Pandemic Trends Fade as Gen Z Buyers, Millennials Dig In

Many of the major behavioral and demographic shifts precipitated by the pandemic are receding, according to the latest data from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), as both homebuyers and sellers revert to familiar patterns regarding when they sell, how far they move, what motivates them to enter the market and the barriers they encounter.

At the same time, the ascendant Gen Z population is showing early signs of bucking at least some of the old wisdom regarding the real estate process, as single purchasers and LGBTQ households look to become a major force in the near future.

“For Gen Z, 20% of buyers are single men, and 31% are single women,” says Dr. Jessica Lautz, vice president of research at NAR. “They’re more likely to be LGBTQ+, so we did pick that up as well.”

NAR’s annual “Generational Trends” survey, which was conducted through parts of 2022 and 2023, found that only around 3% of buyers and sellers are currently Gen Z—defined as 18- to 24-year-olds. Millennials and boomers continued to vie for the lion’s share of the housing market, the survey found, with millennials once again making up the largest share of buyers (after boomers briefly overtook them a year ago).

Maybe more relevant, though, as the housing market appears closer to stabilizing after multiple years of inventory and rate shock, is how all these groups approach their journey through homeownership. Many of the trends trumpeted during Covid—remote work “Zoom towns,” prospective buyers living at home and the usefulness of virtual tours—all appear to be fading.

One of the more dramatic single-year changes was in how far people moved when buying a new home. Starting during the pandemic, that distance rose precipitously, peaking at a median of 50 miles in last year’s survey. 

This year, people moved only an average of 20 miles—close to the historical norm of 10 to 15, according to Lautz.

“I think that is indicating that CEOs want people back in the office, at least a couple days a week,” she says. 

While older folks are still making bigger moves—Lautz says about 25% of buyers are still taking those dramatic interstate trips of 500 miles or more for a new home—the idea that remote work would completely upend assumptions about where people move seems to have been overblown.

“It certainly does happen. It is just perhaps not as severe as what we saw during Covid of everyone moving long distances,” Lautz adds.

Another trend many observers posited could be permanent is the idea of multi-generational households. The data on that seems unclear, though there was an interesting shift in the reason why people chose that living arrangement.

Between the 2023 and 2024 surveys, the number of people who said they purchased a multi-generational home in order to care for aging parents increased by 6%, and the percentage who said they did so simply to spend more time with their parents rose a similar 5%.

Overall, the number of multi-generational home purchases remained flat at 14% of all buyers—still slightly above pre-pandemic levels.

Persistence and pressure

Looking at how young people save up for and purchase a home, faced with tremendous barriers from a historic lack of affordability, some pandemic trends have persisted while others fade. The practice of living with a parent or family member while saving for a down payment held mostly steady, with 24% of people aged 25 to 33 springboarding into homeownership from that co-living arrangement. 

The number of renters, though, grew significantly, from 28% overall to 36%.

Lautz says the big concern there is that rental costs, while not as high as their pandemic peaks, are still extremely unaffordable for many young people. In fact, rent was rated as the largest barrier to saving for a home, the survey found, a huge increase from the previous year.

More than four out of 10 (42%) buyers said high rent or mortgage payments delayed their purchase, compared to 29% the year before. 

And despite the survey not covering the resumption of student loan payments, which started for most borrowers last October, there was a significant change in the number of people who reported that those obligations delayed their home purchase, with that number more than doubling from 25% to 52%—presumably as prospective buyers prepared for the end of the pandemic pause.

“I’ll be interested to see after the pause in student loan debt, now that people have returned payments in the fall of this, if it jumps up,” Lautz says. 

Looking at the home-buying process, one other trendy pandemic piece of tech—namely, the virtual tour—saw a significant dropoff in popularity this year. While agents continued to offer virtual open houses, listing appointments and home showings at the same rate as the previous year, consumers were 6% less likely to rate virtual tours as “valuable.”

That persisted across age groups, with both older and younger buyers generally less interested in those offerings.

While all these trends might have been relatively short-lived, and most could be traced back to the pandemic, Lautz says the larger data picture is less turbulent. Millennials, as they start to encroach on boomers as the largest demographic of sellers, seem stable in their buying and selling behavior—with a few exceptions.

Lautz notes that people are generally staying in their homes for longer before moving, and that millennials are onboard with that trend, expecting to spend at least 10 years on average in their homes. 

“Perhaps people just found that perfect home. Perhaps they’re buying more single-family homes. We know that that is the case, so perhaps it’s living in the outer suburbs, looking at their home in a different way than a quick flip,” she says.

Older millennials, though, appear to be following in the footsteps of previous generations, as their decisions are less driven by family as they reach their late 30s and early 40s. Only 8% of people in that demographic said their decisions were based on family.

“I don’t know if it’s—maybe once people are in their peak earning years, as they say, perhaps they say well, (family is) important, but it’s just not as important as other reasons to move,” Lauz says. “We used to pick that up with millennials versus Gen Xers, and now that we’ve parsed out younger versus older millennials, that could certainly be a factor.”

Lautz also cautions that the early data from Gen Z is by no means going to carry through as that generation gains more of a foothold in the home market. She points out that the proportion of single buyers could be explained by the fact that Gen Z individuals are waiting to get married until later, just like millennials did.

The overall proportion of single buyers is still holding above historic levels, at 29%.

Another data point unrelated to demographics will be closely watched in next year’s survey—though there was already some movement this year.

The use of buyer agency agreements rose 6% from the previous year, from 35% to 41%. Data was collected well before the Burnett verdict, and ahead of the changes related to NAR’s settlement agreement, which will make buyer agreements mandatory beginning this July.

That small but significant uptick could indicate that at least some buyer agents were seeing the writing on the wall, and proactively started using written agreements with clients ahead of regulatory intervention.

Lautz says that this data is self-reported, and pointed out that a significant number of buyers say they don’t remember if they signed an agreement with their agent.

At the same time, she points out that this year’s survey is clearly the cusp of a “turning point” for the use of buyer agency agreements.

“I would expect that that number would change,” she says.

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