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The Millennial Debate: Suburbs or City?

Millennials, those ranging from fresh out of college up to early 40s, get a lot of attention. Marketing is catered to this demographic, apartments have upgraded to meet their needs, and they are one of the driving forces of our economy. While many millennials still opt to rent thanks in part to crippling student loan debt, others have transitioned out of apartments and have purchased their first homes. The needs and lifestyle of a younger millennial are vastly different than those of a millennial in their early 40s. As these needs transition, so begins the millennial debate: should we live in the city or the suburbs?

The Millennial Debate: Suburbs or City?

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer when deciding whether the suburbs or the city is the best fit. From location, amenities, relationship status, to finances, many factors weigh the decision.

Location, Location, Location

One of the largest factors in determining housing for millennials is proximity to work. As most millennials tend to work in the city, more millennials are living closer to work. As the percentage of people driving to work continues to decline, proximity to public transit or walkable distances is equally as important for millennials. As real estate values tend to increase closer to the city center, millennials opting to live closer to the city are more likely to rent due to affordability. Interestingly, millennials are the only generation that report being happy living in the city center.

66% of millennials who opt to live outside of the city center in the suburbs still say location is equally as important. While suburb-living millennials must commute to work, they want a location that offers easy access to highways, proximity to conveniences such as banks, grocery stores, and community parks.


Millennials are typically not searching for mega-mansions. In fact, they tend to prefer smaller homes and are one of the leading forces behind the tiny-house movement. They put great value on the overall amenities, community, & technology in a home—rather than its square footage. A record 78% of Millennials report that they want to change their lifestyle in an effort to protect the environment and homes that are energy efficient, smart, and incorporate sustainable products & finishes.

Whether millennials are in the city or the suburbs, they share a mutual desire for amenities. They believe the community is important- whether that is a dedicated subdivision, organized condo activities, or community gardens & parks.

Relationship Status

Unlike generations before them, millennials are delaying marriage & having children. This decision is also impacting their living status. Due to student loan debt & relationship status, more millennials are cohabitating with roommates in smaller homes or apartments. Just as with location & amenities, relationship status is a dominant factor in choosing a home. Some stats even show most single millennials are renting rather than buying.

However, not all millennials are single & living in an apartment in the city. In fact, just over ¼ of millennials have tied the knot. As families form and expand, so do the housing needs of these millennial families. For some, that may include moving to the suburbs to be closer to other families with children or to have more land & a bigger house.


Arguably chief among the determining factors between living in the city or the suburbs is finances. Millennials are notoriously drowning in student loan debt, hindering home ownership for a large percentage of them. As they attempt to balance entry-level salaries with rising home and rent costs, as well as student loan debt, car payments, utilities, and groceries, many millennials are discovering home ownership isn’t currently in their grasp.

While homes may be more affordable in the suburbs, there is a reason many millennials are choosing homes in walkable areas like the city center: the cost of car payments and insurance coupled with the small fortune many cities charge for dedicated parking. In an attempt to live within their means, many younger millennials are opting for city life without a car.

However, not all millennials are ready to turn over their car keys just yet. For those millennials looking to live in the suburbs and have witnessed the Great Recession, they are opting for smaller, single-family homes.

Cities or suburbs, they both have their perks and disadvantages. The convenience of walking a few steps from your door to the farmer’s market or your favorite bistro is certainly enticing to many urban-loving millennials. However, the freedom to plant your own garden or to not hear your neighbors through the paper-thin walls of your apartment is equally as enticing to suburban millennials. As they wade through the decision of renting versus buying, they must also navigate the city versus suburbs.

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Jennifer is an accidental house flipper turned Realtor and real estate investor. She is the voice behind the blog, Bachelorette Pad Flip. Over five years, Jennifer paid off $70,000 in student loan debt through real estate investing. She's passionate about the power of real estate. She's also passionate about southern cooking, good architecture, and thrift store treasure hunting. She calls Northwest Arkansas home with her cat Smokey, but she has a deep love affair with South Florida.

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