Midtown

Millennials Want Walkable and Affordable

November 17, 2012

From The Denver Post  http://www.denverpost.com/realestate/ci_22010587/walkable-and-affordable-what-millennials-want-when-they
By Mark Samuelson

Studies show that Gen-Y homebuyers - the 'Millennial Generation' - are almost evenly split in their preference of where they imagine living: around 33 percent say they'd prefer an urban setting, 35 percent want the suburbs; and the remainder imagines rural or small town surroundings. "But when it comes to HOW they want to live, it gets interesting," says Carl Koelbel at developer Koelbel and Company.

"Even those who say they want a suburban lifestyle want to be able to walk places and to ride their bikes," Koelbel adds. "There's a disconnect there; very evident when those buyers tour typical suburban housing stock. What they see fits the 'where,' but not the 'how.'"

That was one of the topics the Urban Land Institute discussed last month when their annual meeting returned to Denver. Koelbel, who was a panelist on Gen-Y preferences, says buyers are now beginning to find projects with walkable urban attractions, even in neighborhoods that don't have historic parks and shopping districts you find in popular areas like downtown, Highlands, LoHi and Platt Park.

"Lots of people want to live in those areas and can't," says Tom Morton, senior vice president at Brookfield Residential. He's now at work on Midtown, a neighborhood with both for-sale and rental residential taking shape on Pecos Street midway between I-76 and the Boulder Turnpike, just north of the City of Denver. Midtown, expected to open its models just before Christmas, will offer prices from the mid-$200s; well below what those same buyers can find in walkable but pricey Highlands. Buyers will have the Clear Creek Trail nearby, and get a 43-acre park, community gardens, an event plaza, and 12,000 square feet of planned retail on site. Denver's historic Berkeley neighborhood, where popular dining spots lead the way into Highlands' restaurant epicenter, is three minutes south.

Morton says location, always the most important component in real estate, has become even more important as Gen-Y buyers hunt for a habitat. "It's a killer location," Morton says about 180-acre Midtown, "20 minutes to the University of Colorado in Boulder, 20 minutes to the Denver Tech Center." He tried a nearby onramp to the HOV toll lane on I-25 and clocked his time to downtown at nine minutes during rush hour.

Searching for urban settings is a priority at Koelbel Urban Homes, Koelbel and Company's new venture into city lifestyles. Earlier this year Koelbel ventured four luxury-attached homes near Platt Park and the Pearl Street dining district west of DU. Those disappeared to sales, as Koelbel readied a site at W. 32nd and Vallejo for 18 townhomes ranging from around 1,500 to 1,640 square feet, just off LoHi's restaurant row. Prices were centered at $400,000 - but LoHi Court neared sellout on its pre-sale opening weekend (only one is left).

That leaves Koelbel in pursuit of other sites with similar walkability: south of Highlands near Sloan Lake; in Platt Park; north of Cherry Creek in Congress Park, close to the redevelopment scene on E. Colfax, where Sprout's Farmers Market is headed; and near the former hospital sites on Colorado at 8th Avenue, where Trader Joe's is coming.

While Koelbel brings new settings to market in 2013, low vacancy rates showcase opportunities for apartments offering the same features. "In both homes-for-purchase and apartments, you're seeing more utilitarian layouts," Carl Koelbel says. "Gen-Y buyers don't need a dining room and a living room; the same room works for both. Studies are showing those buyers tend to be closer to their parents than the boomers were, and there's a strong need to entertain family."

The tradeoff for the buyer is affordability; while delivering the access to attractions millennial buyers need - something Tom Morton says buyers will see next month when Midtown opens sales. Brookfield, which used three architects to create design diversity in its Midtown offerings, will show two other components that speak to Gen Y buyers: an emphasis on storage space for outdoor gear, and energy design, with HERS scores expected to come in at super-efficient ratings below 50.

Read more: Walkable and affordable: what Millennials want when they buy a home - The Denver Post 

View Norris Design's work on Midtown here.