This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.
Perhaps Alex Dale and Stephanie LeBlanc lost their copy of the
millennial script. Somehow, they're looking to buy a house in The
Woodlands and not inside the Loop, where they had rented a place close
enough to walk or summon an Uber ride to their favorite restaurants and
Or maybe observers got the narrative wrong.
While millennials, that generation born after 1980, still love the
sometimes rowdy, sometimes gritty atmosphere of urban life, Dale and
LeBlanc and many others can envision a future in the suburbs as they
earn more money and get ready to settle down - not unlike their parents
"We are city people," Dale, 28, said. "We like having a lot of things
to do." But he and LeBlanc, 26, who have been married for more than two
years, also want to own a house with a backyard roomy enough for their
two dogs and maybe a pool.
In other words, they want a suburb with a city's perks.
They consider The Woodlands to be a happy medium despite being some
30 miles north of downtown. The master-planned community has concerts,
organic grocers, pubs with billiards and bingo, and a beloved café that
also can be found in Rice Village, near their old apartment. And it has a
lot of jobs.
Dale and LeBlanc are not alone in leaving the city. A new survey by
the National Association of Realtors found more than half of millennials
buying houses are choosing the suburbs. The reasons are many, including
price and proximity to work.
In Houston, working-age millennials - ages 25 to 34 - accounted for
18 percent of its population in 2014, census data show. That's a higher
percentage than in any of the booming suburbs in the metro area and in
the state as a whole. The age group made up 14 percent of Texans and of
residents in Pearland, 12 percent in Katy, 10 percent in Sugar Land and
Tomball and 9 percent in The Woodlands.
New figures from The Woodlands Development Co. indicate that
working-age millennials are now 12 percent of the township's population.
"The city is right here now," said Joseph Delos Reyes, 31, an agent
at The Woodlands office of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary
Millennials' housing preferences matter because they now represent
the largest generational group of homebuyers. They made up 35 percent of
those purchasing homes last year, followed by those in Generation X -
ages 36 to 50 - at 26 percent, the National Association of Realtors
And millennials, as they age, are displaying more traditional buying
habits by purchasing homes in the suburbs despite their supposed
preference for city living, the real estate group concluded.
Cost is a factor
It's likely many of them would have purchased houses sooner if not
for their circumstances since graduating college. As a whole,
millennials were slow to homeownership because of the recession,
low-paying jobs and heavy student loan debt, said Dowell Myers,
professor of demography and urban planning at the University of Southern
He also said some young people are choosing the suburbs because the
age group is large and there's a housing supply problem in many cities.
They are more likely to find a detached, single-family house for an
affordable price outside the urban core.
"Millennials have a stronger urban preference (than older
generations), but there isn't enough housing," Myers said. "Unless you
want to live in a two-bedroom apartment for your entire life, you have
Bill Fulton, who leads the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at
Rice University, said he does not see millennials simply following the
well-worn path of older generations to the suburbs.
While younger people want single-family houses and good schools for
their children, they prefer to live where they can walk, bike or take
mass transit to shops, restaurants and jobs, he said. What's more,
surveys show millennials are planning to have fewer children, meaning
they could be empty nesters for more years than previous generations.
"They have an urban living ethic," Fulton said of millennials. "Many will move to the suburbs but won't stay forever."
Fulton said the suburban communities most likely to attract
millennials are those with a walkable feel, such as Sugar Land, The
Woodlands and CityCentre in west Houston, which have created town
centers packed with dining, entertainment and employment options.
Dale and LeBlanc, for example, considered the new planned community
called Bridgeland rising on the scrubby prairie in northwest Harris
County. The couple also looked at Tomball, the former farm-and-railroad
town with large, affordable lots. But both places seemed too far away
from where they wanted to be.
So their plan now is to purchase a house in the more densely
developed area of The Woodlands, the suburb where LeBlanc grew up. She
works as a petroleum geologist for Exxon Mobil Corp., which recently
built a sprawling campus just south of the township to accommodate
10,000 workers. And they're close to lively happy hours, festivals and
tree-shaded paths to ride their bicycles.
"I didn't think I would move back," said LeBlanc, who'd previously
moved from The Woodlands to attend Baylor University. "It seemed like
the scene was older and more expensive. Houston seemed more active."
But that's changed. "One of the great things about The Woodlands is
that most of the action takes place in the same general area," she said.
"This means you can go to dinner, catch a concert or movie, and enjoy a
late-night dessert or game of pool all without moving your car."
LeBlanc said the only thing the couple misses about living inside the
Loop is easy access to the ride-hailing service Uber. But that's
improving in The Woodlands, too, she said.
Reyes, the real estate agent, also grew up in Montgomery County. He
left to attend Louisiana State University and didn't expect to return.
But The Woodlands has grown from a bedroom community into a full-fledged
city with some 110,000 residents.
"It feels more like a real place than it did before," Reyes said.
On some nights, he will play volleyball with other millennials at a
lakeside park and then cross Lake Woodlands Drive for a beer at Hughes
Landing, a mixed-used development that includes a Whole Foods, upscale
restaurants and a high-rise with two-bedroom apartments that rent for up
to $3,000 per month.
Seeking quiet, safety
Younger adults are looking to be close to the bustling, urban-like
scene, he said. "But at the end of the day, they want quiet and safe and
not to be on top of their neighbors."
The medley of shops, restaurants and offices, however, can make The
Woodlands too expensive for many millennials. The median sales price for
a new house in the leafy enclave was $562,000 last year, up from
$327,604 in 2011, according to The Woodlands Development Co., which is
nearing build-out of the planned community.
Jonas and Christina Dienner, ages 26 and 24, respectively, rented for
three years before buying a four-bedroom house just north of The
Woodlands last month. They chose the neighborhood for its proximity to
his job as children's pastor at a local church. It's also close to an
emerging medical corridor, where she hopes to work as a nurse after
their two children are older.
"It's a great place for a family," said Jonas, who mentioned the
parks and pathways among their favorite amenities. "I've always been
excited about owning a house. It was just a matter of timing."This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.