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Millennials talk future of Austin real estate

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

There are plenty of stereotypes about millennials – Americans born between 1982 and 2000 – but there’s no arguing that, at more than a quarter of the population, they are a major focus for many industries. This is certainly true of real estate in Austin, and that idea dominated the Real Estate Council of Austin’s most recent Ideas Forum on Wednesday at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The discussion on the future of commercial real estate in Austin featured an all-millennial panel composed of C.J. Sackman with developer Sackman Enterprises, Kristi Svec Simmons with real estate firm Aquila Commercial, Nelson Crowe with real estate firm Forestar Group and Omar Hossain with Frost Bank. Mike Clark-Madison with Hahn Public Communications moderated the talk.

Sackman kicked off the conversation by pointing out that millennials are not the only ones impacting growth in Austin. “I think there are a wide array of demographics that are obviously looking to move downtown, and there’s different ways to cater to them,” he said. “Overall, I think the trend is being able to live downtown at a more affordable price range.”

In 2013, for example, Austin had the nation’s highest percentage increase in populations over 50.

Sackman listed microunits and reduced parking requirements as potential ways to minimize the costs for millennials and others seeking to move downtown.

“I think community is the biggest factor,” said Crowe of the trend toward urban living, adding that people want to “live, work and play” in a centralized environment.

Simmons, who works in office real estate, says she is seeing a major shift toward open floor plans. “We get a floor plan now for an office, and it’s got all these (private) offices. People are like, ‘Who would do something like this?’” she said. “It’s people wanting more flexibility, they’re having more people in their space – we’re seeing a lot more collaborative areas.”

Clark-Madison pointed out that many millennials came of age during or just before the financial downturn in 2008 and, on average, have high levels of student debt. He asked how this trend has impacted home ownership decisions.

“I think if there’s any trend, it’s that millennials are buying homes probably later in life, because of college debt, because they’re maybe starting families later and, of course, (because of) affordability,” Hossain responded.

According to 2014 reports from the New America Foundation, the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree owed nearly $30,000 in student loans, and the homeownership rate of millennials between the ages of 25 and 29 “bottomed out” at 34 percent.

Simmons related these trends to low levels of civic involvement. “It may not affect them. When it starts to affect them, that’s when then they’ll get more interested. If everybody is delaying things – purchasing homes and incurring property taxes and those sorts of things – then they may not feel it, but once they start feeling it, then all of a sudden you become really dedicated,” she said.

Crowe related civic engagement to involvement in development issues, saying that some millennials may not feel like their voices are being heard and could benefit from some encouragement. “I think that the city or the government needs to make it known that they do have input,” he said.

Houssain pointed at that there are now two millennials on the City Council – Council members Greg Casar and Ellen Troxclair. He said that he hopes Council will be proactive in making sure that the city’s boards and commissions are a “diverse group of people,” including millennials.

Sackman commented on the view of millennials who have recently moved to Austin. “There’s a theme in Austin where you don’t belong until you’ve lived here a certain amount of time,” he said, adding that “young people are starting to notice” that the decisions made at the city level do impact their lives.

“Understanding that your voice is important, that the decisions are being made now, my hope is that there is more involvement,” Sackman said.

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