Rose and Joseph Perrone looked for their dream home for 18 years.
They scoured the South Shore of Long Island. They found homes that didn't meet their expectations. They were outbid on homes that did. Sometimes, they couldn't agree on what they wanted. At their breaking point, the Perrones even considered leaving the state to live near family in Virginia or Georgia.
But their hearts were always set on Long Island.
In the meantime, they lived in what Rose Perrone described as a "tiny apartment" in Holbrook. The couple had to take turns walking through the front door and taking off their shoes — that's how small the entryway was, she said.
The couple always imagined their next home would be different.
"My husband really wanted a two-car attached garage," said Perrone, 40. "I wanted a big entryway and a beautiful block where we could walk to a park. Those were the sticking points for us."
Then, it finally happened: The couple and their 5-year-old son, Everett, recently moved into their forever home in Bay Shore.
"We had just put other offers on houses that didn’t work out," Perrone said. "This is probably the fourth house we seriously considered."
With the right real estate agent, some flexibility and knowing where to look for help, millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996, per the Pew Research Center — are becoming first-time homebuyers all over Long Island. Among the regions gaining popularity in this age group, agents say, is the South Shore of Suffolk County.
"Babylon, Bay Shore and Islip are the more popular areas," said Colleen Colasacco of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. "Definitely for millennials, specifically."
There are a few reasons, but Colasacco, a Bay Shore resident, has started to notice a theme.
"What I see is a lot of times, people who grew up out here may have moved into the city or said, 'I’m never going to live where I grew up,'" she said. "But ultimately, they’re gravitating back this way because there are options that are affordable, and places that are interesting and vibrant."
'A tough battle'
I think millennials get a lot of pressure from parents, and I think we’re feeling that without truly being able to afford it. So it’s been a tough battle, but I’m proud we’re still out there.
Amanda Mas-Spears is a millennial real estate agent at Coach Realtors in Mount Sinai. Her primary clients are close to her own age, and she has assisted many of them on lengthy searches for their ideal home.
But millennials don’t tend to give up easily and are willing to make sacrifices to forgo renting a place, she said.
"The Long Island rental market is just as competitive, if not more competitive, than the owning side of things," said Mas-Spears, 35. "I think millennials get a lot of pressure from parents, and I think we’re feeling that without truly being able to afford it. So it’s been a tough battle, but I’m proud we’re still out there."
Laura Thompson, 36, and her husband, Sean Thompson, also 36, bought their home in Islip Terrace in 2021.
"We had been living in Hauppauge, in an apartment at an aunt and uncle's house, for seven years," she said.
The couple bought the house for $415,000. They moved into their two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with their now 2-year-old triplets. The family also welcomed their fourth child this year.
As a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, a straightforward commute was an added bonus for Laura. But the East Islip School District was a main selling point for them, he said, and they’re finishing the basement to expand their living space. They now live three houses down from her sister-in-law, and it was important for the Thompsons to live near family.
"We got lucky with the house," she said. "It’s a little smaller than we wanted, but the price was right."
While walking around Islip Terrace, Laura has noticed all sorts of ages on her block.
"Our next-door neighbor's kids are in college," she said. "But on the other side, they have babies, so it’s a little bit of a mix."
Playing the lottery
I grew up here and I would love for my children to grow up here. But in the last couple years since COVID, it’s become largely unaffordable for most millennials.
— Sam Law
For millennial renters, using local resources is essential, said Sam Law, 36. She lives in one of the new apartment buildings near the Long Island Rail Road station in Wyandanch.
"I was looking to move out of my parents' home," she said. "I ended up applying to the apartment through their lottery and getting the apartment, and moved in, in 2015."
Law applied for the lottery through the website of the Community Development Corp. of Long Island. When she moved in, she appreciated the amenities of the building, including energy-efficient appliances, a fitness center and a community room. There’s also a park nearby, and the LIRR into New York City is moments away.
"My building is mostly millennials," Law said. "Mostly, I would say the community is people probably between 27 or 28, to 45."
The rent of each apartment is income-based, which was a plus for Law, who was a graduate student at LIU Post at the time. Eight years later, she is still happy with her home and feels the community is worth consideration, even for those who wouldn’t stay permanently, because it's affordable and convenient to reach other major hubs of the Island and city.
As for staying on Long Island with her two children (and one more on the way), "that’s the goal," Law said. "That’s where my heart is. I grew up here and I would love for my children to grow up here. But in the last couple years since COVID, it’s become largely unaffordable for most millennials."
Law currently runs her company, YHP Cares, which offers service coordination for people with disabilities, from her home. Looking to the future, Law said she’s looked at houses in Bay Shore.
"To me, that area is the most millennial-friendly."
I wouldn’t want to live any place else, especially with raising kids now.
— Joseph DeBello
Colasacco recently helped a millennial couple that had been set on Massapequa while looking for a house.
"We looked in every possible area of Nassau," she said. "And 20 houses later, I said, 'Maybe it’s time to broaden your scope.'"
