I live and work in a mountain town. Condos, townhomes and a relatively limited supply of single family homes speckle the valley. Each year when the snow comes our town balloons from 12,000 people to somewhere closer to 30,000. Fire extinguishers and boilers get inspected, lights go on and windows get washed. We all somehow know that what is coming will soon pass with the Spring melt, but does it have to?
Each fall landlords and investment property owners hustle to get maintenance projects done to get the apartments and duplexes back on the market and ready for the incoming mass of 20-something renters from around the world who have decided to live and work and party for a glorious winter season in Steamboat. I'm sure this is not unique among ski towns. Who are these mysterious young masses and why are they drawn like magnets to rent that ripped-couch basement 1 bedroom for $1000/mo rather than looking for that first starter home?
Renting is easy, and without the scariest thing in the world: Commitment. Sign a 6 month or year lease, pay your deposit and first and last month’s rent and ‘Voila!’ you are now "Living in Steamboat" for this phase of your life. This time-tested formula has captured the dollars of generations of Ski Bums, eating up what’s left of their paycheck after buying beer in exchange for a warm place to rest their head while they await the next dumping of fresh pow. The young home-buyer has become a rare and elusive beast.
With entry level townhomes and condos in short supply one would think it hard to find the right starter home, but with the market in such slow recovery, a simple internet search can often turn up surprising and affordable results. It seems the American Dream of home ownership isn't on the smartphone radar of 20-somethings. After all, how many 23 year olds are Tweeting about getting into that rad 2-bedroom townhome?
As adolescence has clearly been extended well into a child's 20's in middle Americana, and with many of these not-so young young adults looking to 'find themself' by shredding the deep gnar in a ski town after graduating college or before studying abroad (I don't know if I'll be happier in New Zealand or Tanzania?), aren't empty-nest parents there to shell out the fraction needed to invest in a starter home that can double as an investment property for that creative Art major? After all, owning a home is more valuable than that Facebook album of your gap year travels right?
That massive jump from the 20's-teenager "just getting started" mindset to Homeowner just doesn't seem to be there, and we have a whole generation waiting longer and longer to begin to build equity, and the once-standard set of commitments necessary to enter into adult life.
Getting a handle on what young, adventurous, multi-talented young people are looking for as they enter adulthood is surely the subject of an e-book from some Psychology and Techno-Shamanism double-major featured on NPR, but as Real Estate Agents, are we missing those long-term clients that would start with us and keep using us for years as they buy and sell? I don't know the best way to grab the attention of the smartphone generation to clue them in on all the benefits of homeownership, but I think we can do a better job of demystifying the often intimidating process.
Instant gratification is now the norm and here in Steamboat the snow will definitely dump and thine work will be missed to get fresh tracks, but that doesn't mean our sandwich makers, ski lift operators, bartenders and bank tellers shouldn't stumble into their first home rather than some rented apartment. We are the gatekeepers to adulthood in many ways, and there is an uncaptured child-like clientele out there with bank accounts and growing credit scores, most often with headphones on looking at their phone. I know they are my future clients, and it scares me a little bit; but in a good way.