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Wanderlust No More: Americans Are Staying Put.

hell-no-we-wont-goOur digital mobility is at an all-time high and increasing every day. But our “analog” mobility is declining precipitously. As a nation we are largely hunkering down and staying put in our current abodes. The “American wanderlust” to move for opportunities or warmer climates that fueled regional growth in parts of the U.S. and the suburbs and exurbs of major cities has largely gone kaput.

There was an interesting article on this subject in the November 2012 Media Audit FYI called, The Changing Consumer: Study shows Newcomers down by Half. The article sites that only 2.1% of Americans claim to live in their current city for less than a year, less than half the rate of newcomers from 2005. Conversely about 50% of Americans lived in their current home 10+ years ago, a big increase from 40% in 2005.

It’s easy to say the collapse of the real estate market was the primary cause of this phenomenon, and obviously it is a major cause. Clearly, the difficult of selling one’s residence puts a damper on any thoughts of moving. Selling one’s home which might have taken weeks pre-2008 now can takes months or years. The slight uptick of housing prices in some regions doesn’t counteract this mega trend. But the trend to stay longer in one’s home pre-dates the real estate collapse.

Furthermore, there are also a few underlying societal changes that are at play, combined with a crippled real estate market, which are fueling for this trend.

1. The return of the post college student.

In another era, many recent graduates moved from their “parent’s home” within weeks of graduation starting their new job. In today’s world far fewer of these graduates have full time employment, and for those that do, many of the lucky ones still live in their childhood homes in order to save $. There no longer is a stigma of living with your folks after college.

2. Grandma and grandpa are not moving to warmer weather.

There’s far less migration to warmer climates. Many seniors are staying put and more are living with their children fueling the growth of multi-generational households.

3. Greater risk in moving away in a unstable economy

In an economy where unemployment is hovering around 8% (and much higher considering those working part-time but who seek full time work), the risk of moving to a new area is very great. Even if the move is fueled by an employment opportunity, there’s greater anxiety in uprooting and then possibly facing a downturn far away from one’s roots.

4. The reality that real estate is not an “investment”

There are many reasons to want to own one’s home. But the one that was always rationalized is that it would be easy to sell it at a future time at a price far in excess of the original purchase price. With deference to Porgy & Bess, it ain’t necessarily so. It actually never really was, but it appeared that way in an era of increasing real estate costs prior to 2008. That bubble has been burst.

There are obviously marketing implications, both positive and negative, in a less mobile population. “Newcomers” fuel sales of home items—carpet, drapes, furniture, bathroom accessories, etc. However, home product marketers are wise to retool their efforts to promote the concept of making one’s existing home “new” through redecoration. On the plus side, those with deeper roots, are willing to spend on items which can better be rationalized as being able to be amortized over time.

In any event, it’s another example of the “new rules” of the Changing American Consumer. Marketers know well that it is dangerous to assume that consumers will behave as they used to. While Americans may not be quick to change their locations, the pace of change they experience in life is dizzying. Marketers are wise to remember in today’s world that “Change is the Status Quo”.




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