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Young couple buying a house.While moderating a panel about technology, green living, and more, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun quoted one of the greats, Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” For real estate, that means always looking ahead at what’s coming down the road, a perfect segue into the panel titled: “Tech, Green & More: Buyer Preferences in Today’s Real Estate Market” held at the 2015 National Association of REALTORS® Conference & Expo.

“Millennials are not only the future, they are the present,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com®, leading off the hour-long presentation. In fact, 60 percent of 2015’s first-time home shoppers were millennials, making up the biggest age group buying homes today. In the 2014-2015 time period, this dominating sector represented the largest share of home buyers at 32 percent.

“By the end of the year about two million home sales will be to millennials,” said Smoke.

Through September of this year, 36 percent of mortgages went to buyers aged 25-34, increasing from last year’s 31 percent. Reasons millennials are buying include an increase in income (with 77 percent earning at least $50k), being tired of where they live, favorable home prices and interest rates, and increasing rents. And as if the industry wasn’t already privy to this, almost two-thirds of adult millennials started their real estate search online.

Unsurprisingly, the number one challenge millennials face is student debt, which has significantly impacted debt-to-income ratios and has been inhibiting plans to save. “When combined with the level of rents today that are largely unaffordable in almost every major market in the country, it’s a scenario that doesn’t bode well for the future unless the U.S. can work at both a federal and local level to ensure we have more affordable housing,” said Smoke. “Real estate is cool again, and millennials are positive about buying a home as an investment.”

Jessica Lautz, managing director, Survey Research and Communications at NAR® spoke next about the myths commonly heard about home buying – that Generation Y wants to rent and are renters, the mass exodus of the suburbs into the city, that baby boomers are downsizing and swarming Florida (all not exactly true or far exaggerated). So what actually is true in the world of housing market trends today? There has been a steep rise in household income since 2002 to today, which has aided first-time home buyers entering the market. First-timers are a large segment of the buying population, due to married and unmarried couples competing with dual incomes. In addition, Gen Y is the largest generation of home buyers for the third consecutive year. Sixty-four percent of first time home buyers bought a home for the pure desire of owning a place of their own.

“They want your help getting them through that process,” Lautz told panel attendees.

Another trend on the rise revolves around multigenerational housing. Fifty-seven million live in a multigenerational household, and this number has doubled since 1980. Living with family remains ever-so-popular due to affordability reasons and lack of saving. Of those who are 25-34, 20 percent of the unemployed live with parents, while 12 percent of those employed live with their parents.

The sandwich generation finds itself constantly swaying in between adult children and older parents, with one in five of younger boomers purchasing a multi-generational home. In-law suites have risen in value and in demand. “The money people are willing to pay for that has absolutely increased, and it’s a selling point, hands down,” said Lautz.

Although Generation Y lives more so in the city center than Gen X and baby boomers, this isn’t a “new” trend. Once children come into the picture, a good school district often becomes priority over the commute to work, hence, pushing buyers outside the city center and more toward the suburbs.

While single buyers often want features such as new kitchen appliances, central AC, cathedral ceilings, an ensuite master bath, etc., green heating and cooling remains one of the most important (and environmentally friendly) features that buyers care about, with energy-efficient appliances and lighting right behind it.

Chad Curry, managing director for NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology, ended the show discussing emerging technologies and the development of products for use by members. NAR is constantly trying to innovate new technology, and has set up a lab to test various devices and features found on those devices. They also build hardware and software in effort to simplify and facilitate the jobs of all its members.

According to Curry, it’s all about redefining relationships. “It’s our goal to improve quality of life. How can we help communities and cities improve? How can we help homeowners have a better quality of life?”

Curry quoted legendary computer scientist Alan Kay, saying: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

With new technology consistently rolling out and a growing understanding of millennials’ home buying habits and needs, being a forward-thinking real estate professional remains the key to success from this point forward.

For more post-event coverage from the 2015 National Association of REALTORS® Conference & Expo, stay tuned to www.rismedia.com.

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