Millennials Say Pets Are Top Priority When Buying a Home

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new survey indicated that 73 percent of people within the millennial age parameters currently own a pet, making it the largest share of any other demographic
  • Fully 79 percent of millennial homebuyers say that that even if they found a house that fit everything on their home-buying bucket list, they’d pass it up if their pets’ needs wouldn’t be met
  • Outdoor space to facilitate dog-walking or a park nearby to accommodate pets’ exercise needs is typically a top requirement for millennials who share their homes with at least one pet
  • The priorities for millennial pet owners in the market for a home impacts the $63 billion pet industry, which has grown threefold since 1996, such as $11 billion for pet-pampering alone
  • While all the generations of pet owners may spend discretionary funds on their furry friends, it’s millennials who are far more likely than “boomers” to seek a veterinarian for advice

Ask most people 40 and over what they’d look for if they were in the market for a house, and they’ll likely mention such amenities as a large kitchen, an attached garage and a walk-in closet in the master suite. Posed to millennials, however — individuals born between 1981 and 1996, according to Pew Research Center1 — the response is far more often all about their pets.

When it comes to home buying, two interesting things were noted by the American Pet Products Association:2 First, 73 percent of people within the millennial age parameters currently own a pet, making it the largest share of any other demographic. Second, stats on home-buying millennials who are also pet owners constitute an even higher slice at 89 percent as of the second quarter of 2018.

An example is Jessica Evans, 31, who explains that it was only natural for her to give up her beloved condo in Washington D.C. and trade it for a row house. It was a choice she made for two reasons: her dog, Lucy, and her cat, Casper, whom she refers to as her “fur children.”

“I don’t have kids, and I’ve intentionally decided that while I want to have kids one day, I’m not at that point in my life, and I think a lot of millennials here in D.C. are kind of in that same boat, but you still enjoy having something to take care of … I loved living in the downtown area in a condo. It was great, very convenient, I didn't have housework, but the one thing that was really missing was my dog’s happiness.”3

Another statistic from Realtor.com4 tells an interesting story about the shifting interests and priorities of millennials whose dogs and cats are a major priority in their day-to-day considerations and lifestyles: Fully 79 percent of the home buyers in this demographic reported that even if they looked at a house that fit everything on their home-buying bucket list, they’d let it slide by if the needs of their pets wouldn’t be met.

Placing pets in such a prominent position of consideration when shopping for a place to live isn’t a new concept; as CNBC notes, “Luxury landlords have been catering to this millennial trend for years, putting in dog runs on rental tower roofs and pet salons off lobbies.”5 It’s clear that to millennials, having at least one pet ensures domestic tranquility, and putting their needs on par with their own is only fair.

Pets as a Fair-Minded Priority

As a real estate agent professional, Evans is the go-to home-buying specialist for like-minded millennials. She not only understands her clients’ desire to consider the health and well-being of the pets who reside with them, it’s a priority she’s determined for herself. As such, outdoor space to facilitate dog-walking — or at least a park nearby to accommodate their pets’ exercise needs — is typically a requirement most millennials place at the top of their “must have” list.

Cats require other considerations, and Evans acknowledges that potential homeowners with at least one cat must ensure there’s a good spot for a litter box. “I think with any house or condo, that's a big decision,” she observes. For people with older pets, stairs are also a concern, and often, a positive decision on a house can be made only if the house and property are conducive to whatever upgrades might be desired or required for their dogs, cats or other furry companions. Also:

“More affluent buyers want a dog grooming station in the mud room. Also, being near pet-friendly restaurants and pet supply stores is a big plus, especially for young urban buyers who might not have a car.

And once millennials purchase a home, they often put big bucks into upgrades for their pets. Evans put $12,000 into her row house, adding a higher fence so her pets couldn't jump out and other pets couldn't jump in. She also added a modern pet door and renovated the basement bathroom for Lucy, even though the basement itself is unfinished.”6

The basement renovation Evans wanted was to give Lucy to have a dog-dedicated shower. That way, she wouldn’t have to clean her own every time she gave Lucy a bath. Additionally, she not only wanted her house to be pet-friendly for her own fur babies, she wanted it to be safe and comfortable for her pet-owning friends. She admits she tends to connect more readily with other pet owners because they can do pet-friendly things together.

One of the most telling revelations regarding millennial homeowner wannabes is that some who don’t already have pets want to compare the best pet-oriented property options so everything will be equipped and organized first before getting a pet.

