What is the fastest growing group of homeowners in the United States?
Yes, millennials. The media likes to portray this generation, born roughly between 1980 and 1999 as entitled, lazy, and more interested in renting and ride-sharing than putting down roots. But the oldest of the millennial generation is about to hit 40! They may have been slower to marry and “settle down” than Gen X and the Baby Boomers, but they are marrying, and having families… and they are buying homes. The National Mortgage News reports that an all-time-high 36% of house purchases were made by millennials in the 12-month period ending June 2017, up from 34% the previous year.
But their homebuying habits are nothing like previous generations.
Millennials don’t see why marrying and having families should affect their ability to live in the urban centers where they work (they do NOT want to commute) and builders are responding.
Marc Kotler, senior vice president at FirstService Residential, said that he’s seeing more opportunities become available for families to stay in the city. “It depends on where you are,” he said. “The downtown financial district and the Wall Street area is not where you’ll find family properties. But I am seeing new units around Madison Park that are attractive to families. These units are offering larger floor plans, and family-friendly touches like an all-sports court on property, dog runs and playgrounds.” Other cities are seeing development geared to draw millennials as well.
All of that means that more and more HOA and condo residents are going to be millennials. Why should you get them involved?
Marisa McVey, regional director at FirstService Residential explains why this is important to HOA and condominium boards: “From an HOA/managed-community standpoint, younger owners need to get involved in their boards, so they can maintain and protect their investment while establishing a level of harmony in the community. By being involved, they have an opportunity to assist in providing a level of ‘pride of ownership’ for what typically is the largest purchase they will make in their lifetime and help shape the community’s rules, priorities and programming.”
One of the best reasons to engage millennials is that most of them have rented for several years before looking to buy a home. That means they are familiar with rules and regulations as a tool to keep a community running smoothly and can provide valuable input to your board on these and other matters.
As current board members, what should you be doing to attract these younger homeowners to want to be involved?
McVey says there’s one word: technology. Millennials grew up with it. They don’t recall a time without the Internet and are accustomed to delivery on demand of everything from the weather report to their groceries. They are constantly plugged in and more likely to see information digitally than any other way.
Millennials are greener than previous generations and aren’t as likely to appreciate (or notice) a printed newsletter that gets mixed in with other promotional mail. A mass communication solution like that in FirstService Residential Connect allows boards and management to reach millennials the way they want to be reached: via text and email. Make sure to promote board meetings, committee meetings, volunteer drafts and other important business through these communication methods, as permitted by your by-laws. If your by-laws don’t allow that, check with your association attorney and consider changing them.
Adopt social media for your community. A private Facebook group can be a great place to host discussions about community issues as permitted. Obviously, you don’t want to discuss legal matters or violate ethics in any manner, but asking for opinions on the best time for a fitness class or day of the week for a mobile dog groomer can be done quickly and on the fly, with zero costs for printing and distribution. Residents and the board can also use that social media setting to plan and announce community events like a children’s movie day in the clubhouse during the rainy season.
Electronic voting (not voting by email!) is becoming a trend in HOAs and condo associations as state laws evolve to allow it. Florida allowed the use of electronic voting in 2016 and California, Minnesota and other states allow it too. It isn’t available in most associations, by any means, but it’s a forward-thinking way to get people involved when they can’t make an annual meeting or simply prefer technology as the means to get things done. Check your state laws and governing documents, and if it’s allowed, consider adding electronic voting.
Poll them! Online solutions like MailChimp allow boards to poll association members quickly and easily to get their feedback on potential events, capital improvements, rule changes and more. Again, millennials are more likely to answer a digital poll than a paper one. Once they’ve been able to provide feedback and feel like they were listened to, people are more likely to feel like part of a community and to get involved.
Aside from preferring technology solutions when possible, the millennial generation has other characteristics that distinguish it from previous ones. Millennials need to feel a sense of equality and purpose with their co-workers, and that extends to working on an association board or committees. The Meisner Law Group recommends that “you should make clear that their voice on the Board will be important, and they will not just be expected to be a rubber stamp for the other directors. In practice, this means never belittling someone for their opinions or questions but instead thinking of yourself as a mentor who carefully guides them in their new position.”
One last important way that boards can engage millennials: have board and committee meetings when they can attend. Even if you have a lot of active retirees or semi-retired folks on your board and committees, try to hold meetings when working millennials (and Gen Xers!) can attend. If that’s just not possible, check with your association attorney and by-laws for another way to let members attend without being physically present. Live stream? Google Hangouts? Even a conference call would allow remote participation. Scheduling meetings when you know they can’t attend will alienate millennials and render your other efforts moot.
Millennials are the future. For the financial health and long-term wellbeing of your association, it’s important to get them involved early. The above advice will help you bring them on board (literally).