Educated, but poor, millennials are transforming neighborhoods in several Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin in search for affordable communities.
Since the end of the American high (the late 1960s), the Rust Belt had experienced decades of deindustrialization and a mass exodus of residents. Manufacturing plants closed down, jobs disappeared, and communities disintegrated, as this once vibrant region is now a symbol of decay and opioids.
However, this trend has reversed in recent years, as some millennials have abandoned big cities for Rust Belt communities, in hopes to catch the falling knife and invest in real estate that could be near its lows.
It is a massive risk, and the narrative behind this "attractive investment bet" are affordable communities, unlike the Washington Metropolitan Area, San Francisco, New York, San Diego County, and Boston.
Yet this revitalization of the Rust Belt economy could not have come at the worse time: Last week, Bank of America rang the proverbial bell on the US real estate market, saying existing home sales have peaked, reflecting declining affordability, greater price reductions and deteriorating housing sentiment.
While it is difficult to say what exactly happens in Rust Belt communities in the next downturn, one should understand that housing prices in these regions will probably stay depressed for the foreseeable future. So, if the millennial who was hoping for a Bitcoin-style like move, they should think again as investing in Rust Belt communities is a long-term strategy.
Constantine Valhouli, Director of Research for the real estate research and analytics firm NeighborhoodX, told CNBC that millennials are flocking to these areas not just for home ownership, but rather rebuilding these communities from the bottom up.
"It is about having roots and contributing to the revival of a place that needs businesses that create jobs and create value."
According to Paul Boomsma, president and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE), some of these formerly blighted towns are gradually coming back to life. The latest influx of millennials view these regions as financial opportunities and places to construct new economies - especially with real estate prices far below the Case–Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index.
"Millennials are swiping up properties for next-to-nothing prices near downtown city areas that have completely revitalized," Boomsma said. LendingRE has listed a three-bedroom Victorian home in Mansfield, Ohio, with an asking price of $39,900.
The median home value in Mansfield is $60,300, now compare that to the median home value of nearly $700,000 in New York City and a whopping $1.3 million in San Francisco, and it is obvious why millennials are flocking to the Rust Belt. Experts add that there is more to consider than discounted prices.
"There is a community-mindedness with millennials that attracts them to the smaller Rust Belt towns," said Peter Haring, president of Haring Realty in Mansfield, Ohio.
"We are seeing an intense interest in participating in the revitalization of our towns and being a part of the community. It's palpable, and it's exciting," he added.
Haring said affordable homes in Mansfield comes with a significant drawback: distance. The closest large cities, Cleveland and Columbus, are each an hour's drive, and amenities are lacking.
"For people working in those cities, they are sacrificing drive time," Haring said. "In some cases, they are sacrificing the convenience of nearby shopping and restaurants."
But for millennials that is a little concern: they have the luxury of working remotely and ordering consumable goods from Amazon.
"More and more people are now working virtually, which means they do not need to be in their office and can work from almost anywhere," said Ralph DiBugnara, senior vice president at Residential Home Funding. "So why not find somewhere to live where your city dollars can go a lot further?"
CNBC points out that some large corporations are moving back into these areas, the same areas that they left decades ago for cheap labor overseas. One example is home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, whose corporate headquarters are in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
"It helped revitalize surrounding areas with new lifestyle and cultural amenities," said LendingRe's Boomsma. "This type of corporate commitment draws a young workforce, who are attracted by the lifestyle, paired with the relative affordability."
Todd Stofflet, a Managing Partner at the KIG CRE brokerage firm, said for the millennials who still cannot afford to buy a home, the Rust Belt also has a robust rental market. Millennials who are heavily indebted with student loans, auto debt, and high-interest credit card loans could discover that these low-cost regions are perfect strategies to break free from the debt ball and chain and start saving again. Restore capitalism and say goodbye to creditism, something the Federal Reserve and the White House would not be happy about.
Millennials are creating demand for new apartments, which is a "a catalyst for retail, grocery and office development," Stofflet added. "As downtown populations experience a resurgence, so does the dining, entertainment and lifestyle of the area."
Although discounted real estate prices in Rust Belt regions are appealing in today's overinflated Central Bank controlled markets, Daniela Andreevska, a marketing director at real estate data analytics company Mashvisor, cautioned millennials to learn about the dynamics of why these communities have low prices.
"One should keep in mind that many of the homes there are foreclosures or other types of distressed properties," she said. "You should analyze and inspect the property well in order to know how much exactly you will have to pay in repairs before buying it."
These migration trends indicate both positive and negative shifts: on one hand millennials are fleeing unaffordable large cities to Rust Belt regions, in an adverse reaction to failed economic policies to reinflate the housing market. On the other hand, for millennials with insurmountable debt, migrating to these low-cost regions could be the most viable solution to get their finances under control.