COVID Creates Strange Bedfellows

Living arrangements are becoming more complicated and creative in the COVID era.

According to The Wall Street Journal, millennials are starting to move out of their parents’ homes and form households by purchasing a home with friends or other couples. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the number of co-buyers with different last names has grown by nearly 800% in the last seven years.

And in the early days of COVID, 11% of buyers were unmarried couples, and 3% were roommates, up from 9% and 2%, respectively, the year before. As millennials delay marriage and kids, and relocate from urban centers to suburbs, they realize that home ownership is much more affordable (and socially stimulating) if they take the plunge with friends.

Meanwhile, more millennial renters continue to choose co-living. The trend toward shared living (essentially college dorms for adults) made headlines in early 2020 -- just in time for COVID. The pandemic diminished the appeal of communal living with strangers, and many co-living startups folded.



However, once renters started venturing out during the Great Reopening, the concept grew in popularity, allowing access to nicer space for less money vs. living alone or with one roommate. It’s a convenient, flexible, low-risk housing model. And it works especially well for young professionals who move to a new city for work or school and need a roof over their head for a few months as they “find their tribe” and make more permanent arrangements.

And as millennials move out, boomer parents often move in -- with parents of their own. According to a recent article in the Guardian, the pandemic caused many boomers to move in with Mom and Dad, to provide needed caretaking and companionship.  Boomers also relocated out of financial necessity, after a significant number lost their jobs in the Great Shutdown or didn’t feel safe returning to work. Boomers who did this often found it to be a positive and mutually beneficial experience, allowing them to forge closer relationships with their Silent or Greatest Generation parents.

How can marketers make the most of consumers’ changing living arrangements?

*Represent these households. Commercials and lifestyle photography shouldn’t feature only singles, married couples or nuclear families. Just as ads have expanded to feature a greater diversity of genders, races, sizes and orientations, they should also be inclusive of these modern living arrangements. Show the Postmates or DoorDash driver dropping off dinner at a co-living space, or Domino’s Pizza delivering a two-for-one pizza deal to a house with two couples.

*Remove friction from their lives. If multiple parties are sharing a house, all their living expenses need to be split -- a great use case for Venmo and Zelle. Their insurance needs are more complicated -- a nice problem for Lemonade and other next-gen insurers to solve. If a co-living space is holding a house dinner, it might be nice to order a “Sunday dinner” that’s more communal than 10 separate entrees -- a good opportunity for a ghost kitchen and delivery app. Conduct research on these “pain points,” adapt your offering to help alleviate this pain, and communicate these solutions to consumers.

*Avoid dated portrayals. “Boomerang kids” are so 2015, and probably don’t belong in an ad today (unless they’re boomers themselves). If two couples are living together in the suburbs, they probably aren’t swingers; they’re friends who “house hack” out of economic necessity. And if 20 adults are all co-living, they probably aren’t in a cult, but young professionals saving money and forming a community. So watch the jokes and judgments from yesteryear, as they don’t reflect the economic and social realities of today’s young adults.

As consumers get more creative with their living arrangements, marketers must match that creativity in how they represent these consumers and address their unique needs.
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