials have a stronger urban preference (than older generations), but there isn’t enough housing,” Myers said. “Unless you want to live in a two-bedroom apartment for your entire life, you have to move.”

Bill Fulton, who leads the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, said he does not see millennials simply following the well-worn path of older generations to the suburbs.

While younger people want single-family houses and good schools for their children, they prefer to live where they can walk, bike or take mass transit to shops, restaurants and jobs, he said. What’s more, surveys show millennials are planning to have fewer children, meaning they could be empty nesters for more years than previous generations.

“They have an urban living ethic,” Fulton said of millennials. “Many will move to the suburbs but won’t stay forever.”

Fulton said the suburban communities most likely to attract millennials are those with a walkable feel, such as Sugar Land, The Woodlands and CityCentre in west Houston, which have created town centers packed with dining, entertainment and employment options.

Moving back

Dale and LeBlanc, for example, considered the new planned community called Bridgeland rising on the scrubby prairie in northwest Harris County. The couple also looked at Tomball, the former farm-and-railroad town with large, affordable lots. But both places seemed too far away from where they wanted to be.

So their plan now is to purchase a house in the more densely developed area of The Woodlands, the suburb where LeBlanc grew up. She works as a petroleum geologist for Exxon Mobil Corp., which recently built a sprawling campus just south of the township to accommodate 10,000 workers. And they’re close to lively happy hours, festivals and tree-shaded paths to ride their bicycles.

“I didn’t think I would move back,” said LeBlanc, who’d previously moved from The Woodlands to attend Baylor University. “It seemed like the scene was older and more expensive. Houston seemed more active.”

But that’s changed. “One of the great things about The Woodlands is that most of the action takes place in the same general area,” she said. “This means you can go to dinner, catch a concert or movie, and enjoy a late-night dessert or game of pool all without moving your car.”

LeBlanc said the only thing the couple misses about living inside the Loop is easy access to the ride-hailing service Uber. But that’s improving in The Woodlands, too, she said.

Reyes, the real estate agent, also grew up in Montgomery County. He left to attend Louisiana State University and didn’t expect to return. But The Woodlands has grown from a bedroom community into a full-fledged city with some 110,000 residents.

“It feels more like a real place than it did before,” Reyes said.

On some nights, he will play volleyball with other millennials at a lakeside park and then cross Lake Woodlands Drive for a beer at Hughes Landing, a mixed-used development that includes a Whole Foods, upscale restaurants and a high-rise with two-bedroom apartments that rent for up to $3,000 per month.

Seeking quiet, safety

Younger adults are looking to be close to the bustling, urban-like scene, he said. “But at the end of the day, they want quiet and safe and not to be on top of their neighbors.”

The medley of shops, restaurants and offices, however, can make The Woodlands too expensive for many millennials. The median sales price for a new house in the leafy enclave was $562,000 last year, up from $327,604 in 2011, according to The Woodlands Development Co., which is nearing build-out of the planned community.

Jonas and Christina Dienner, ages 26 and 24, respectively, rented for three years before buying a four-bedroom house just north of The Woodlands last month. They chose the neighborhood for its proximity to his job as children’s pastor at a local church. It’s also close to an emerging medical corridor, where she hopes to work as a nurse after their two children are older.

“It’s a great place for a family,” said Jonas, who mentioned the parks and pathways among their favorite amenities. “I’ve always been excited about owning a house. It was just a matter of timing.”

Source: Millennials look to buy homes in suburbs with city perks – Houston Chronicle

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