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Millennials trading in big-city expenses for small-town affordability

Mark and Heather Gehan are among the millennials, younger Gen Xers and older Gen Zers moving out of big cities.
Millennials trading in big-city expenses for small-town affordability
Posted at 1:05 PM, Sep 14, 2023

In the midst of the pandemic, Mark and Heather Gehan yearned to be near family. Living in the Seattle suburb of Renton, they were growing out of their 1,700-square-foot home with two young children, and realized that a move to a larger home would be prohibitively expensive. 

Both grew up in the upstate New York area where real estate costs are less. 

“We evaluated our work situations. We kind of made the decision to do it, packed up and did it in six weeks.” said Mark Gehan, 38. 

With encouragement and help from their families, the Gehans traded their big city life near Seattle to move to Brighton, New York, a suburb of Rochester closer to Canada than to New York City. They were able to sell their Washington State home quickly, and reaped a profit as prices exploded there. They lived with Heather Gehan’s family while they searched for a new home, and purchased a 4,200 square-foot home in a tony suburb with tree-lined sidewalks for $570,000 in 2020. 

The Gehans joined the millennial trend of moving to smaller cities. Millennials, younger Gen Xers and older Gen Zers are eschewing big city life and moving to small towns. Since 2014, an average of about 30,000 city dwellers per year between the ages of 24 and 40 have left, according to The Wall Street Journal

The pandemic greatly accelerated that trend. According to CNBC, 32% of Gen Z relocated during the pandemic, along with 26% of millennials. Reasons for the relocation include being closer to friends and family (31%), more affordable living (27%) or the ability to work from anywhere (17%). 

For Gehan, it’s family first. His in-laws live in the same town and can help with babysitting, while his mother and brother are less than three hours away in upstate New York. 

“Now we get to go to all the birthday parties and all the holidays," he said. 

Their new home is in a walkable neighborhood and offers their three young children, ages 7, 5 and 1, a better lifestyle, Gehan said. There are families with children in the neighborhood and school is nearby.

Gehan negotiated a remote work situation for a gaming software firm, as he was already working remotely during the pandemic shutdown, and his wife is able to work remotely for a pet insurance company.

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Among the reasons why people move are education, affordability and space. Gehan finds life in the Rochester area to be much more affordable and convenient. Going out to dinner used to be a rare treat in Seattle, with the traffic and cost. Now, the couple is able to go to a nice restaurant without the hassle of traffic. They were able to get a theater subscription which would have been cost-prohibitive in the Seattle area on their budget, Gehan said.

“Everything is five minutes away,” he said of the Rochester region.

The greater Rochester area has over a million people while the greater Seattle area  has over 4 million. The town of Brighton where the Gehans have settled has around 36,000 residents. “It’s a city but it has a small town feel,” Gehan said. “Everything is just easier.”  

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