Rent an apartment when you’re young, buy a house in the suburbs as you get a little older, and, come retirement, get yourself a condo someplace warm: It’s a formula that has been around for longer than most of us can remember. But as the baby boomers who brought that model into being—first as children, then as parents—begin to retire, their shifting preferences and the emergence of a younger generation of homebuyers has brought about a rapid transformation in the American real estate market

The trends we see on the horizon are being molded by lingering consequences of the mortgage crisis, millennial values, and the changing face of the American homeowner. The conventional wisdom that drove the housing market for half a century is giving way to a new set of motivations, as young first-time buyers saddled with student debt and low savings have come to prize features such as walkability over multicar garages. A growing diversity of homeowners is also bringing new demands: Latino families, for example, generally favor open floor plans and room for extended family, while the steady rise of single women purchasing homes has put a premium on security features. 

This month, Consumer Reports is equipping you with everything you’ll need to understand those trends and seize the opportunities the coming era of post-­mortgage-­crisis homeownership will create. Whether it’s your first time on the market or you’re a seasoned pro, we’ve got you covered with innovative strategies for securing a down payment, tips on navigating popular housing websites, advice on negotiating with your real estate agent, and an analysis of some of the smartest projects that can add value to your home

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.