While there’s no question that Millennials and Baby Boomers garner most of the attention from marketers and researchers, sandwiched between those two behemoth cohorts is Generation X: people born between 1965 and 1980, according to most definitions.
An estimated 62 million Americans are Gen Xers, 8.5 million of whom will be 50 or 51 by the end of 2016.
Surprised? So are a lot of Gen Xers. In fact, according to a Pew Research study, just 58 percent of Gen Xers identify themselves as part of that generation.
While obviously there’s a mix of life stages among Gen Xers from those with young children to those who are empty nesters, as well as singles and couples, a few generalizations can still be made about this age group and their housing choices.
“Gen Xers were impacted more than other age groups during the economic downturn and that makes them a little more conservative than other homebuyers,” says Megan Harris, design center manager for Edward Andrews Homes in Atlanta. “The home itself, the lifestyle and the neighborhood are more important to them than the array of optional features they can add.”
Gen Xers experienced the 1980s recession, the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the great recession, all of which made them less confident about job and financial security and more cautious and careful about their purchasing decisions. A Pew Research study found that Gen Xers lost nearly half of their wealth during the recession, compared to boomers, who lost about 25 percent of their wealth.
Preference for single-family home in the suburbs
A National Association of Home Builders’ survey found that 72 percent of Gen Xers prefer a detached single-family house, a higher percentage than any other age group.
“Gen Xers, even if in theory they want to live in the city, are moving to the suburbs because more of them want a three- or four-bedroom house,” says Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research for the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. “Our research found that while the average Gen Xer lives in a home with 1,880 square feet, the average home size they want is 2,315 square feet.”
Quint says that for Gen Xers, the size of the home and the features they want are more important than the community, but she says neighborhood and lifestyle preferences also drive their choices.
Gen Xers do a lot of research on their purchase and tend to know what they want before they begin looking at homes, says Harris.
“A lot of Gen Xers say they plan to live in their home for 10 or more years and they want a home that’s flexible enough for different phases of their lives,” says Harris.
Kelly Dunn, sales manager of Weaver Homes in Mars, Pa., whose business is 25 percent custom homes and 75 percent an Epcon Communities franchise, says the Gen Xers think of their homes as a long-term investment for their future retirement.
“Many people in this generation watched their parents struggle with the decision to leave their homes as they age, so they are practical and want the ability to live on one level,” says Dunn.
Cory Didier, a broker with the Clear Creek Tahoe Golf Club in Carson City, Nev., says that Gen X buyers have done a lot of research ahead of time and know the style of home and the features they want.
“Many of them also have consulted a tax advisor before they even look at a community so they understand the implications of the purchase for their tax, retirement and estate planning,” says Didier.
Samantha Stephenson and Mike Eckert, buyers at Soleado Vista, a community built by Kalan Homes, an Epcon Communities franchise in Lafayette, Indiana, are Gen Xers who wanted a lifestyle change from their 10-acre walnut tree farm.
“We are both triathletes with limited free time and felt overwhelmed by chores on the farm,” says Stephenson.
Wes Darling, a sales consultant at Soleado Vista, says maintenance of individual properties such as lawn care and snow removal is optional in the community, but most buyers choose it.
“A lot of younger people like the Gen Xers like the idea of choosing the maintenance package so they can do other things with their time,” says Darling.
Stephenson says they were particularly attracted by the promise of a future community swimming pool, along with the location next to a running trail. The trail provides access on foot or by bike to shops. They also like the size of the community, with 50 to 60 detached single family houses, so they can get to know their neighbors.
Rob Krohn, franchise marketing manager for Epcon Communities in Columbus, Ohio, says Epcon and its franchises build “bed-and-breakfast” communities of 50 to 200 houses rather than “cruise ship” communities of 1,000 or more houses.
“Epcon Communities offer a lock-and-leave condo lifestyle, but there’s also the privacy afforded because we are building detached houses that appeal to Gen Xers, as well as other generations,” says Krohn.
Function Over Flash
Stephenson says she and her husband downsized from 2,500 to 1,800 square feet without eliminating any functional spaces.
“We just lost the areas we weren’t using,” says Stephenson. “Our entertaining area is the same size as it was in our old house and the guest quarters are on the opposite side of the house from the first-floor master suite. My husband repairs bicycles in our garage, so it’s also great to have the laundry room directly accessible from the garage.”
NAHB’s research found that 49 percent of Gen X buyers want a single-level house; even among those that want a two-story house, 33 percent want a first-floor master suite or two master suites with at least one on the first level.
“Gen Xers are aware of trends but also confident of themselves and their ability to blend styles with a mix of traditional and modern elements,” says Harris. “Like other buyers, they spend most of their money on the kitchen and master bath, but they are more reserved in their spending than other buyers.”
Dunn says Gen Xers are practical about their homes and don’t want a two-story family room or a two-story foyer because they know it wastes energy and space.
Functional homes with easy access to spaces for socializing and getting fit are of prime importance to this sandwich generation that has seen the challenges – as well as the opportunities – of homeownership.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.