Survey: Millennials eye the suburbs

The never-ending battle for validation between people who live in the cities and those who live in the suburbs featured a big win for city slickers a little over a year ago when surveys revealed that millennials are heading to the cities in big numbers.

“This may be the most ‘bright lights, big city’ generation in history,” NPR declared, although, to be fair, it was pointing out the slow death of small-town America.

But the Nielsen company, using its survey power, said data shows millennials “prefer to live in dense, diverse urban villages where social interaction is just outside their front doors.”

Millennials like having the world at their fingertips. With the resurgence of cities as centers of economic energy and vitality, a majority are opting to live in urban areas over the suburbs or rural communities. Sixty-two percent indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices. They are currently living in these urban areas at a higher rate than any other generation, and 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future. As a result, for the first time since the 1920s growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of them.

It suggested that suburbs could compete for the affection of the millennial class by becoming more like cities.

That was just two years ago and perhaps it worked. Millennials are leaving cities, CNBC contends today, and are heading for the ‘burbs.

The National Association of Realtors survey said only 17% of millennials bought homes in cities in its annual survey, according to CNBC. That’s a drop from 21 percent the previous year.

“The median age of a millennial homebuyer is 30 years old, which typically is the time in life where one settles down to marry and raise a family,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. “Even if an urban setting is where they’d like to buy their first home, the need for more space at an affordable price is for the most part pushing their search further out.”

The problem — if you think it’s a problem — is student debt and the fact homebuilders in the city aren’t targeting first-time buyers. And because of the debt, millennials can’t afford the down payments for the few homes in the cities coming on the market.

On the other hand, the survey said, it doesn’t mean millennials are giving up on the city, because two-thirds of them are renters, a mostly city-like endeavor.

But more millennials want to own rather than rent. Forty-eight percent in the survey said the desire to own was their primary reason for buying. That’s up almost 10 percent from a year ago.