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The New Millennial Home Hotspot 

Move over Austin and Chicago – millennials are buying more homes in the Fox Cities than anywhere else in the country

Realtor.com recently ranked Appleton as the number one market in the country where millennials buy homes. Millennials, as defined by the Pew Research Center, are the generation born between 1981 and 1996. Today they are between 22 and 37 years old. To determine the rankings, realtor.com’s data team calculated the share of buyers within this age group who bought homes over the past 12 months in the 200 largest housing markets. Appleton came out on top – a far cry from popular millennial metros such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Considering the draw of larger cities and their popularity with young adults, what is it about the Fox Cities that appeals to millennials? From the blossoming music and art scene and downtown nightlife to great school systems and the general safety of the area, apparently there’s a lot. 

According to Ryan Myers, an Appleton real estate agent with RE/MAX 24/7 Real Estate LLC, “It’s really client driven because this area is growing.” 

When it comes to actually finding the perfect home, however, many of Myer’s millennial clients prioritize locations that fit their lifestyle. Whether that is within walking distance to downtown or a safe neighborhood in a good school district, location is key. Myers says buyers put up with a lot if the home is in the right location, even forgoing items on their wishlist and increasing their commutes to work. 

For Melissa Wurzer, 29, buying a home in Appleton meant being closer to family. Wurzer and her husband, Brandon, grew up in the Fox Valley and bought their first home here in 2012. In 2015, the couple decided to pack everything up and move to Colorado. 

“We knew that Appleton was always going to be home. However, we also dreamed of stepping into the unknown and having a little adventure before we settled down back home in Wisconsin,” Wurzer says. 

Although Wurzer loved the area she lived in, by 2017 she was ready to come back to her hometown. The Appleton area is a safe, developing community with lots to do — perfect for starting a family, especially when in close proximity to relatives, Wurzer says. 

Wurzer is not alone in wanting to buy a home in the Fox Cities. Nationwide millennials are fueling the real estate market. According to the National Association of Realtors, millennials bought 36 percent of homes last year, making them the highest share of any generation. The same is true in the Fox Cities. According to Optimal Blue mortgage data, a whopping 57 percent of mortgages in Appleton were issued to millennials last year. 

Shelly Stone, an Appleton area real estate agent with Expert Real Estate Partners, says millennials make up about 45 percent of homebuyers in the Fox Cities. The majority of Stone’s millennial clientele, all who are engaged or married without children, are looking for homes either close to downtown, in the Fox Crossings area or in neighborhoods built within the last 20 years. 

When it comes to choosing the perfect home, Stone has noticed millennials prefer ones with newer updates, usually a ranch-style, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. 

According to Stone, millennials seem to lack the vision to see past issues that could be easily changed, like paint color or flooring, in a way previous generations could. Stone often recommends that home sellers paint cabinets grey or white, update bathroom and kitchen hardware and remove dated flooring to make homes more sellable to millennials. 

Karl Volkman,  a residential real estate broker with First Weber Realtors, gives similar recommendations to his home sellers because most millennial home buyers are looking for move in ready properties. “Millennials don’t like anything old or that needs any maintenance,” Volkman says.

To fit their lifestyle, millennial clients want a home in an area where they are close to work, the gym and their friends. They look for properties that are as move in ready as possible so weekends can be filled with fun activities, not home projects, according to Volkman. 

Wurzer, however, stands in contradiction to the common millennial narrative. In October 2017, she and her husband bought a 1904 craftsman style house in downtown Appleton.

“The house really grabbed us, and we saw a lot of potential with it, and we ran with it,” Wurzer says. 

Although the kitchen had been updated in the last 10 years, along with the windows and roof, many renovations still had to be done. The Wurzers did not move into the home until May 2018 because they were busy creating a master closet, tearing down wallpaper, updating bathrooms, refinishing floors and installing new light fixtures. 

Wurzer admits, though, that her home buying story is different from many of her peers who opt for newer, more updated homes. 

“Our situation was different than that of our friends,” Wurzer says. “We wanted a home with character, charm, history and the challenge that came with restoring it.”

For Wurzer, buying a home in the Fox Cities was motivated by family proximity. Beyond family ties, is the area really different than any other community in the United States?

According to Stone, the answer is yes. In the Fox Cities, there is a large inventory of homes for sale and just as many buyers, if not more. It’s also a place where homes can be bought at around $160,000, a moderate price compared to larger metropolitan areas where comparable homes sell for three times that amount. The price point in the Fox Valley is reasonable for millennials, many of whom are also paying off student debt. 

Whether it be for work or a weekend vacation, the location of the Fox Cities is also advantageous. Commutes to large corporation jobs in Green Bay and Oshkosh are easy. So is sneaking up to Door County for the weekend, as is the quick drive via Highway 41 to Milwaukee.

“We’re really central to everything [millennials are] doing with their lives,” Stone says. As millennial homebuyers continue to prioritize developing downtown scenes, safety, great school systems, reasonable housing prices and close proximity to other cities, the Fox Cities are sure to continue hitting the top of their ‘places to live’ lists. 

Homes on Parade

Homeowners can start envisioning their perfect abode at the Homebuilders Association of the Fox Cities’ Summer Parade of Homes in August and the Winnegamie Home Builders Association’s Fall Parade of Homes in October. 

Both parades are self-guided tours and will feature a variety of styles and designs — perfect for scoping out the latest home trends.

Parade attendees range from those who have just broken ground on their new build, to those embarking on the remodeling process and even those who are just curious to see what’s trending.

According to Megan Schlimm, director of marketing & business development at HBA Fox Cities, the event is beneficial because it offers the opportunity to experience real homes and see the latest trends on the market to get inspiration for their next build or remodel.  

Jodi Vandermolen, executive officer at the Winnegamie Home Builders Association, says their parade is also an opportunity for builders to display their craftsmanship and for curious customers to discuss all of their home building and remodeling questions with the contractors onsite. “You always want to meet your builder,” Vandermolen says.

The HBA Fox Cities Parade of Homes will feature 22 newly constructed homes and four remodeled homes. The parade runs August 11-12 and 16-19, with remodeling projects open only on August 17-19. Homes will be open 5 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekends. Tickets are available at foxcitiesparadeofhomes.com. The HBA Fox Cities Parade of Homes app can be downloaded to make the touring process easier and more insightful. 

The Winnegamie Home Builders Association Parade of Homes is October 25-26 from 5 to 8 p.m. and on October 27-28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets will be available at each of the parade homes and two week advance tickets can be purchased at the following locations: Van Vreede’s in Oshkosh and Appleton; Floorquest in Oshkosh; Home Interior Flooring in Appleton; and Fox Valley Savings Bank in Oshkosh. Download the app “Parade Craze,” or visit whba.net for more information. 

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