From Gen X to millennials to boomers, homebuyers in Macomb are looking for the same things

This series, made possible with the support of Macomb County, captures the stories of how residents and visitors live, work, and play in the region.
In the third-most populous county in the state, millennials and Generation X make up the majority of the population, with baby boomers trailing close behind, but they all intersect in what they are looking for in a home. 

Of over 800,000 residents in Macomb County, 13.7% of residents are between the ages of 25 to 34, and another 13.7% of residents are between 45 to 54, according to the 2019 United States Census Bureau. The next largest age groups in the county are residents ages 35 to 44 (11.9%) followed by ages 65 to 74 (10%). When it comes to buying homes in Macomb County, affordability and location are critical for both older and younger generations alike. 

For first-time homebuyers especially, affordability is key. While older generations may be able to be more flexible with housing prices after amassing equity, as well as with location depending on life circumstances, those two factors are still priorities across the board. 

“If you're older, you may move to other states, possibly Florida or something like that, or you move to be closer to your grandkids, closer to family, especially if you’re retired, says Gino Tozzi, Ph.D., associate broker of Johnstone & Johnstone. "But if you're younger, you're trying to find something that is a good deal, and there's still deals in Macomb County. It's more affordable — the taxes typically are not as high as they are in other areas, with a few exceptions of course.”

According to Tozzi, cities that are particular hotspots for first-time buyers include Warren (with a median house price of $165,000), Sterling Heights (where the median house price is $261,000), and Eastpointe (where the median house price is $134,900).

“People that are younger tend to look at the wholeness of an investment, and it is,” Tozzi says. “It’s like a savings account that can appreciate over time […] A lot of young people want to make sure that the home they buy is in good shape — it’s not a money pit. They don’t want a home that’s overpriced because ideally, they don’t want to have to make up an appraisal gap and spend five, 10 grand covering the appraisal difference. Many people that are younger might not have the ability to do that, and they might not even be able to get a loan because of student loan debt, or other types of debts — medical, car debt.” 

Another significant factor that millennials or Generation X with children or intentions to have families look for is solid school districts. Due to the Fair Housing Act, realtors aren’t allowed to recommend school districts to clients. 

“I tell [clients] to check out the Department of Education, check out the metrics like test scores, dropout rate, the graduation rate,” Tozzi says. “Get a feel for that area. Call up the actual superintendent's office to get more information about the district.” 



For the Helberg family, education influenced their move. With two young children and the ongoing decision of whether to send them to private or public schools, millennials Candie and Jeff Helberg had heard “really good things about New Baltimore.” 

The couple, both born and raised in Macomb County, had bought their starter home in St. Clair Shores after they were married in 2012. The house was a great space for the newlyweds, located off of Jefferson Avenue it was only a block away from the water, and the couple enjoyed visiting the nautical mile. 

After their first child was born, the Helbergs purchased a new build in Chesterfield Township, but when they had another child on the way, they started to outgrow the space. Now, the family is in the process of building a new home in New Baltimore. 

“We like Chesterfield, and New Baltimore's the next city north, so we're only probably 10 or 15 minutes from where we were living,” Jeff Helberg says. “We saw a house by a specific builder that we really liked the floor layout and design of, and this was one of their subdivisions. We've always tried to live east of the 94 — it’s just kind of where we like, being close to the water.” 

They plan to stay in their New Baltimore home long term while their children are still in school, and because of their video surveillance business based out of Macomb Township and Warren. 

“Now that our kids are 6 and 3, all the parks and beaches, which we didn't really do at our first house and we just started to at the tail end once we bought the lot for our new house, and we're driving out that way, we started going [to the parks and beaches] a lot,” Jeff Helberg says. 

Another couple’s home buying wish list was quite similar — except they were outgrowing their former house in the opposite way. Macomb County residents Ed, 72, and Sharon, 70, Malarick were looking to downsize their home. 

After living in their Clinton Township home for years along with their youngest son and two grandchildren, ages 19 and 20, their 2,000-square-foot home started to feel too big. 

“[We stayed in the county] to keep our grandchildren close to school, and yet letting us downgrade to something reasonable […] we moved into Fraser. They have a lot of really, really nice subdivisions of medium size homes. We didn't want to go into anything bigger. We wanted to get a ranch.” 

So the couple found a ranch with a fully finished basement. They liked the school systems of the area which both their children and grandchildren attended, and now with one grandchild starting a trade as an electrician and the other attending Macomb Community College, proximity to education is still pertinent, as well as the other amenities of the surrounding area. 

“We enjoy going to the beach for holidays and picnics. Metro Beach, we like going over there. It's a very nice place to go and sit down and relax in the shade — throw a ball around or a day outing with the family,” Ed Malarick says. 

“We used to be boaters, so the lakes were close to us — Lake St. Clair,” Sharon Malarick says. “Now we’re bikers.” 

Biking around the neighborhood or Metro Parkway Trail for a longer ride is a favorite post-retirement activity. While the couple plans to do some traveling once they’re settled into their Fraser home, the outdoors, the convenience of shopping, and the successful downsizing make them happy with their decision to stay in Macomb County. 

Across generations, affordability is a common denominator. In addition to the aforementioned cities, Roseville (where the median house price is $152,000) and Fraser (with a median house price of $185,000) have homes priced on the lower end of the market, while Shelby Township (with a median house price of $300,000), Macomb Township (where the median house price is $380,000), and Chesterfield Township (with a median house price of $337,500) have some higher-priced homes. 

The county also boasts three Metroparks that attract all age groups, as well as multiple senior centers in Macomb Township, Sterling Heights, and Clinton Township. For younger buyers looking for walkable downtowns, the county offers only a few. 

“I think it's a valid critique of Macomb County that there aren't many of those types of cities versus Oakland County,” Tozzi says. “You have all those cities with little downtowns on Woodward Corridor and you don’t so much see that on Gratiot […] but I think many people in Macomb County are fine with that and they're willing to give that up to get things more affordable.”