What boomers want next
A study of homeowners 55 and older says they look forward to active lifestyles in a community with water views, nearby fitness centers and fine dining.
For home builders, they are among the weightiest questions for the next 20 years: Where will the baby boomers really want to move, when and if they sell the homes where they've raised their families?
Will they opt for the stereotypical post-retirement golf course communities so popular in the 1980s and '90s? Will they head for new beach and ski resort real estate developments? Or will they downsize and move to a center city condo to maximize use of cultural attractions and avoid long commutes?
With more than 70 million boomers heading down the demographic conveyor belt toward retirement -- and the oldest of them hitting 60 this year -- no wonder these questions were prominent at the National Association of Home Builders' annual conference in Orlando Jan. 11-14.
Though consumer survey research consistently has shown for decades that homeowners in their 40s and 50s often have no detailed plans to downsize or sell their houses, a major new statistical study unveiled at the convention suggests that the boomers might have different ideas.
In the boomer study, more than 50 percent of all homeowners 45 to 54, and nearly 60 percent of homeowners 55 to 64, rated themselves either ''likely'' or ''very likely'' to buy a vacation, investment or new primary home sometime in the next five years. Roughly 49 percent of owners 55 and older say they are likely to move into some form of ''active adult'' community. One of five boomer households say they are thinking about moving to an age-restricted adult community -- a figure more than double what a similar study found just five years ago.
The new research, conducted by ProMatura Group, an Oxford, Miss.-based consulting group, comprised a statistical sample of 2,309 boomers polled Nov. 28-30. The study was limited to households with Internet connections and has a 1.8 percent margin of error.
Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of ProMatura and a longtime expert on behavioral dynamics of aging, told the builders that boomers are seriously willing to consider moving to planned communities that emphasize ''active lifestyles,'' fitness and social interactions.
But boomers' desires for physical pursuits aren't necessarily what real estate developers might assume. For example, though golf-related second home and ''active adult'' communities were all the rage in recent decades, boomers may not be willing to sink their retirement housing capital into golf links. Just 1.7 percent of homeowners 55 years and older said they were likely to purchase a home on a golf course and just 5 percent said they wanted a view of a golf course.
Contrast that with 25.5 percent of the same group that said they want to end up living on -- or with a view of -- a fresh waterfront of some sort, such as a lake or river. Boomers also may not be as eager as some developers assume to buy property on or close to salt water -- perhaps in part because of concerns about potential future storm damage. Just 1.7 percent consider themselves highly likely to buy oceanfront, and just 6.8 percent want to buy property with a salt waterfront view.
Contrast those numbers with the biggest draw among boomers when it comes to views: non-golf-related ''green space,'' such as parklands or common area green strips built into many modern planned communities.
Active boomers put a high emphasis on the presence of well-equipped fitness centers nearby. Nearly one-quarter of all boomer homeowners 55 and older want to live within walking distance of a fitness center or health club -- a priority that is more than double the level of interest of homeowners in general.
With all this high energy, boomers apparently plan to load up on fuel through fine dining. Whereas just 3.2 percent of homeowners of all ages want to live within walking distance of ''fine restaurants,'' more than four times as many boomers 55 and older consider that a key feature of their ideal environment.
Boomers are emphatic about bedrooms -- the magic number is three -- but don't seem to mind if their total living space, whether in condo or detached single-family form, is smaller than their longtime family homes. Sixty-two percent say they'd be happy with less square footage, as long as ''everything is top quality'' in the new place.
The boomers are loaded with real estate equity, and they apparently want to sail into retirement with high-end kitchens, bathrooms, spas, entertainment centers and you name it. And boomers, as everybody knows, are used to getting what they want