Wealth growth drives luxury real estate’s power players

New report looks at new set of luxury buyers emerging

Personal wealth has steadily risen since 2019, both globally and here on the home front. What is driving this affluence and what does it mean for the real estate industry? According to a recent Coldwell Banker Global Luxury report titled, “Real Estate’s New Power Players” (part of its annual “A Look at Wealth” series), “rebounding stock markets, cryptocurrency gains and higher 401(k)s” have aligned with higher home prices and low interest rates to give wealthy buyers even more borrowing power. Plus, household savings has grown to record levels during the pandemic and people are reinvesting that cash into real estate.

Historically, there’s always been a symbiotic relationship between real estate and wealth. Real estate continues to be a vital asset class for the wealthy today, as illustrated by the fact that the dollar volume of real estate wealth reached $3.6 trillion in 2021. As a result, a new set of Power Players has emerged, and they are “redefining the meaning of luxury.”

“The 2021 luxury market has had a dynamic year, building off the trends that we started to see in 2020, such as the way we work to a renewed focus on family, friends, health and wellness,” says Michael Altneu, vice president of luxury for Coldwell Banker Real Estate. “The lifestyle changes paired with surging stock markets, increasing home prices and more savings took things to a new level where we’ve seen staggering numbers come out of the luxury sector. Our report, ‘A Look at Wealth: Real Estate’s New Power Players,’ takes a deeper dive into the profound shift in wealth and the demographics driving these changes​.”

Who Are These New Power Players?

The population of exceedingly high-net-worth individuals (i.e., people worth more than $5 million) increased upwards of 17% between 2019 to 2021 in the United States alone. In fact, of the $3.6 trillion in overall real estate wealth in 2021, the report says, “about 47% of people have a net worth of $5 million to $10 million.” This means about 33% of their asset portfolio is invested in real estate, representing $1.7 trillion in real estate wealth. Furthermore, the $1 million to $5 million price segment saw double- and triple-digit percentage gains.

“We found that this demographic is having the most influence on luxury real estate,” Altneu says. “The numbers are astounding. Nearly three times as many individuals within this demographic own real estate in the $1 million to $5 million range compared to 2019, [which represents] a 180% increase of luxury property ownership in a three-year period. We’ve seen many luxury home buyers flock to secondary markets, the suburbs and smaller towns. We predict demand will continue in these areas, but we’re also seeing the return of buyers to major urban cores, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

The report illustrates that at least four sub-groups are driving demand in the $1 million to $5 million range: Second Homeowners, Baby Boomers (people between 57 to 75 years of age), Urban Repatriates and Golden Millennials (age 35 to 40). Baby Boomers, who represent 51% of the Power Players, are retiring at a fast pace and leveraging the equity of their primary residence to move into their dream home—often in rural or resort areas. According to the report, 2 million Boomers own more than three properties (more than any other age group.)

Golden Millennials, who represent 60% of all millennial-owned luxury properties today, strive for sustainability and authentic living. Drawn to secondary cities and suburban areas that afford them ample space for work, school and access to amenities, Golden Millennials are an important demographic “to watch as their wealth and real estate portfolios grow.”

More Second Homeowners emerged during the pandemic as consumers looked for a “getaway” residence. The report says, “Their influence on the overall luxury property market is one to watch; nearly 70% of those with a net worth of $5 million and up own two or more properties.”

Urban Repatriates are going against the “urban exodus trend” that arose during the pandemic and moving back to major metropolitan areas, suburbs, resort markets and secondary cities.

Booming Markets Abound

Major metropolitan areas such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, suburban Chicagoland, Atlanta, and even vacation spots like Sarasota, Florida, and Park City, Utah, are booming after the pandemic. Miami is very much in demand, says Judy Zeder, who, together with Jill Hertzberg and Jill Eber is a principal of The Jills Zeder Group of Coldwell Banker in Miami.  The metropolitan area is seeing a surge in the luxury residential market, with sales for $5 million+ properties up by 101.5% in the first three quarters of 2021 alone.

“People are coming to Miami to buy a lifestyle,” Zeder says. “There’s a huge population of domestic buyers coming in [since Covid] who discovered that Miami offers a unique lifestyle with its social diversity, world-class cultural activities, sports events, a [renowned] boat show, great restaurants, the most fabulous beaches in the world and an international airport that takes you anywhere. We’ve had a shift of people coming here to not just buy a second, third or fourth home—but their [primary] home because it’s a great place for families. We have great schools and universities and one of the best hospital systems in the country.”

The Power Players coming to Miami are diverse, she adds. “We are seeing top CEOs who have retired, a huge population of major private equity and hedge fund firms, major tech funds, a large group of people from crypto and also the Baby Boomers, who have moved a lot of their wealth to their children. Also, Millennials and even Gen Z are coming to Miami and making it home.”

Looking Ahead to 2022 … and Beyond

As the U.S. lifts travel restrictions on more than 30 countries (for those fully vaccinated), there will be a surge of wealthy foreign buyers from overseas potentially generating billions of dollars in real estate sales. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) foreign buyers spent a whopping $267 billion on property in the United States during 2018, followed by $183 billion in 2019.

Altneu anticipates that the four main Power Players highlighted in Coldwell Banker’s report will continue to have a major influence on the market in 2022. “They are really the catalyst driving the major growth in wealth and luxury real estate demand,” he says. “The role of international buyers returning to the U.S. market is paramount as interest rates and inventory levels remain low, paired with all-time high demand. [Therefore], 2022 very well may be the year of the international buyer and we may see more bidding wars among certain price points.”

Zeder concurs. “We started seeing lots of foreign buyers looking to move to Miami permanently, and a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in their own countries.” The Jills Zeder Group’s clients are coming from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Chile and across Europe. “Miami is a city that welcomes everyone—not just second, third or fourth homebuyers. It’s a great place for retirees to live as well as everybody else.”