They began looking at houses in Bay Shore, Babylon and surrounding communities. The couple ended up buying their dream home in West Islip, Colasacco said.
"It checked every box," she added. "They were thrilled to have Christmas there, and the whole family came."
When meeting her millennial clients for the first time and determining what they want, Colasacco will usually show them houses throughout their preferred county, instead of within one radius or community.
"Nine times out of 10, even if it’s not during the first round or two, eventually they may say, 'You mentioned this town before, maybe we should open up the scope of our search a little bit wider,' " she said.
'In Nassau County, the yards are not as big. In a place like Bay Shore, you get a bigger yard, the rooms are bigger and the taxes are not as high.'
— Rakisha Johnson of Fave Realty Inc. in New Hyde Park
Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.
Rakisha Johnson of Fave Realty Inc. in New Hyde Park has sold houses to millennial clients in Bay Shore, but also found an alternative for her clients to consider, albeit a bit farther east.
"Coram is definitely up and coming," she said. "I feel like more people will see it’s similar to Bay Shore, but with Bay Shore, the median home price is about $550,000. In Coram, the median home price is more like $450,000."
Johnson has been encouraging her buyers to look farther east, especially those who start their search in Nassau. "To me, it’s just better," she said. "In Nassau County, the yards are not as big. In a place like Bay Shore, you get a bigger yard, the rooms are bigger and the taxes are not as high."
Joseph DeBello never thought he'd leave New York City. He grew up in Farmingdale, and his husband, Gabe Gaglio, 45, was raised in West Islip. Gaglio was convinced that DeBello would like the village of Babylon, if he’d just give it a chance.
"When you live in Nassau County, you always go west," said DeBello, 36. "You never really go east. I knew Babylon existed, but I didn’t really know what Babylon was. So we did a couple of weekend trips and I fell in love with it."
DeBello loved it so much that after buying a house there in 2018, he also opened two businesses in the village: Hitch, a market for handmade goods, and BesTea, a tea bar.
They bought their four-bedroom, two-bath home for $408,000. It’s a good fit for their sons, ages 6 and 7.
"I wouldn’t want to live any place else," DeBello said, "especially with raising kids now."
The search is over
Even for me personally, it’s the sense of community... [Long Island] is our hometown, and it's just a great place to raise a family.
— Lyndia Toro-Segarra
As a millennial, Lyndia Toro-Segarra of Cosmo Group Realty in Westbury said she clicks well with clients around her age.
"I already know what they’re looking for; they just have to verbally confirm it with me," said Toro-Segarra, 42. "And being that I'm from Bay Shore, I know the town like the back of my hand."
One reason that Bay Shore appeals to a younger crowd is its bustling Main Street, she said.
"When you’re a millennial, you want to live in an area that mimics the city," Toro-Segarra said. "In the sense of there’s always something to do and somewhere to go, without driving out too far. They gravitate toward places with a lively downtown, like Bay Shore, Islip and East Islip."
At the same time, when millennials move in and expenses start to add up, they want to make the most out of their living space.
"Millennials are looking to turn their homes into their own entertainment oasis," said Toro-Segarra. "If they don't plan on renting out their basement, they may turn it into a space where family and friends can come hang out, so they don’t have to leave. The first couple of months, the budget is kind of tight."
The Perrones spent days shuttling their belongings from the apartment in Holbrook to their new home in Bay Shore. Even after getting the help of a moving company for some of it, there were still about three carloads for Joseph to pick up, he said.
But they're settling in with gratitude, after a seemingly endless search for the right home. Rose is a nurse practitioner and Joseph, 41, is in the Air Force. They’ve been married for 16 years, and have spent all of that time looking for the place to raise their children. Her schooling and his work often delayed the house-hunting process.
"A lot of life events had gotten in the way, and we just kind of understood what we really wanted," Rose Perrone said.
Since her husband's work sometimes takes him out of the state, Perrone said being on the same page during this process was always key.
"Thank God we know each other well," she said. "And we know what it is that we want. At this point, compared to the beginning of the search, what we want is totally different. And the big push, too, is that our baby is coming."
Perrone is due to have their second child within weeks of their move-in day. But everything worked out the way it was supposed to, she said. About a year ago, the couple had looked at a different house on their street.
"I just didn't like the house, but I really wanted to," she said. "I loved the block. It’s a beautiful neighborhood, and it was always in the back of my mind."
So when the couple saw a different house in the neighborhood a year later, she recognized the street name. The asking price was $549,000 and they paid $540,000, she said.
If they were ever to move, it would be due to her husband's job, Perrone said. For now, they feel anchored on Long Island by family and friends.
Toro-Segarra said that’s the reason many millennials make it work to live here, no matter how challenging the house hunt can be. They want to settle in the places they grew up, especially now that many of them are working from home.
"Even for me personally, it’s the sense of community," she said. "During the pandemic, you had people coming back from New York City to Long Island, so that tells you how good of a place Long Island is to live. This is our hometown, and it's just a great place to raise a family."