The ‘surban’ future and boating

Boating and housing go hand-in-hand. A good housing market drives consumer confidence and increases home equity, making homeowners more willing to take the plunge on a new boat. And a decade ago we all saw what happens to the boating market when housing plummets.

But those trends also give us a look at how households are changing, especially as younger homebuyers – and hopefully future boat owners – enter the market.

Those trends shaping the housing market today offer both good news and bad news for the boating industry.

The good news is that the long-reported death of the suburbs has been greatly exaggerated. The trendy take on the housing market post-Great Recession was that millennials were abandoning the suburbs to live in the cities, were never going to buy houses and were going to rent forever. Unmarried and childless, they had no reason to worry about things like quality schools. “Back to the city” was the rallying cry of urban planners. 

In reality, several recent reports have found that millennials are embracing the suburbs as they get married, settle down and have children – just like previous generations. A 2018 study by Ernst & Young reports that 41 percent of millennial homeowners live in the suburbs, up from 36 percent in 2016. Thirty-one percent are living in cities, 16 percent in small towns and 11 percent in rural areas.

The Brookings Institution’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010 to 2017 shows that 2012 was the peak of the urbanization movement. After a lull following the Great Recession, Census Bureau data shows a revival of the long-standing move to the suburbs, exurbs and more rural areas. Since 2012, the growth of urban core areas has halved, while growth of the exurbs has quadrupled, according to the Brookings study.

All of this suburban growth is good news for the potential growth of the boating industry. On the other hand, there is a decidedly different take on the suburbs these days.

While the suburbs aren’t going away, the most desired developments don’t look the same as those that shaped the second half of the 20th Century. “Surban” is a term coined by John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a leading consulting and research firm in the housing industry, to describe these developments that blend the best of the suburbs and the city. 

The essence of surban is bringing the best of urban to the suburbs. Surban communities are about creating more of a walkable, mixed-use environment. It brings the best of the urban lifestyle to the suburbs where you still have good schools, and you still have peace and quiet. It’s about walkability, pedestrian-friendly, high-density developments.

A common example of a surban development would be two or three stories of condos above a first-floor retail, all walkable within the downtown main street of a suburb. 

It’s about the lower crime and higher-ranking schools, with the vibrant restaurants, entertainment options and public transportation of the city – all at a lower price than in an urban area.

What many of those developments have in common is a lack of yards and storage space to keep boats and other similar equipment. This points to the importance of offering multiple ways to get people out on the water, whether it be boat clubs, rentals, peer-to-peer or whatever it may be. For those interested in ownership, it’s going to be important to offer a turnkey solution – storage, care, cleaning, service, all in one location for your buyers. The dealers that can deliver on that promise will be well positioned to take advantage of the surban trend and changing demographics. 


Jonathan Sweet is the director of the Boating Industry Top 100 program and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry magazine. He can be reached at or 763-383-4419. 

 Follow him on Twitter at @JonathanWSweet.


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