BOULDER – Meet Declan. A 24-year-old college graduate, he recently landed in Boulder to participate in Techstars, the dream of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg his driving force. After his flight which he booked on Kayak, he grabbed an Uber at DIA and settled into his week long Airbnb just off Pearl Street. Looking for a few good restaurants, he Snapchat’ed his query to followers and got a flurry of insider recommendations in just a few minutes.

Sound familiar? This shared-economy, digitally driven millennial experience is becoming the new norm. Now America’s largest generation, millennials are focused more on their careers and less on settling down. Case in point: homeownership for millennials is the lowest of any generation in over five decades.

According to a recent Washington Post article, U.S. homeownership across all age groups has fallen to its lowest level in over 50 years to just 62.9 percent. And for Americans under 35, homeownership is just below 35 percent. Is this housing trend a choice, or a byproduct of our for-profit educational system? The jury’s still out.

One theory behind the millennial abandonment of homeownership is that this generation subscribes to the digital nomad lifestyle, where a sharing economy is both hip and easy, and mind-expanding experiences are more valuable than tangible property. With a laptop and a work-remotely job, millennials only need fast wifi (and caffeine) to make a living.

There have been plenty of influencers and trendsetters in this movement toward paring down and simplifying life. James Altucher, whose age surpasses millennials by a few decades, owns only 15 things. He’s also a venture capitalist, financial pundit, and the author of 16 popular books. Ever heard the saying, “You have to be rich to be a minimalist”? Yep, me too.

An alternate theory behind the lack of homeownership among millennials claims that it’s not a choice – it’s a result of the crushing weight of student debt. With the average student loan debt now topping $30,000 for millennials, many continue to lease long after the diploma is handed over, and some even – gulp – still live at home with their parents. Almost a third of today’s 18-to-34-year-olds are still bunking with the ‘rents – a number so shocking, this age group has now replaced the elderly as those most likely to live in a multigenerational household.

This same theory claims that millennials actually aspire to be eventual homeowners. According to Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey 93 percent of millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are likely to purchase a home in their lifetime, compared to 81 percent of renters overall. With millennials largely underemployed and waiting longer than ever to marry (the age is now pushing 30), homeownership seems out of the question.

Regardless of whether this housing trend is intentional or not, a seismic generational shift in priorities is happening across the country. For older generations, real estate is symbolic of a lifetime investment, and something that could likely serve as an eventual nest egg for retirement. For newer generations, homeownership is starting to be seen as an antiquated approach to financial stability and overvalued as a financial investment.

Will Declan, our tech-savvy millennial, be accepted into Techstars, building his wealth to the point where he recognizes homeownership as a valuable appreciating asset and settles down in Boulder? Or will he continue to thrive on experience and the excitement of a nomadic lifestyle in a shared economy? Either way, let’s hope Declan has a solid plan for saving for the future. His 65-year-old self will thank him. 

Sean McIllwain is the founding broker at Mod Boulder Real Estate. Call 720.252.6051, e-mail sean@modboulder.com or visit modboulder.com.

By Sean McIllwain, Mod Boulder Real Estate