Love a big front porch? You're in luck in the Pittsburgh market, with homes such as 4 Center Ave., Aspinwall. Photo courtesy Carlson & Associates.

How is pet ownership driving home sales in Pittsburgh?

A report by Downtown-based Campos Research called “Digs, Dogs and Diapers” says that while marriage and parenthood drive homeownership and millennials continue to favor renting for a number of reasons (such as student loan debt), “34 percent of homebuyers in 2016 were millennials, making them the largest share of purchases by generation.”

And there’s a millennials nesting trend under way, says Kate Murphy, research manager at Campos Research and author of the report. Millennials like to stay home at night (“think Grubhub and Netflix rather than dinner and a movie”) and they like to spend time with their pets. Forty-four percent of this age group see their pets as “practice children.”

“There’s also a sizeable portion of millennials who are purchasing homes not due to children or marriage, but for their pets … an astonishing three-quarters of Americans in their 30s, which is to say most millennials, own dogs,” says the report.

So high on the list of their must-haves in a house? A fenced-in yard.

Kate Murphy of Campos Research, a Millennial who just bought a house in Mt. Lebanon and authored the study Digs, Dogs and Diapers.

It’s one of many ways the housing buying market is changing these days, some trends stemming from millennials and others — the desire for a first-floor master bedroom, for example — driven by their empty-nester parents.

Working and walking

In addition, millennials are into DIY and they’re open to renovation, says Murphy. According to her report, 25- to 34-year-olds nationally spent an average of $26,200 on home improvement. “Many are interested in a home that needs more work,” she adds.

Another trend that cuts across all demographics is the desire for walkable neighborhoods. “Walking communities are really in,” says Mary Eve Kearns, a realtor of 28 years working in the South Hills. “Many (buyers) start out in Lawrenceville. Then they’re coming to Mt. Lebanon, Dormont and Brookline.” All four communities have sidewalks and thriving commercial centers.

Kate Murphy not only tracks the trends at the office, but she is part of the very market she studies: a millennial, age 29, who just put an offer on a house in the highly walkable community of Mt. Lebanon.

Virtual decisions

Another ongoing trend, says Kearns, is online house-hunting where buyers decide in a flash what appeals to them. One tip she offers to sellers is to get the best house photo possible to appear online. “If buyers don’t like the photo,” she warns, “they eliminate the house.”

Reed Pirain, a partner at PPM Realty, thinks the real estate market in 2018 will bring a large shift from renters to buyers.

“Renters are seeing that they can find homes to purchase in several of Pittsburgh’s different communities leaving them with a lower monthly mortgage than rent, while creating equity in their home,” he says. “We are so fortunate with Pittsburgh’s 90 different neighborhoods, each with their own personalities and niches. People are intrigued to buy in the Pittsburgh market.”

Many potential buyers are millennials, says Pirain, who are looking for deals in established hotspots such as Bloomfield, Highland Park and Greenfield, as well as neighborhoods with recently renovated properties such as Lincoln-Larimer, Garfield and Allentown.

This winter, inventory is low in Pittsburgh’s housing market but that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking to buy.

On the contrary, agents say, buyers are snatching up deals quickly when they come on the market. As spring approaches, sales volumes are expected to increase. And as Pittsburgh’s popularity continues to grow, sale prices are likely to inch closer to listing prices in 2018, says David Tkacik with Insight Realty LLC.

“Across the board, I continue to see many first-time homebuyers and people moving to the Pittsburgh area,” says Tkacik, who offers a commission rebate to buyers and a lower commission than most agents to sellers.

Notably, this year the city realty transfer taxes increase from 4 percent to 4.5 percent on Feb. 1. The several million dollars that’s expected to generate annually will support an affordable housing trust fund that the City Council recently approved. “Buyers will need to have plenty of savings on hand or will need to find other ways to decrease their closing costs,” Tkacik says.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.