An Editor Walks Into a Bar ...

Witnessing the next generation of homebuyers in their natural habitat reveals a fundamental shift for housing: a landscape of multiple shelter choices

June 24, 2019
An editor walks into a bar and ponders future opportunities for home builders

Photo: Pxhere, CC0

After a day attending a recent industry conference, a couple of home builders and I went to a downtown bar recommended by one of their colleagues, a member of the “Sharer” generation born in the 1980s

The place was packed with small hives of other Sharers, a well-educated, urban-living, debt-averse (yet student debt-burdened) cohort, as well as a few older Connectors, their ’90s counterparts with similar sensitivities. Almost every one of them had a smartphone in one hand and an $18 cocktail in the other, a feat enabled by their near-ubiquitous use of fashionable backpacks that effectively doubled the bar’s capacity.

We Equalers (born in the ’60s) were witnessing the next generation of homebuyers in their natural environment. We wondered aloud where they worked and lived and how they could afford those cocktails, then reminded ourselves of the colleague who recommended the place—a professional renting a small urban apartment who relies on Uber and public transportation; a child of the internet and a slave to social media. 

Snippets of comments from the conference came flooding back: that they prefer experiences to material possessions; are likely to change jobs often and move frequently, perhaps seasonally; define housing as shelter, not ownership; eat out or order in; and build trust through personalized purchasing encounters, social networks, and online reviews. 

Such tendencies predict a fundamental shift for housing: a landscape of multiple shelter choices in design, marketing, and various sales and leasing options. Imagine a kitchen requiring only enough space for small appliances and a bar sink, but with ample surfaces for a tequila tasting and takeout for a small group of friends. Closets are mostly a memory; the dining room finally goes away. 

Deals are done completely online, sight unseen save gaming-inspired, self-navigated online virtual tours with embedded content that likely (somehow) engages all of the senses, including touch and smell. Terms like “roamers” and “home sharing” enter the lexicon; a builder’s success metrics are redefined and constantly calculated.

We left the bar with a sense of excitement, not fear, for a future of opportunities available to forward-thinking builders. But we also wondered whether we could trust what we witnessed as a lasting predictor: Would Sharers and Connectors follow through where Achievers and Innovators (aka Boomers) had changed as they aged, had kids, and craved wealth? 

That’s the 88 million-person question, and it’s no joke.


Access a PDF of this article in Professional Builder's July 2019 digital edition



Rich Binsacca is Professional Builder’s editor-in-chief. He has served as an editor and frequent contributor to several housing and building construction-related print and online publications, and has reported and written about all aspects of the industry since 1987.


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