Economy Watch: Will Normcore Thinking Affect the Residential Market?

Is normcore housing a real thing? And will it be the next big thing in housing?

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Is normcore housing a real thing? And will it be the next big thing in housing, in which Millennials take the opportunity to buy certain kinds of houses, at least in certain markets, thereby pumping up those markets—which in turn pumps up the local retail markets, but puts a dint in some of the apartment markets that now seem so invulnerable? First, a few words about the concept of “normcore.” The word has been kicking around a while in the fashion business, were it seems to mean unpretentious, ordinary-looking clothing (anathema to high fashion, in other words). An expanding definition means finding satisfaction in not standing out, or not being special. It’s possibly a nascent mindset among younger consumers, in reaction to the reduced circumstances of their generation—lower-paying jobs, onerous student debt and so on.

RealtyTrac, the housing data specialist, recently had the clever idea of applying the term to housing, coming up with the “Best Normcore Neighborhoods to Buy an Unpretentious Home.” Regarding normcore, the company said, “This what-will-they-think-of-next trend reflects some core values of the generation that represents the housing market’s best hope for the next crop of first-time homebuyers…. RealtyTrac applied the concept of normcore to real estate by identifying the zip codes that are the most normal or average when it comes to home values, home size, school quality and year built.”

Where Millennials might be looking for homes, in other words, will be overlooked, under-the-radar places where they can find smaller, older existing homes in good but not prime locations. A kind of generational downsizing, in other words. If so, the mindless giantism that created the McMansion could become a thing of the past. RealtyTrac determined that among the best normcore neighborhoods are the likes of The Bronx, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; Bloomington, Ill.; Spokane, Wash.; and Charlottesville, Va., among numerous others. (All of them are here.) Retailers in areas such as these, if the trend holds water, would have a leg up, while apartment owners would face stiffer competition from for-sale properties than they’re now used to.

As an aside, it seems unlikely that the normcore concept, assuming it’s a genuine thing, would be applied any time soon to any office market. If anything, office owners and developers are moving as fast as they can away from unremarkable space. Creative office space, with its various interpretations, is becoming a reality not only in the tech markets such as San Francisco, Austin and Boston, but in other markets as well. Office space is becoming more elaborate, or at least less like it was in the 1980s and ’90s, when cubicles were the order of the day and the height of employee amenities was a vending machine.

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