A Few Housing Trends Marketers Should Keep on Their Radar

Home Sizes and Population Shifts Account for Interesting Projections

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Source: US Census Bureau

Overall, homeownership rates peaked in the first quarter of 2005 and have generally declined since then to 66.4%. The last time rates were that low was the end of 1998. Some, like Richard Florida, see that as a good thing for the economy.

In an interview with Ad Age last year he said, "When you control for people with no equity, [home ownership rates are] already less than 60%. We've projected they could go down to 55%. That's about the right level for a really flexible high-growth region."

Why should marketers care? Let's start with one simple statistic. In 2009 a homeowner with a mortgage spent nearly twice as much as a household headed by a renter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's a difference of more than $30,000 per household. Housing costs themselves only account for $10,000 of that . That assumes a pretty hefty difference in income, as well. We don't have a lot of good data on high-income renters and their buying habits, because there typically haven't been that many to survey. Expect that to change.

Source: Pew Research Center

Much was made of the drop in new-home size during the recession, with pundits declaring the death of the McMansion (the American dream, supersized), but there have been many periods of drop and recovery including the late 1970s through early 1980s, 1991, 1995. It's early to call this a trend and, in fact, according to the latest Census figures, the median size increased again in 2010. Nearly all of the population growth occurred in major metropolitan areas during the past decade. Houses are typically much larger in those areas and have seen faster and more steady size growth than in rural areas of the U.S.

This sprawling home size seems counterintuitive as the number of people living in each house has dropped considerably over the past decades. The only blip in that trend is a projected rise in household size in 2010 driven largely by the increase in the share of the population living in multigenerational homes.

That change is due partially to the "boomerang" millennials returning home after college awaiting nonexistent jobs. Many other factors weigh in as well. The fast-growing Hispanic population is more culturally geared toward large, multigenerational homes and facing greater-than-average economic hardship. At the same time, as the baby boomers and their parents age and health-care costs rise, some boomers and older Gen Xers are taking their elderly parents in. All of this accounts for a change from just 12.1% of the population living in this type of household at the low point in 1980 to 16.1% in 2010.

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