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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When myths take over

The headline read: "When The Kids Take Over." According to the article in The London Free Press, aging baby boomers will soon lose control of the housing market as their children, the echo boomers or generation Y, become the local real estate market movers and shakers.

This is undoubtedly true. The echo generation is a big one, almost as big as the baby boom. At 9.1 million, it falls just half a million short of equaling the baby boom. Some of those echo "kids" are already 41 years old, so it is no surprise they are buying homes and raising families.

Still, it will be awhile before the old timers are no longer a major market force. According to Stats Canada, "over three quarters of Canadian households own their homes by the age of 65." It is important to remember that the youngest boomers are only 49 today. Many face years of monthly mortgage payments before taking full title to their home.

Despite all the stories about aging empty-nesters moving to retirement communities, the truth is older folk love their family homes. As baby boomers reach 65, these seniors are not going to immediately start contemplating the sale of their fully-paid-for-homes. Mortgage free homes are often inexpensive places to live and so it should come as no surprise that home ownership among seniors doesn't begin declining in any meaningful way until after age 75. There are nine years remaining before the first wave of baby boomers hits that 75 year mark and even then many will hold onto their homes.

I doubt Sean Quigley, executive director of Emerging Leaders, is correct when he says echo boomers are not as likely to buy suburban homes as their parents. Echo boomers will prefer to live in a downtown neighbourhood according to Quigley. I lived in a neighbourhood almost downtown when I was in my twenties and thirties. My home was by Labatt Park, but that didn't stop me from buying a home in Byron when I needed a place suitable for my aging mother and my growing family. A fifteen minute commute was not a deal breaker.

Still, I wish he was right, it would lessen urban sprawl, but I'm sure he is wrong. I can see little to gain by living in the core. Downtown London, like so many downtowns in cities right around the globe, is broken. Millions have been spent in an attempt to fix the core but at this time the money has only succeeded in applying some expensive band-aids to the crippled neighbourhood.

Unlike the downtown, damaged by the passing years and all the accompanying changes, the suburbs were built damaged. If we are going to have a better city, fixing the downtown while ignoring the suburbs is not a complete answer.

I'm lucky. My Byron home is well situated. I can walk to stores and restaurants and parks. If I decide to drive, I can go to the grocery store and be home within five minutes as long as there is no long line-up at the check-out.

Suburbia in London is not the same as suburbia in Toronto or other major cities. By many definitions of suburbia, my Byron home is in the city and not in the suburbs at all.

A young boy from next door shovels my walk.
I agree with The Free Press that echo boomers are buying homes in the core and in Old South, but echo boomers are also buying homes in Byron and the other so-called suburbs. Already, I believe, almost 40 percent of the homes on my court are owned by young couples who are the sons and daughters of baby boomers. These "kids", as the paper calls them, have chosen to raise their families outside the core.

And for me, this is a good thing. The neighbourhood teens shovel the snow from my walk in the winter, rake the leaves and crab apples from my lawn in the fall and cut my grass in the spring and summer. Young people give my neighbourhood a sense of life, of continuity.

And those echo boomer children are making staying in the family home just that much easier for my wife and me.

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