Pets: For the Pursuit of a Peaceful, Happy Life

The Washington Post7 notes that while millennials may be less likely to own a car and put off having children longer compared to other generations, searching out “digs” that can be adapted to their pets are, as noted, their top consideration. Compared to 50 years ago, millennials are only half as likely to have a dedicated relationship with an actual human, and much more apt to take home a pet.

Additionally, millennials often pursue flexible work arrangements, which researchers assert can be translated to a greater desire to spend the bulk of their time with pets rather than humans. Millennial men, according to another Pew Research Center survey,8 are 71 percent more likely to look for companionship in a dog compared with 62 percent of women; 48 percent of men called their cat “best friend” compared to 35 percent of women.

Market research analysts are weighing in and breaking down what the millennial trends mean, not only in regard to their fur buddies, but society as a whole, at least for the short term. According to Rebecca Cullen, an analyst at Mintel, men are more likely than women to put in the time and effort required for taking care of a pet, or are perhaps more realistic regarding the time they’ll be away from home, which would be a negative for some pets.

Jean Twenge, Ph.D., a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me,” believes pets may be a replacement for children because they’re less expensive, provide meaningful companionship and best of all (perhaps), getting a pet doesn’t require being in a relationship with another person; you can get yourself a pet at the local shelter with minimum fuss or fret. But then there’s the expense involved:

“All of this has big implications for the $63 billion pet industry, which has grown [threefold] since 1996. Last year Americans spent $11 billion on pet-pampering alone. One-third of owners said they bought toys for their pets, while 17 percent bought pet costumes and 10 percent shelled out for pet strollers, according to Mintel, which surveyed 2,001 adults for its findings.”

Comparing Generations: How Do Millennials Do?

Nathan Richter of Wakefield Research observes that millennials now seem to be approaching pet ownership in a similar way parents-to-be often do, with book reading and research. They’re also more likely to “splurge” on their pets more than they would for themselves, opting for perks like expensive treats and custom-made beds. Between millennials and baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, that trend is 76 percent to 50 percent, respectively. In The Millennial Pet Owner, Richter notes:

“Younger consumers think differently about what is ‘essential’ when purchasing products. Millennials will buy discretionary products under the guise that they are non-discretionary … Millennials expect pet supplies to be BPA-free and made with organic materials … Millennials are far more likely to feel that getting a pet is part of preparing to have a family.”9

Millennials in the U.S. are nearly twice as likely to buy clothing for their pet, which Richter says is an “opportunity for performance” on social media; they’re hoping for a “digital stamp of approval” when they take a photo of their costumed pet, then post it. Here are some more of his observations on the differences between millennials versus baby boomers in regard to pet ownership:

  • 76 percent of millennials expect pet supplies to be made with organic materials, compared to 52 percent of boomers
  • 60 percent of millennials own clothing for their pet; only 35 percent of the boomer set have clothing for theirs
  • 55 percent of millennials believe coat coloring and styling for their pet is “essential,” while only 15 percent of boomers concur
  • 53 percent of millennials think it’s essential to dine with their pets, and just 9 percent of boomers feel the same

‘Here’s Where Millennials Surprise’

Clearly, a trend is afoot in the way millennials view the relationships they have with their pets. It’s important to look at why they value their beloved pets so much, though, and not just assume their intent is selfish. Because there are other statistics that, comparatively speaking, rather than writing off the generation some accuse of being self-absorbed and entitled may possess refreshingly admirable qualities of responsibility and positivity, especially in the way they care for their furry friends.

First, however, it might be helpful to recognize millennials as the largest demographic generation, represented by around 82 million people, according to BridgeWorks,10 there are around 80 million boomers and 75 million traditionalists, which are people born before 1946, while there are roughly 60 million Gen-Xers, born in the ’60s and ’70s. Why that’s important in one sense is the economic impact: Millennials have an estimated $1.3 trillion in buying power, which marketing and communications agency FLM Harvest contends:

“Has been growing steadily for years and is considered by many to be recession proof. However, one of the conundrums in the veterinary community is that, while overall spending on pets is on the rise among all generations, that representative increase hasn’t necessarily been evident in pet owner visits to veterinarians. In other words, we’ll buy Sophie that Martha Stewart faux mink collar, but may skip the visit for the Bordetella shot

Here, once again, is where millennials surprise … (They’re) more likely than their older counterparts to seek out the advice of a veterinarian and are three times as likely to seek a DVM’s opinion for a selection of pet food than dog owners 55 to 74.

So, the group who is obsessed with Insta and Snapchat and seemingly has a mobile device fused to their hands is more likely than any other to seek out a DVM in a personal interaction in an old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar clinic. Who knew? Clearly, the millennials know.”11

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