Developers Building for a Mix of Millenials & Empty Nesters

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When Millennials and Baby Boomers decide to buy new homes en masse, what will they be looking for? That’s the million-dollar question, and a couple of developers think they’re on to the answers.

Elizabeth “Liz” Verna is the owner of Wallingford-based development firm Verna Properties and a past president of the Home Builder’s Association of Connecticut. One of Verna’s current project is Hillcrest, a 98-unit residential development in Southington aimed at attracting a mix of Millennials and downsizers. Verna said so far the mix has been split right down the middle.

“My kids are Millennials. I have friends whose kids are Millennials,” Verna said. “I hear a lot of them saying, ‘I need to start my life.’ Empty-nesters are also starting a new phase in their life.”

Verna said the two groups have a lot in common. They want smaller, low-maintenance homes on smaller, low-maintenance lots. They want to buy in good towns that will hold their property values and that offer good restaurants, good opportunities for recreation and relatively easy access to highways and the city.

“Downsizers like to call themselves ‘rightsizers,’” Verna said. “They’re young, they’re vibrant; they don’t all want to live in a 55-and-over community. They want to live among a good mix of people.”

That’s been the case for some time, but Millennials are new arrivals to the market. Verna said Millennials aren’t interested in buying a large home, filling it with children and living there forever, like their grandparents did. Verna said they are smart consumers who know exactly what they want, and they want to live in diverse neighborhoods.

“Millennials are independent and they want everything new,” Verna said. “They want to own their own plot of land and they don’t want to be told what to do by a condo association. They also don’t want a huge yard, but they may want space for a small, organic garden. And they definitely want a nice outdoor space for entertaining, and we offer all that.”

Verna said many Millennials have high-paying jobs, but they tend not to have a lot of money saved for the typical 10 percent to 20 percent down payment required by most builders. So Verna worked with lenders to develop a program where they can buy a new home at Hillcrest (starting at $369,000) with just 5 percent down.

Verna uses BuilderTrend, a construction management software that affords every homebuyer their own user ID. They can log in from anywhere in the world to see the progress of the home as it’s being built. This and other new technologies, she said, have a particular appeal to Millennials.

“Technology is a big thing,” Verna said. “We offer one model that’s all tech-ed out. You can control the thermostat, the lights and the garage door opener from your iPhone. And every house has high-speed wireless Internet access.”

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