Is Generation Y Redefining the American Dream?

In “Why I’m Never Going to Own a Home Again” at forbes.com, blogger James Altucher explains why he’s closed the door on home ownership. In short, he says, it’s a trap:

“Let’s spell out very clearly why the myth of home ownership became religion in the United States. It’s because corporations didn’t want their employees to have many job choices. So they encouraged them to own homes. So they can’t move away and get new jobs.”

It’s easy to take up either side of that argument, but the crux of the matter for me is that Altucher feels he has more options and more flexibility without a house.

When you hear about the rough housing market of the past few years, the American dream is often part of the discussion. How can we get the dream back on track? How can we get people back to buying houses? That aspect of the dream is changing. More and more people are including renting in their versions of the American dream. A recent story on NPR’s Weekend Edition covered the numbers in some detail.

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like NPR only got part of the picture. It’s not just a matter of money and harsh reality. It’s a change in personal preference, too. And I think Generation Y is leading that change.

Joanna Ellis, who is writing a series of articles about Gen Y right here on Property Management Insider (Part 1, Part 2), thinks Altucher’s right on the money:

“Gen Y likes to have choices. Whether it is in what social network to join, what company they choose to work for or where they want to move ‘next.’ They are job hoppers for different reasons than most would like to believe. They do not see the value in staying in a job for many years—they have lived through and seen their parents work for a company for 30 years and get the pink slip. Because of this they need the flexibility to move when and where they want. Owning a home goes against their nature (not all but many) and watching the values drop, foreclosures, etc., has not painted a pretty picture of the so called ‘American dream’ they once heard of. It is not a good investment, it does not offer flexibility, it does not match their need to move and go when they want — it is NOT their dream.”

I think Gen Y-ers might nod their heads at Altucher and Ellis’s arguments. Houses hold stuff, and a Gen Y-er’s idea of stuff is pretty fluid. A whole library of books can stay on a Kindle that weighs about half a pound. Comic books? Textbooks? On an iPad. Music? It’s in the cloud. Physical objects come and go as quickly as an eBay auction, Craigslist sale, or Freecycle donation.

Identities have changed, too. Ask a Gen Y-er for his address, and the response will probably include an @ symbol. His community might be a physical neighborhood, but it’s just as likely to come from Facebook or Twitter or World of Warcraft. Some Gen Y-ers feel that home ownership would just tie them down.

So what does this mean for the rental housing industry? Opportunity.

Rentals give Gen Y-ers the flexibility they want. They might not become multiyear renters, but they can become a solid, vocal (through social media) part of your communities. High-tech amenities and high-speed Internet connections are important, and so is your quick response to their needs.

Build a good experience and you’ll also find how important brands can be for this generation. If a Gen Y-er is happy in your Austin community, then that can convince her to check out your properties in San Antonio when she’s ready to make a move. Just keep what Joanna says in mind: Focus on choices, flexibility, and value.

Will the mindset of Gen Y-ers change as they get older and give way to the next generation? Time will tell.

So what do you think? Is Generation Y helping to re-define the American Dream?


Contributor, Property Management Insider

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Michael Cunningham is Content Marketing Manager at ProofHQ, and the former Managing Editor of PropertyManagementInsider.com. He worked as a social media manager for RealPage, Inc., a provider of on-demand software solutions that integrate and streamline single-family and a wide variety of multifamily rental property management business functions. He is responsible for promoting the company through various media channels, including editorial, print and online advertising, and social media. Michael received his education at Indiana University where he majored in English.

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