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Non-traditional housing: the new normal?

Market, ‘typical’ homebuyer changes

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Kimberly Dotseth has been selling resale homes across San Diego County since 1999, and her clients come from a wide spectrum of society.

Lately, she has seen the demand for non-traditional housing rise to the point where she considers it normal now, and said she hardly sells the typical homes sought after by traditional buyers, such as families with children.

"I think the world has to get over itself if you think that is the ‘typical’ home buyer — the cookie cutter homes don't work now,” Dotseth said. “Things have evolved so much. I haven't researched a school in years, most of my buyers are singles or couples without kids.”

She recalled a recent sale to a gay couple who came out for the first time when they bought the home together.

Most of her buyers are looking for quiet communities within walkable distance or a short drive to shopping, dining and entertainment. One-story homes seem to be popular now, according to Dotseth, since many of her clients don't plan on moving and buying several different homes, so they would rather find a place that they can grow old in.

North Park, South Park and Mission Hills are popular with Dotseth's clients that like walkable communities.

This speaks to the national trend of different housing needs — as yuppie couples defer or decide against having children, empty nesters look to downsize and seniors want a different lifestyle — and they're contributing to a demand that is skewing decidedly away from the traditional suburbs built around schools where residents drive every where.

Multigenerational households are also a new trend, driven by economic and social factors, with adult children moving back home with parents or grandparents moving in to provide care for grandchildren.

"I'm working with an Army woman in the East Coast, who will move to San Diego when her next tour of Afghanistan is over," Doseth said. "Her mother is the caregiver for her child, so she is the one who will be in the home. I'm seeing 20 and 30-year-olds buying homes and older parents moving in with them."

Builders and developers recognized this trend and the changing demographics driving it, and have been tailoring new projects to respond to some of those needs.

Sudberry Properties is working on Civita, a new development in Mission Valley that will cater to a diverse mix of people, from young renters to older retirees, with homes for sale and for rent.

House prices will range from $300,000 and $400,000 on the low end, topping at $600,000. On the leasing side, rents will range from $1,500 to $3,000 per month.

The development will be a mix of condominiums, apartments, attached and single-family homes, with a civic center, entertainment and shopping within walkable distance.

Sudberry builds with an eye on long-term investment and typically remains the landlord and manages the property, rather than for sale. At Civita, the for-sale portion of homes is being built by a guest builder while Sudberry will focus on the homes that will be rented.

"We've seen some pretty strong trends in demographics not just in San Diego County but across the country with an aging population on one end, and boomers and eco-boomers getting into the prime buying market," said Marco Sessa, senior vice president of land development at Sudberry.

"So you're seeing an interesting dynamic with the aging population whose kids are out of the house, and the kids that are out of college and getting into careers- those kids are why you see the trend for more rental — a really strong push for rental."

Sessa said while empty nesters are looking to downsize, that trend is slower, since they need to sell their current homes first. In this market, that is taking a while to happen.

A 30-something home owner himself, Sessa said he sees a strong demand from the younger demographic that does not have the same buying power as his age group does, which has pushed up demand for rentals.

Aside from affordability, the younger generation is also cautious, having witnessed up close the trials and trauma of a depreciating market, despite having good credit.

What does all this mean for developers and agents?

Mixed-use developments will continue to be a trend, since quick access to retail centers has become a must-have.

"Mixed-use is a huge amenity for residential areas,” Sessa said. “It's like having a pool, for people to be able to walk to retail shops, in terms of value."

With Civita, Sudberry's aim is to provide a home “from cradle to grave,” so people can grow old and not have to move out.

A diverse mix of residents will also change the social set up of neighborhoods, Sessa believes, bringing back the close-knit communities from decades ago.

"It's about evolution and how people live together — its liberation, with single women buying homes, elderly people downsizing when they're widowed, couples who live together but don’t get married — it's empowerment," Dotseth said.

"I consider them very normal. It's a new day in real estate, and there's a house for everybody."


-Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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