Shifting Homeownership Norms Lead to a New Normal

By Drew Meyers

The glacial pace of shifting homeownership norms has short-changed newer generations unable to keep pace with the modern reality of buying a home—especially for those in expensive coastal hubs. Compared to past generations, Gen Xers and Millennials fork over a larger percentage of their pay for rent in the lead-up to home buying, lot sizes have shrunk, mortgage rates are lower, down payments are smaller, and both mortgage terms and housing cycles are longer.

Median home values in the U.S. are $126,600 higher than they were in 1990 (adjusted for inflation), even though the net worth of Millennials has plummeted compared to when boomers were the same age. Boomers also had the stability of working one job for decades (with the promise of a pension in retirement) and often bought their “forever home” on the first go. Neighborhoods even feel different—dogs get more hellos than their owners these days. 

Absent housing prices declining back to their former glory days, something’s gotta give. We need an approach that better aligns with modern financial and behavioral realities. The way younger generations look at things now (loss aversion, instant gratification, etc) is a large pendulum swing from the Boomer tendency to buy one property and hold forever. These shifts necessitate a dramatic rethinking of how we approach modern home buying and selling.

The Decline of the “Forever” Home

Let’s face it: Who can afford their forever home? Sure, there are affordable meccas—places where home buying harkens back to older times. Unfortunately for city dwellers, most major metro areas aren’t in that category. 

The fact is, many homeowners are navigating the murky waters of trading up from one home to another—seeking those “stepping stone” homes that will transition them closer to the only version of the American Dream available right now. 

According to NAR’s 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, only 25% of buyers sold their previous home in the same year as their new purchase, and a full 44% had sold their previous home a full year prior. That’s a lot of needless packing and unpacking taking place.

Aligning the sale of one home with the purchase of a new residence is tough, but it’s also a pain point with a modern solution. 

Imagine buying your new home and moving in before you even list the current one. No moving twice. No staying with your parents or in-laws for several months. No corporate housing and no storage units. No fixing the leaky sink and painting the den with kids climbing on your back. No short-term rental at ridiculous rates or carting your possessions through the streets. 

Instead, you move straight from old home to new home. Period. Flyhomes’ Trade Up program makes this dream a reality. Avoiding unnecessarily uprooting your family twice is a game changer in terms of convenience. Newer generations have adapted by finding ways to use modern solutions to avoid buying blind and hoping it works out later. Increased transparency and more data means buyers can determine when it makes sense to buy and trade up, and when it makes sense to continue saving for something closer to that “forever” home of years past. 

Napkin Math

Moves are expensive any way you slice it, and that’s only amplified when you’re stuck selling first. First, there’s the storage locker and paying for movers (twice), then there’s the prospect of renting an apartment for three months or more.

The numbers tell the story best:

  • Storage space is roughly $200 for a 10×10 per month. But you may need two units, and figure you’ll be renting space for a minimum of six months.
  • A two bedroom short term rental is north of $200 per night ($6,000 per month). Need a three bedroom? That pushes prices up to $280 per night (Source: Airdna).
  • Movers ring in around $1,500, twice.

You’ll save $11,700 on average by moving only once. And that’s not factoring in the stress you’ll save from not juggling so many moving parts.

Here’s what that looks like in an example using the median sale and purchase price of Flyhomes Trade Up clients in 2019 in the greater Seattle area. 

In other words, selling first is not optimal—in any situation.

But buying first has its own pitfalls, particularly if you’re left holding two mortgages for some period of time. If you end up renting the home you’re leaving, you’re still looking at least 30 days of vacancy (you’re not getting paid!), and more likely, closer to 45 or 60.

Plus, 2020 is likely to bring more competition for homes: Redfin predicts more bidding wars thanks to a lack of homes for sale combined with lower interest rates. The chances of getting a home with a sale contingency in your offer will decrease, making it a non-starter to buy before you sell. 

The math and value are clear: Only with a trade up program can you unlock the value in your home to boost your buying power for the next one, creating a seamless transition as you move ever closer to your forever home. To date, 44% of Flyhomes’ Trade Up clients would not have been able to buy a new home (of any size at all) without selling first. Meanwhile, of the 56% of clients who could have bought a new home before they sold their current home, they increased their buying power by 58%.*

The New Normal = Priceless

From my vantage point, the holy grail is here. It’s cheaper from a price perspective, but even more than that—it’s the next step in the evolving American Dream as the new generation creates a new normal around what “home” means.

The consumer win is undeniable. Almost every trade up buyer faces the daunting challenge of timing two transactions in a market environment. It’s an ulcer waiting to happen. Why suffer when you don’t have to?

Make no mistake about it, trade-up financing is the biggest consumer win that I’ve seen since I entered the industry in 2005. Buying first and selling second is undoubtedly the way the majority of real estate will be bought and sold in the future.

And the icing on the cake…

Not having to move in with your in-laws, share a bathroom before work with your cousin and her baby, or asking your grandparents for a $60,000 bridge loan. Priceless.

*Average based on Flyhomes clients who have participated in the Trade Up program and who could have afforded a second mortgage without the use of Trade Up. This does not factor into account other financial options like renting out their current home or securing a home equity line of credit.

Drew Meyers is a product strategist, writer and community builder with 12+ years of cross-functional experience in the sharing economy, real estate, and travel industries.

He is the founder of Geek Estate Blog and Geek Estate Mastermind, a private real estate tech think-tank comprised of over 200 execs, founders, vcs and practitioners. Former Zillowite. Holds a Business Administration degree from the University of Washington. Resides in Queen Anne.