There are 13 counties in the United States where 60% or more of the households are headed by someone 55 or older; 12 counties are in Florida or Arizona, one is in Massachusetts – Barnstable County (Cape Cod). Which helps to explain the popularity of Cape Cod as a retirement destination and active adult communities like Southport.
With builder confidence in the 55+ housing market at its strongest level since 2008 according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the 55 and older demographic should certainly get its share of attention by new home builders in the next five to ten years. In fact, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University reports that the 50 and over population is projected to increase 20 percent by 2030 to 132 million.
To compete successfully in this growing 55+ marketplace, new home builders of active adult (55 and over age restricted) communities or non age-restricted lifestyle communities must pay close attention to what today’s 55+ buyers are looking for in their next home.
In a national “Consumer Preferences Survey” released by the National Association of Home Builders in January 2016, NAHB economist Paul Emrath reported the following results from respondents who were 55 or older:
- 65% of 55+ buyers preferred a suburban setting vs. 28% for a rural setting and only 7% in the
- 1,903 square feet was the preferred average size of their next home (up slightly from the
average size of their current home of 1,886 square feet).
- 73% preferred a kitchen-family room arrangement that was either completely open (38%) or
visually open, but with a half wall (35%)
- 79% want a single-story home, ideal for “aging in place”
- 31% said a one- or two-bedroom plan would be fine, while 51% of 55+ buyers indicated a
preference for three bedrooms
- 69% wanted a master bedroom on the first floor
- 65% of all 55+ buyers wanted two or less bathrooms
- 57% prefer a one- or two-car garage
- 52% want a ceiling height of nine feet or more on the first floor
Because the 55+ buyer for the most part is making a lifestyle decision rather than a “need-based” decision (someone who requires assisted living or memory care), it’s important for builders and developers seeking to attract active 55 and older buyers to do their homework and study local buyer preferences. Quite often these buyers have not purchased a new home in many years. Whether they are considering a vacation home that might eventually become a retirement home, or are looking for a primary residence now, the experience of buying this new home and selecting finishes and options or upgrades should be an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
As a member of NAHB’s Board of Trustees’ 55+ Housing Industry Council, I have the opportunity to see what other home builders are doing around the country and to learn what home designs and amenities are most popular. As someone who has been actively involved in the planning, developing and building of lifestyle communities, especially for the 50-plus market, since1988, I have seen changes in product design of both the homes and the communities themselves.
The trend to build retirement communities began in January, 1960 when Del Webb launched his first Sun City community in Arizona. During the last 20 years, the demand to build these lifestyle communities for adults 55 and over outside the Sunbelt states has increased dramatically. Living closer to children and grandchildren was one of the driving forces behind this trend. Today, while many developers build under the guise of “active adult communities” where at least one person in the home has to be 55 or older, they don’t always offer an array of, (or, in some cases any) on-site recreational amenities. This lack of amenities limits the amount of socialization that occurs which is one reason why active adult communities became so popular in the first place.
In recent remarks to the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston at their annual Forecast Dinner in January, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe remarked, “The 55+ housing market is benefitting from growing home equity on the balance sheet of 55+ households, an improving economic outlook, historically low mortgage rates and a growing population as baby boomers age.” In
2016 and beyond, the number of new homes and communities in Massachusetts serving the 55 and older buyer should rise to meet this increased demand. Those developers and builders who pay attention to the buyer preferences of adults 55 and over, by designing homes and building amenity-rich communities to provide the socialization that so many boomers desire, will provide a win-win scenario where the 55+ buyers, the developers and builders all benefit.