The boomers are coming: Here’s what’s on their home buying list

by Kerrie Kennedy

Although millennials are the biggest demographic of homebuyers at the moment, that doesn’t mean developers and agents should ignore the large, wealthy demographic that is the 55+ population.

Already at a high of over 600 million people, adults aged 51 to 69 are projected to hit a full billion by 2030, and 1.6 billion by 2050. According to the Boston Consulting Group, by 2030, the U.S. 55-plus population will have accounted for half of all domestic consumer spending growth since the Great Recession.

To help builders get inside the heads of this aging yet affluent population, the National Association of Home Builders’ 55+ Housing Industry Council recently hosted a hosted a webinar, “55 Builder Tips for 55+ Buyers,” to share ideas on how to best meet the needs of this market.

Surprisingly, one of the top amenities this aging demographic is looking for is walkability, according to the webinar. Instead of homes on a golf course, baby boomers want homes near pocket parks for relaxing, exercising and walking the dog. And the home itself should have ample outdoor space for grilling and outdoor living, a priority for a generation that kick-started environmental activism.

Many of the old ideas about how aging populations want to live are no longer true when it comes to baby boomers, whose life expectancy in the U.S. jumped by nearly 30 years during the last century. Don’t assume that boomers are isolated or lonely and need to have their day planned out, said panelists. They’re fine with making their own fun, which is why they want to be in close proximity to shopping, entertainment and education opportunities.

“The 55+ buyer is a very sophisticated buyer today, so you can’t underestimate the 55+ buyer,” said Lita Dirks, owner of Lita Dirks & Co, an interior design and merchandising firm. “They’ve been dreaming of this home of their dreams that they want, and the merchandising of this home is how we’re able to create the dream and help them see that they truly can have it.”

College towns are in high demand among this group; so are locations that boast charming town centers with lecture and concert venues. And no surprise, the demographic that turned film viewing into a widespread cultural event value nearby movie theaters as well.

Interior design aside, panelists identified the following wish list for the boomer population:

  • Stairs with a landing. For aging-in-place reasons, boomers prefer a landing as a rest spot.
  • Flex rooms. Whether office, den, guestroom or a hobby room to explore or celebrate special interests, the more uses buyers can envision for a room, the more value it adds.
  • Storage. Closet space, as well as permanent access to less-used spaces such as an attic above the garage, is a big plus for 55+ buyers.
  • Kitchen. An estimated 62 percent of boomers cook at home every day, and they want a kitchen they can live in and enjoy. Priorities include upgraded appliances such as drawer microwaves, large islands and comfortable seating.
  • Bathrooms. Because boomers want to age in their homes, features such as shower seats, handheld showerheads, no-threshold entries, and a toilet with room for future grab bars (which shrink the space by about 6 inches) are important, as is a full bath on the first floor.
  • Lighting:The average 60-year-old needs six times as much light to see as a 20-year-old, so both natural lighting and well-placed and well-thought out lighting fixtures are essential.

With senior housing occupancy at its lowest since 2011, boomers have spoken, and what they want are homes, not nursing homes. As they continue to age, finding the right home to accommodate their needs could prove be an untapped market.

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