There has been recent discussion among some of my colleagues and peers about this supposed “generation of renters” that appears to be coming our way. The mere idea of it is shocking to some as home ownership has, for many, been part of the quintessential “American dream”. What would the Hawaii real estate landscape look like if more people opted for a lifetime of renting instead of the almost expected path of working up to that first mortgage and home purchase?
I think before we even try to answer that question, we have to examine why the scenario is unfolding in the first place. The easy answer is the economy. Yes, many people today are having a hard time finding a job, especially the new generation of college grads entering the workforce. Hawaii is no different than anyplace else in that regard. Well, actually we are a bit different if you look at which sectors drive our local economy (tourism, military, etc.). But with tourism inching its way back and Hawaii’s unemployment levels comparing well to many other major metro areas on the mainland, the economy can’t be the only driver of this generation of renters.
Is it because people are waiting for the market to bottom out before jumping into buying a home? Perhaps, but while many believe the Hawaii real estate market is headed for another dip in 2011 and possibly into 2012, few believe it will be one of much significance. Furthermore, most agree that while we may have a bit more to go, we are near the bottom and prices over the long term will likely be going back up. And that’s important — the long term. Homebuyers should expect to be in a home for 10 years or so, and with that line of thinking it doesn’t make sense to try to time the bottom of the market. Being ‘near the bottom’ is good enough if your hold time will more than be compensated by the very likely upswing to come.
Mobility vs. Stability
What about our lifestyle? Is today’s generation so different that the heretofore expected goal of home ownership has been turned on its head? Is Hawaii’s youth not interested in planting roots here in the islands and is instead running off to see the world? Has “mobility” replaced “stability” as the defining term of today’s twentysomethings and thirtysomethings?
This past year I read Timothy Ferriss’ eye-widening masterpiece “The 4-Hour Workweek”. If you haven’t read it yet, I’m sure you know someone who has and I HIGHLY suggest picking up a copy yourself. Even if you don’t plan on implementing Ferriss’s ideas, it’s truly a remarkable read. The author discusses how it’s completely possible for people today to live a practically nomadic lifestyle — while pocketing boatloads of passive cash at the same time, one funding the other. Has today’s generation adopted this idea of life design? Is “mobility” the new black? Live in Hawaii for a bit, go away for a while, come back and find a condo in Waikiki for a few months, then run off to Japan or travel around Europe? That might be the new future of Hawaii housing.
So What Does It All Mean?
The next question that must therefore be addressed: is this increase in renting a good or bad thing? I suppose it depends on perspective. For those embracing Ferriss’s idea of a jet-setting life, it’s a conscious, logical choice. For those being forced to rent or stay at home with the parents, it’s likely a cause of angst until the Hawaii economy turns, jobs are more plentiful and that Waikiki condo or Waipahu townhouse becomes affordable.
The Hawaii housing market would likely be altered to favor the renter. As fewer people opt for ownership and more renters enter the fray, there will have to be an increase in supply to meet the rising rental demand. This could present new opportunities for the buy and hold investors or Hawaii landlords, but it will also mean increased competition among such landlords to attract the good tenants. Competition generally works in everyone’s favor and in this regard could lead to better properties and a greater effort to make one’s own rental unit look better compared to the others on the block. If this scenario unfolds and renters get more bang for their buck, it could reinforce the decision to rent vs. buy in Hawaii even more.
By extension, if more people are choosing to rent, then fewer would be buying (given a choice of one or the other). Fewer buyers could dampen local Hawaii real estate prices — not really the result many of us are hoping for these days.
What do you think? Could Hawaii be better served by more people viewing renting as favorable to purchasing a home? Do you think this represents a blip on the radar, a fad that will only live until the market turns positive? Or is this a true sign of things to come? If so, how does it change your Hawaii real estate plans for 2011 and beyond? Write your comments and opinions below!