Generational Storm

The Generational Storm

Each year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) publishes its annual Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers.  A wealth of information is included in the publication, statistics which are dissected by the media but largely overlooked by the average real estate professional in business planning.

This information is based on the merging of these NAR statistics with Census data, primarily taking the buying and selling behaviors of consumers based on age and comparing it with the number of consumers found in each age group.

The statistics released by NAR indicate that as a person rises in age, the likelihood of them selling increases and likelihood of them buying decreases – which may not seem like new information, however, it becomes evident when the data is analyzed in this manner, 2006 presented the real estate market with the unique challenge of oversupply and under-demand.   2006 marked a year when the oldest Baby Boomers, born in 1946, first turned 60 years of age.

The largest generation we have ever known, with nearly 80% homeownership rates, had all become sellers, with the very oldest entering retirement planning.  Which meant we needed to increase the number of first time buyers at the bottom of the market to absorb the rising inventory?  However, by 2006 the average age of first time buyers had risen to 33, and births fell in 1973.  The first time buyers we desperately needed in 2006 simply were not born.

In 2006, these two dynamics, the Baby boom entering their 60’s and the average age of first-time buyers 33 collided head-on.  Census data shows that the birth rate dropped steeply beginning in 1973, and NAR statistics demonstrate that 91% of first time buyers are native born American, while consumers over age 60 are more likely to sell and not purchase again.  The industry suddenly had a shortage of first-time buyers in 2006 just when we needed more of them.

The result was oversupply of inventory and lack of demand by first-time buyers simply because they were not born.  The phenomenon went undiagnosed and largely unaddressed until the passage of the Housing & Economic Recovery Act in August, 2008 which created the original $7500 first-time buyer tax credit.

By that time, inventory had stockpiled for nearly three years.  Compounding inventory issues we found that embedded in all the homes for sale, there were in fact persons in financial distress and incapable of competing for a sale in terms of price, incentives and market time.  Foreclosures skyrocketed.


  • Age of first time buyers during the Baby Boom: 25
  • Baby Boom became first time buyers in 1971
  • Oldest of Baby Boom first turned 60 in 2006
  • Youngest of Baby Boom will turn 70 in 2034 – that’s just 24 years
  • Age of fist time buyers in 2006: 33
  • Births dropped from 1973 – 1979
  • Current age of first time buyers: 30
  • Births began to rise again in 1980
  • Most important stat to watch – first time buyer (Gen Y) share of market:

            2006 – 36%

            2007 – 39%

            2008 – 41%

            2009 – 49%




First time buyers increasing in numbers, decreasing in absorption…….


First time buyers drive the entire market. Without a first time buyer, no one else moves.  When a first time buyer buys a small home from a homeowner, that person can buy again, and someone else can either buy again – or build.

A first time buyer can cause 3 or 4 sales as they each create their own mini trade-up cycle in the market.  In 2006 first time buyers represented 36% of the housing market, meaning the balance (64%) was trade up or new construction activity.  In 2006 each of them represented nearly 3 sales per person.  There just weren’t enough of them relative to inventory.

Today, the good news is that through this downturn the average age of first time buyers has fallen back down to 30.  We are just beginning to tap into the next generation, Gen Y, which began in 1980 and which will deliver a rising number of financially mature young adults each year.

We saw record numbers of first time buyers in 2009, with preliminary data showing first time buyers represented 47% of the nationwide market and yearend numbers reported at 51%.  The industry celebrated a dangerous statistic.

The trade-up market shrinks as the first time buyer share of market rises.  At 51% of total activity, first time buyer absorption rate fell to 1.9 sales per person in 2009, much too low for required absorption, leaving us with a trade-up market that remains stagnant despite record numbers of first time buyers.  Why?

A rising number of precious first time buyers are not getting on the trade-up ladder but instead buying vacant bank owned properties, and an opportunity for trade-up activity is missed.

2010 and BEYOND

A bright future

We are on the threshold of another boom that could potentially make the last one look boring.

The next boom will be driven by the first-time buyers in Gen Y, whose generation rivals the Baby Boom in size and numbers yet are only just beginning to reach financial maturity.

As these young adults begin to form households and desire a home of their own, they will enter the market and reintroduce demand.  By virtue of the sheer size of this generation, they will generate home buying records.  But we can’t be knocked off track as sales begin to rise by underestimating the Baby Boom retirement liquidation inventory.

For the first time in history, we will experience two enormous generations in real estate market simultaneously.  It will be fun – and it will be the consummate Battle of the Booms:  Gen Y demand vs. Baby Boom supply.

Those same record setting first-time buyers from 1971 are about to become record setting sellers.  As the Baby Boom ages and moves through their retirement years over the next 24 years, we also stand to realize a record number of listings caused by retirement-driven liquidation of primary residences.  The huge influx of listings currently can be attributed to Boomers liquidating sooner than initially planned out of fear that that market was on a free fall.

Until the absorption rate of first time buyers rises to the required rate necessary to absorb Baby Boom inventory, we could realistically see a record number of sales in terms of units, while still experiencing an oversupply of inventory, falling prices, foreclosures and short sales.  The level of impact could even vary and be confusing based on local generational distribution.


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