Millennials now represent the largest cohort of home buyers. Here's what they are looking for.

Brian and Eliana Kee with their 3-year-old daughter Aileen sit outside their home in Arlington, Virginia on Dec., 8, 2019. Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph

They're here. For years, real estate agents and builders eagerly anticipated the entrance of millennials into the housing market.

Millennials, a generation now larger than the baby boomers, were battered by the financial crisis as they started their careers and delayed some of the milestones that accompany homeownership, such as marrying and starting a family. But in 2018, millennials represented the largest cohort of home buyers at 37%, according to the National Association of Realtors' 2019 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report.

While it's difficult to generalize about what the Pew Research Center estimates are more than 73 million Americans, real estate agents and observers see some trends among millennials.

"Millennial home buyers are often looking for a lot at first and then they're scaling back as they start searching for a home because of high prices and the limited selection of homes in most markets," says Danielle Hale, chief economist for

Despite the obstacle of low inventory of homes on the market, millennials are not likely to compromise on the condition of the home, which Hale says is in part because of their lack of experience as homeowners.


Brian Kee, 36, and his wife, Eliana Kee, 33, purchased a three-bedroom, townhouse-style condo for $515,000 in the Shirlington area of Arlington, Virginia, upgrading from the nearby condo they owned for six years now that they have a child.

While the Kees looked at single-family houses in Arlington and nearby Virginia communities of Falls Church and Springfield, they ultimately settled on a townhouse about 200 feet from where they already lived, Brian Kee says.

"The single-family homes we saw were small, needed a lot of work and sold fast," he says. "We liked one in Springfield but realized we would need a second car, so the savings we would achieve by moving farther out would be spent on the car."

Eliana Kee works at home on her photo business and takes care of their child, while Brian commutes into the District via bus or Metro.

"For us, the neighborhood and commute were more important than the size of the place," Brian Kee says. "We also like that it was move-in ready and we didn't have to do any work."

"Millennials want almost instant HGTV-approved living," says Michelle Sagatov, a real estate agent with Washington Fine Properties in Arlington. "They're not usually willing to put in elbow grease on making something their own through a renovation. As long as it's on trend enough, they're happy to just bring their furniture and their toothbrush and move in."

Understanding the priorities and preferences of millennial buyers is important to developers and to home sellers who want to target buyers in that age range.

"I tell sellers that there's a 'three-strike' rule with a lot of buyers: If they have to change three things right away, that's a dealbreaker," Sagatov says. "Buyers don't want to have to do any renovation, especially not right away."


Tech-savvy millennials like the convenience of technology that they can control remotely, Heminger says, such as the ability to buzz someone in to deliver a package or someone who will walk their dog.

"Millennials grew up in the digital age, which gave them a thirst for instant information at their fingertips and virtual communication," Stokes says. "Appliances such as smart thermostats, smart doorbells and more that can be controlled from an app are all the rage. Connectivity is king when putting a house on the market these days."

A simple step that sellers can take is to swap out standard outlets for ones that include USBs for charging, Stokes suggests. A USB outlet costs $7 to $9 per switch, he says.

"Constantly being on a smartphone drains a lot of power," Stokes says. "When your home offers a charging hub or outlet for people, especially in unconventional rooms like the kitchen, they are more likely to stop and take a second look."

Stokes also suggests hiring an electrician to install an electrical outlet in the garage if possible, to allow for an outdoor refrigerator, charging toy batteries and electrical cars.

"Millennials crave smart security systems that don't require a monthly subscription," says Yuri Blanco, broker and owner of Re/Max Executives in Boise, Idaho. "Any new technology that comes at a low cost is a major bonus to this age group."

Most buyers today, including millennials, want an open floor plan.

"The walls are coming down for millennials," Blanco says. "For this generation, it's all about open floor plans. Millennials who are having children want an open area for them to run around and also love entertaining, which means kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms that are connected attract them."


If you have an older home, Stokes suggests eliminating some unnecessary walls, especially hip- or knee-height walls that used to be popular, to make your home appealing to younger buyers.

"Barn doors and 'rail system' doors are here to stay, partly because they don't take up space by swinging out," Stokes says. "Another popular option for new construction is pocket doors that disappear into the wall system and fit into the whole open floor plan concept."

Staging the home to make it more appealing to millennials can include adding some bar stools to a kitchen island or peninsula so buyers can visualize having coffee or drinks there, Heminger says.

"If you have an older home with a formal living room, you might want to stage it as a lounge with a cool bar cart for hanging out or a library, because younger buyers don't want any formal spaces," Sagatov says.

In addition, sellers may want to reduce traditional elements in their home as much as possible, such as heavy curtains or elaborate furniture, in favor of simpler design features.

"In recent years, we are seeing millennials prefer modern, sleek designs with clean lines and minimalist aesthetics," Blanco says. "To them, less is more. Homes that have new, stainless-steel kitchens and simple cabinetry draw millennials in."

Sagatov suggests that sellers look at new home models and existing homes in their area that sold within seven days to see what's on trend and do some simple fixes such as upgrading light fixtures and painting. Neutral colors are in, particularly light and whitewashed gray and cream, Blanco says.

"To accompany the neutral colors, we are seeing millennials gravitate toward bolder pops of color on accent walls," Blanco says. "An accent wall that is colorful or covered in a unique wallpaper will be enticing to millennials."


While these design features can entice younger buyers, top priorities for most millennials are the same as any other generation: They want an affordable house in good condition in a convenient location. That's not surprising at all.

Brian and Eliana Kee's home in Arlington, Virginia. Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph

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