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How homebuying trends feel different across the generations

As Gen Z enters homebuying age, a sharp contrast of traits are appearing across different generations – how can Realtors meet them halfway?

A family with grandparents, parents, and young children, all toasting and talking around a kitchen table, showing a difference in homebuying.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that stability was the number one trait members of Generation Z seek from prospective employers as the group continues its collective graduation into America’s workforce.

Stability, of course, in many ways represents one of the most attractive features of homeownership. Home is where we start families, raise children, and grow old beside those we love. These structures offer safety and comfort and one of the best possible paths toward long-term, generational wealth.

It’s no surprise then, given this generation’s desire for permanence and security, that many Gen Zers are already pursuing their own piece of the American Dream.

Nelson Jett, a Realtor® in western Nebraska, earned his real estate license just five days after his 19th birthday. Born in 1998, Jett falls squarely into Generation Z. His place here and his career in real estate provides a unique insight into his contemporaries’ behavioral trends in the housing market.

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Jett and his grandmother, a Realtor® for two and a half decades, have been their own real estate team since Jett officially earned his real estate license just a few months after his high school graduation.

“It was a family thing, something I always wanted to do,” the now 25-year-old recounts today from his office in North Platte, Nebraska, a town of about 26,000.

Working alongside one another for now more than five years, their priorities and practices, of course, are aligned. But the generational divides between Jett and his grandmother, 70, remain undeniable. 

“Sometimes we view the market differently,” Jett says. “We try to do everything fifty-fifty so we know each other’s clients really well, and we can have different ideas when working to price a property or making other decisions. But we’re also very similar in other ways, so we work well together.”

Many of those contrasting viewpoints have proven to be an asset in a homebuying and selling market that has begun attracting more and more younger Americans, particularly those in Gen-Z. 

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The National Association of Realtors® latest Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report, released earlier this year, examined similarities and differences of consumers across various age groups. Among a host of key findings, perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that Generation Z (classified by NAR for this report as those aged 18-23) now makes up 4% of homebuyers in America. 

“As the youngest generation of home buyers and sellers, it’s encouraging to see Gen Z entering the market,” NAR’s Deputy Chief Economist and Vice President of Research Jessica Lautz noted when the report was released. “Their desire for homeownership is strong and many are relying on family support systems to help them make their first real estate purchase.”

The shifts already occurring as a result of this demographic’s expanding presence in the market will only accelerate as the group takes additional steps toward homeownership in the coming years.

“They don’t want phone calls, and they don’t check their email,” Jett says affably about many of his younger clients.

“I had a handful of clients about my age with whom I would go do a video or Facetime tour of the property, and they just bought the house without ever stepping foot inside,” Jett recollects of experiences he’s had during some of the more competitive market environments since the pandemic. “A lot of our older buyers, I would say 50 and up, aren’t always as comfortable with that.”

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Buyers deciding to make offers on properties they haven’t yet seen in person aren’t uncommon in today’s technology-driven environment. Jett specifically recalls two former high school classmates who have done just that. And those clients, he says, still love their homes to this day. That sometimes even surprises his grandmother.

Another relatively surprising revelation from the NAR report is the fact that baby boomers once again represented the largest segment of U.S. home buyers. Millennials had been the biggest share of buyers from 2014 to 2022. Despite the group’s advanced age, boomers are showing a prolonged ability to capitalize on the equity many have accumulated through decades of homeownership.

“The majority of baby boomers are repeat buyers who have housing equity to propel them into their dream home,” NAR’s Lautz adds. “Boomers have the upper hand in the home buying market… They are living healthier, longer lives and making housing trades at later stages.”

This somewhat unique dynamic has only served to make homeownership a more challenging proposition for members of Jett’s generation, particularly given existing, widespread inventory shortages plaguing markets across the country. These factors combine to make education and awareness a critical element for buyers of any age—especially those who have not yet gone through the homebuying process.

“Anyone who has not purchased a home before, it’s nice to have them sit down in our office to talk them through the process,” Jett says. “Sometimes we’ll meet with Gen-Z buyers and see how much undereducation there is about homebuying in our country.

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“I’ll explain the merits of buying over renting and the long-term wealth they are accumulating by making mortgage payments every month. It’s not something that everyone gets right off the bat, especially people my age. But I can’t say that I would personally know a lot about the process and the value of homeownership if I didn’t have a grandmother in the business.”

From his job as a real estate agent—and his position, since January 2023, as a member of NAR’s Young Professional Network—Jett relishes the opportunity to pass along the knowledge he knows he was fortunate to have absorbed from his family.

“In all of these roles, the most important thing is protecting and promoting the Realtor® brand as a whole,” Jett says. “There’s something to having a physical person helping you through this transaction on the other side. Getting to sit down with them—whether though talk or text or phone calls—is so critical.”

Maybe not phone calls. But the point stands. No matter the age of the client—or the mode of communication they prefer.

Bob Goldberg is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of REALTORS®

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Chief Executive Officer, National Association of REALTORS, Bob Goldberg has overseen transformations that have positioned NAR as real estate's leading figure in the fight for diversity and inclusion; the industry's primary driver of technological innovation; and as an association lauded for a genuine, unwavering commitment to its members. Bob's full bio is available here.


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