There has been a common theme in the housing market in recent years: Housing prices are high, and inventory is low. At least that’s the case in most major cities, where job growth remains strong.
This is bad news for young people who are trying to get a toehold in the labor force while also putting a roof over their heads.
Some new research by the real estate firm Trulia points to a possible solution to the problem: baby boomers.
Trulia found that in the 100 largest metro areas, Americans 53 and older are sitting on some 3.6 million unoccupied rooms in their homes — rooms they could rent to help ease the current housing shortage. The study only counted people living in homes with at least two bedrooms more than the number of occupants to account for a guest room or office.
“The housing market pressure on both older Americans and younger Americans is ratcheting up right now,” said David Weidner, managing editor for economic research at Trulia. Weidner points out that since the housing bottom just five years ago, rental costs have risen between 25 and 48 percent.
And for cash-strapped millennials, renting a room as opposed to a one-bedroom apartment could save them thousands of dollars annually.
“It’s pretty hard to turn down, say $14,000 in savings a year, by simply renting out a room from a baby boomer,” Weidner said.
“And likewise, for the baby boomer, it’s hard to turn that money down when you’re looking at the costs of owning and maintaining a home going up every year.”
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Dale Manty and his wife, Liz Tuckermanty, live in a big five-bedroom house in Cheverly, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.
Manty likes to joke that they started renting rooms out to younger people to help them cope with their newfound empty nest.
“To just make sure that we didn’t overly focus on our own kids, that we would spend our parental-nudging energy on someone else,” he said.
Tuckermanty remarked that it’s nice to have someone to water the plants and take care of the pets when they’re not home. And the $700 rent really does add up.
“It helps a little bit to have that little extra cash every month, and our house sort of begs to have people in it because it’s sort of empty with just two people,” she said.
By 2030, the proportion of Americans over 65 is expected to swell to 20 percent, or about 74 million people. That is a demographic shift like the United States has never experienced. It could also amount to a highly lucrative business opportunity.
Noelle Marcus and Rachel Goor are urban planners who recently graduated from MIT. Together they co-founded Nesterly, an app that matches aging homeowners with grad students looking for cheaper rent in exchange for doing household chores.
“Yeah … we are kind of the Match.com of intergenerational home-sharing,” said Marcus.
They said the idea came to them as a result of living in a city like Boston, where so many students are chasing increasingly sky-high rents. There just aren’t enough rentals to go around, they said. Nesterly could change that.
“In some ways, you could effectively consider it creating new units at no additional cost,” Goor said.
Nesterly is scheduled for a beta launch in Boston next month. New York University is also rolling out a similar program in 2018. And while home-sharing is not exactly the kind of independent lifestyle most young people dream of, it’s one Goor said people are increasingly willing to accept.
“The opportunity to have this lower rent, even if maybe you have a little more restrictions on your social life,” she said. “We think that the tradeoffs are pretty low, and that’s what we’ve heard from people we’ve spoken to.”
Housing consultant Annamarie Pluhar is the author of Sharing Housing: A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. Pluhar said the differences between boomers and millennials are often exaggerated, and the benefits of intergenerational housing are far greater than simple economics.
“It can help create friendship and companionship,” she said. “For instance, the benefit of having someone around who says, ‘How was your day?’ It lifts your heart.”
According to Trulia’s data, the area around Washington, D.C., ranks highest in supply of spare rooms. But San Francisco is the most expensive, where an extra room can generate around $22,000 per year.