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Shifts in Current Housing Trends Favor Suburbs With Urban Amenities

— May 9, 2020

A Brief History of Suburban Development

Until the 1930s, most Americans lived in rural areas or cities. But at the end of World War II, many Americans enjoyed a cushion of prosperity that prompted demand for residential suburban communities.

Robust manufacturing rates, a high employment rate, nest eggs from government-inspired wartime savings strategies, the GI Bill, and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans made it possible for many Americans to own their homes for the first time. As a result, builders across the United States transitioned areas of farmland into residential suburban communities in the years between 1946 and the 1960s.1,2,3

The new-found postwar housing boom was soon accompanied with a rise in overall consumer spending. Home owners, after all, needed appliances and furniture for their homes; and owning a car meant the option to live outside a city with freedom from public transportation.

Aware of the need for conveniences, merchants soon established shopping centers, restaurants, and other retail stores in close proximity to emerging neighborhoods.1,2,3 By 1950, an estimated 40 percent of Americans had moved to a suburban community.3

After World War II, pent-up consumer demand, strong economic growth,
robust and booming industries, high employment rates,
affordable mortgages for military veterans,
a rising gross national product, and a large number of postwar births
contributed to a growing American middle class
that wanted to own homes in suburban communities.1,2,3

Other Factors May Have Influenced the Early Suburban Housing Trend

In addition to postwar benefits that contributed to the initial shift from rural and urban life to the suburbs, other factors also may have played a role. In his book, “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” for example, author Richard Rhodes suggests that some Americans after WW II felt safer living outside a city after learning about higher survival rates for people living outside Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945.4

Although there’s debate about exactly which factors contributed to the appeal of suburban living, some historians suggest the growing highway system, a desire to live free of urban crime, neighborhood schools, and a preference for the sociability of suburban communities also may have had a part in its allure.3 Whatever the factors, many people considered suburban life a realization of the American Dream. By the 1980s, approximately 60 percent of Americans had moved to the suburbs compared with figures of the 1950s.3

Inequalities Then and Now

It’s important to mention that gaps in racial and gender equality have long excluded many Americans from benefits of suburban and urban life. Sadly, we continue struggling to bridge gaps that may help us all reach our potential — whatever our race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.

Equal opportunity housing laws, legislation to promote equality, and an enlightened perspective of challenges people face the world over are steps in the right direction; but they alone aren’t enough to resolve inequalities or ensure we practice what can help make America and the world a better place.

Supporting Equal Rights for All

If our goal is to be unified on our fragile and ever-shrinking planet, we must devote ourselves to a genuine and consistent attention to and application of positive changes that honor human dignity and uphold human rights. Doing so is the only hope for leaving our children, grandchildren, and future generations with compassion, sympathy, and empathy for others that is the foundation of the good life and values we hold dear.

Honoring human dignity is essential
for us, our children, and the generations ahead.

It is important that each of us perpetually reflect and improve upon our thoughts, beliefs, and treatment of the people around us near and far. Rather than tolerance, our goals should include the desire for a deeper understanding and value of other people whether or not we share their ethnicity or agree with all of their philosophies, religious beliefs, and life choices.

From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests;
you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights
without striking a dangerous blow at your own.
— Carl Shurz

Millennials’ Lifestyle Trends: 1990s Through 2000s

Through the 1990s and 2000s, the combination of debt from school loans and / or credit cards and low starting salaries influenced behaviors of many professional millennials and post millennials (or Gen Z-ers). Starting their young lives with financial setbacks, for example, has contributed to their preference for experiences over the burden of material possessions.5,6

In line with their focus, millennials also have been drawn to urban life that has given them access to jobs and a wide variety of social, cultural, and economic activities without owning a home or car. When they could not afford city life, millennials have lived at home with their parents to work, resolve debt, and save money.5,6

COVID-19 Changes Predicted Housing Trends

Since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in March 2020, many urban millennials quickly realized the limits of city life. As a result, they have taken a new and unpredicted interest in suburban areas — or hipsturbias* that allow them to play, work, offer their kids a good education, walk to town centers, commute to a city, and enjoy cultural events as well as many other amenities associated with urban life.


An empty New York City street lacks the activity and vibrancy
that has appealed to millennials.

“You can take the hipster from the city, 
but you can’t take the city from the hipster.”
— Andrew Warren, Real Estate Research Director, 

Hipsturbias Appeal to People of All Ages

In addition to the shift from city to suburban life among millennials, empty nesters and seniors also are taking an interest in hipsturbias. As a result, some developers have created housing options such as apartment buildings, duplexes, and townhouse communities that allow older residents to enjoy advantages of hipsturbias, including walkability and a sense of intergenerational belonging that are lacking in isolated senior housing projects.7

“Hipsturbias offer a place where multiple generations can live happily
in close proximity to each other.”
— McLean and Carlock

In addition to having many urban amenities,
hipsturbias offer residents a strong sense of community.

Demand for Homes in Local Suburbs Now is Substantial

Here in our area, the spring 2020 wave of young buyers from dense urban areas like New York City, Jersey City, and Hoboken has kept us very busy. Furthermore, recent real estate trends as well as what we’ve experienced suggest the market is likely to continue being active for the coming months. Data from a 2020 Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report, for example, supports the notion that young people and young families now want spacious suburban homes, great public and private educational options for their kids, and benefits of city life without the crowds.7

As realtors, we are answering the vigorous local demand for suburban housing with virtual and safe-distancing showings. Since March 1, for example, I have listed 10 homes and either sold or written contracts for fourteen.

A Shortage of Homes for Sale Continues to Challenge Buyers

Our only drawback in addressing buyers’ needs has been a lack of inventory. Some sellers who withdrew their homes from the spring market early in the COVID-19 pandemic have recently listed and sold their homes quickly and often at or above asking price. But there is still a shortage of homes for sale given the large number of buyers eager to settle in suburban neighborhoods with the combination of appealing lifestyle factors they expect.

Local Communities Resonate With Today’s Home Buyers

Our Local Communities Offer What Today’s Buyers Want 
Vibrant and walkable town centers that have a friendly home-town character, upscale shopping, fine dining, cafés, cultural events, reasonable commutes to New York City, and proximity to quality healthcare and parks for recreation are just some of the amenities Chatham, Madison, Morristown, Short Hills / Millburn, and Summit — the best of New Jersey’s hipsturbias — offer.

As a seasoned realtor who has served these communities for more than 20 years, I am grateful for the opportunity to help sellers achieve their goals and help buyers settle into the safe havens they need for the quality of life, peace of mind, and well-being they want and need.


*A term coined by the New York Times, hipsturbia refers to a metropolitan community near a city and its urban amenities, including cultural options, a diverse population, and mass transit.

1. Allen FL. The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900 – 1950. New York: Harper & Bros. 1952: (2);43-46.
2. Cohen L. A consumers’ republic: The politics of mass consumption in postwar America. J Consumer Research. 31(1): 236-239. Digital access to scholarship at Harvard. Accessed May 9, 2020.
3. Nicolaides B, Wiese A. Oxford Research Encyclopedia. American History. Suburbanization of the United States After 1945. Accessed May 9, 2020.
4. Rhodes R. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. 1988. Simon and Schuster. New York.
5. Capps K. Do Millennials Prefer Cities or Suburbs? Maybe Both. CityLab. 2018. Accessed May 9, 2020.
6. Lee H. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Housing Perspectives. Millennials and the Future Urban Landscape. 2018. Accessed May 9, 2020.
7. PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Urban Land Institute Report. Emerging Trends in Real Estate United States and Canada 2020. Accessed May 9, 2020.