By Sadie Hunter
Since the beginning of summer, the City of Noblesville has been working with Greenstreet Ltd., an Indianapolis-based development, brokerage and consulting firm to complete a comprehensive study of housing within the city, and on Nov. 1, its results were presented.
In light of what the study discovered, city staff is now looking toward filling a gap in “middle housing,” better known as single-family attached homes, condos and townhomes, as consumer demand shows a significant desire.
“The study was an initiative to give (the city) a baseline of what exists in Noblesville today,” Noblesville Planning Director Sarah Reed said. “What are the trends, and what do the people we’re trying to attract here want to live in? Where are the gaps? Then, the next step with planning is how do we get there? How do we fill the gaps so we have available what the market demands?”
The Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1999) is now the primary one in terms of population and housing-market dominance, but results of the housing study show that Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) still have a significant influence on the housing market because they are more likely to want to live in something other than a single-family, detached home. Baby Boomers are more likely to consider renting and want walkable communities with amenities and services.
The study shows that many Millennials, which now includes first-time home buyers and young professionals, often want the same things in terms of walkable communities and amenities, but in proximity to their jobs and in a more dense, urban living area. The study projects approximately twice as many expect to be living in an attached, single-family home or townhome in the future.
However, the study reveals that nationally, a lack in “middle housing” isn’t the driving force behind why those looking to buy their first homes aren’t buying. It’s cost. In the study, which pulled from a 2015 survey of first-time homebuyers, 53 percent said it was hard to find homes in their price range. Lack of desired home type garnered a 20 percent response nationally.
The housing study showed nearly one-third of the market is underserved, as a conventional product is “less appealing to younger generations.” This trend can also be seen in Hamilton County and Noblesville.
MIBOR data shows that in Hamilton County, only 1 percent live downtown, but 3 percent would prefer to live downtown, and 33 percent live in mixed-use areas, while 40 percent would like to live in those areas.
Housing development in Noblesville, according to the study, mostly serves middle-aged households rather than its two largest generations of Baby Boomers and Millennials.
What’s being built?
The study suggests traditional, 1950s-type families with two parents and two to three children are no longer the largest housing segment in the U.S., but current housing stock does not reflect that.
“Builders and developers that are building right now are kind of building what is selling or what has sold,” Reed said. “They’re looking historically, but if you don’t have any other options to compare it to, it’s very difficult to know what would sell. So, we need to look at what people want to live in. It goes back to who are we trying to attract? If we’re trying to attract Millennials or people who maybe work more from home, their choices are going to be different than what has happened historically.”
The study indicates that approximately 90 percent of what is built in the U.S. are single-family, detached homes. In Noblesville, those homes make up 77 percent of what’s in the current housing stock. Other housing, like apartment complexes and single-family, attached homes and town homes make up just 23 percent of Noblesville’s housing stock. The demand for “other housing” is higher than what’s available. Only 6 percent of the housing stock in Noblesville is made up of single-family and two-family attached homes and condos, even though the demand is much higher.
“It’s still ownership, not rental, but it’s just a more compact, urban style,” Reed said.
However, other factors come into play when determining what gets built. According to the study, consumer preference, market and land value and zoning and regulations all play an equal part in new construction.
Also, Noblesville has followed the national trend of building larger houses while household sizes have decreased. Noblesville’s homes on average are twice as large as the national average. The same is true for lot size.
“Noblesville isn’t what it was years ago. Everything is changing,” Reed said. “We’re growing, and this study will allow us to be more strategic about where we put housing.”
A sign of Noblesville’s strong housing market can be seen when comparing assessed values of homes versus their sale prices. The study states the average Noblesville home has an assessed value of approximately $182,000, but the average sale price is $231,000.
However, not fixing the issue of a lack of wanted housing stock could have “serious implications for the city if housing stock and neighborhoods continue to lack diversity,” the study found.
For example, municipal revenues could be lost. More residences per acre means more tax revenue for the City of Noblesville – approximately 10 times more compared to the conventional, suburban development of single-family, detached homes.
Attracting talented professionals and skilled labor could also become more difficult.
“Companies across the U.S. are moving to investigating in walkable downtown locations, in large part because these places help to attract and retain talented workers,” the study states. A local example in Noblesville is the building of BlueSky Technology Partners downtown, adjacent to Federal Hill Commons – close to amenities and potential future housing.
Lastly, the study said changing the landscape of what’s offered in housing promotes stability if housing cycles become volatile.
“It’s just like your own personal portfolio with retirement or savings. You don’t want to have all of your money in two bins, because what happens if one of them goes under?” Reed said. “So, if we had another housing recession, or recession in general, where do the people go that are getting rid of their expensive, single-family homes?”
With cost a big factor in the decision to buy homes, the study also shows that “middle housing” not only meets the demands of what people want to live in, but also sits at a better price point for those looking to buy. The study said nationally, 92 percent of attached homes built last year were priced under $150,000.
“We have 2,697 acres of undeveloped land within our planning jurisdiction, and so this scenario will play it out as to how much money (the city) would get if we continue to build the way we are, how we’re building now and what we’re building now versus what we’d get if we made a change,” Reed said. “What this study will give us is the data that we need to focus on the types of housing, and then we need to use administration and (department) directors – from looking at wastewater, engineering, planning, streets and economic development – to see, where do we want to focus growth? This will spark a bigger conversation.”
NOBLESVILLE: A GENERATION BREAKDOWN
- 25 percent – Generation Z (b. 2000 and after)
- 25 percent – Millennials (b. 1981-1999)
- 23 percent – Generation X (b. 1965-1980)
- 20 percent – Baby Boomers (b.1946-1964)
- 7 percent – Silent/Greatest Generation (b. 1946 and before)