Baby Boomers Are Changing The Way Builders Do Business

May 15, 2006 

According to the National Association of Home Builders’ 50+ Housing Council, the baby boomer generation is shaking up the housing industry, and builders are responding with big changes. Speaking at Building for Boomers & Beyond: 50+ Housing Symposium 2006 in Phoenix, Ariz., industry experts claim that to attract boomer buyers, the industry is discarding old notions about the “retirement lifestyle” and allowing buyers to create their own distinct communities.

“With America’s 50+ population hitting 100 million by the year 2010, the building industry has developed a strong awareness of the importance of this segment of the market,” said Norman Cohen, chairperson of the 50+ Housing council and a principal at Camelot/Signature Development of Marietta, Ga. “The baby boomer generation has changed the ways builders do business—homeowners are no longer looking for the traditional retirement communities—they want to live somewhere where they can remain active.”

Author and generations expert Neil Howe delivered the Symposium’s keynote address which focused on understanding generational change among active adult buyers. The baby boom generation increasingly prefers to be able to “age in place” or continue living in their homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age or ability level. Unlike the generations before them, boomers don’t want to “get away from it all,” said Howe. They want to be near cultural and spiritual hubs that keep them connected with community and culture and involved in lifelong learning at local universities.

Howe added that because boomers, who make up 37 percent of all homeowners, are retiring at such varied ages, they’re in no hurry to move. When marketing to boomers, he recommended that builders do away with language about “retirement,” and instead stress that their products allow buyers to be engaged and employed. In order to draw these buyers in, he says, builders should stress informality and spontaneity—boomers want to discover communities on their own, rather than buy into a planned development. This trend is resulting in NORCs, or “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities,” where influxes of older residents create unplanned 50+ communities.

Boomers, who value independence and individualism, are extremely conscious about marketing messages and builders should choose subtlety when they market to these buyers. They want housing that provides them with an authentic lifestyle experience, and marketing should allow them to discover that on their own.  Howe emphasized that builders should avoid a “suburban” or cookie-cutter look, as well as ostentatious luxury, and shouldn’t make assumptions about how social boomer residents want to be. Many boomers probably don’t care about clubhouses; instead, they prefer informal, self-discovered activity and leisure spaces.

Technology is also important to boomer home buyers. They want to be online and high-tech, with media-rich capabilities. In many active adult rental communities, “tech centers” are now called business centers, reflecting the extended employment years of today’s active adults.

“An influx of builders into the market has pushed active adult developments to step up their amenities as competition is keen for the active adult dollar,” said Symposium speaker, Jim Daniel, vice president of sales for Robson Communities’ PebbleCreek Resort Community in Buckeye, Ariz.  “Amenities like golf and tennis used to be enough, but now amenities have to be about technology and learning.”

Fitness and health are still high priorities for boomers. Housing for these buyers should be in natural, “walkable” areas, said Howe.

Building for Boomers & Beyond: 50+ Housing Symposium is an annual education and networking conference for industry professionals who serve the 50+ housing market. This year’s Symposium had over 800 attendees. The 2007 Symposium will be held in Denver, Colo.

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