Building for Boomers

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Preparing for the changes of aging, including declining mobility, is also a concern. A 2005 study conducted by Vista Market Intelligence of Lake Oswego found that 89 percent of boomers would like to have the master bedroom on the main floor of their home; 79 percent said they would prefer to own a single-story home.

When the phone rings in Trey Davis's office at Coldwell Banker-Flaskerud Realty, there's a good chance a baby boomer will be on the other end.

"I've only been in the real estate business for two years," said Davis, "but the number of my clients who are baby boomers has definitely increased. In most cases, they're getting ready to retire or they have kids that are moving out of the house. They're looking for a change."

Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers total 82 million and represent nearly a quarter of the U.S. population. Because the 50-and-over crowd controls more than 40 percent of the nation's disposable income, contractors and developers are increasingly focused on winning their business. And that means rethinking everything from floor plans to amenities to locations.

Changing the paradigm
A study conducted by "Kitchen and Bath Design News" and "Qualified Remodeler Magazine" reveals that boomers aren't just interested in "getting by."

They want comfort and style, and they have the income to foot the bill. According to the study, boomers estimate that they spend nearly $6,000 per year on home improvements.

"They want something nice," said Davis, "usually a home that is new or recently remodeled. Boomers aren't into fixer-uppers." About 70 percent of those who fit in the boomer demographic are homeowners. Nearly 40 percent say they plan to move during their retirement years, with approximately one-third looking to downsize. The biggest draws for Boomers are proximity to family, warmer climate, and access to activities and amenities.

Southwest housing boom sends out ripples
Developer Del Webb kick-started the adult living construction market in 1960, when he opened Sun City near Phoenix. The age-restricted community -- for people 55 and older -- eventually grew to include 26,000 homes.

Webb continued to create adult communities in the Sunbelt for several decades and is responsible for building more than 450,000 homes.

When Pulte Homes purchased the Del Webb name in 2001, marketing was expanded to 17 states. Twenty-three new Del Webb communities featuring 41,000 homes opened for sale in 2006.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that adult living communities featuring high-density, attached housing attract more buyers than those with traditional, single-family homes. In addition, boomers have shown a preference for living in communities located near urban centers rather than rural areas.

Two projects aimed at people over 55 in the Puget Sound area have attracted attention. Jubilee, an adult community developed by Jenamar Communities, opened in Hawk's Prairie in 2003. The development features two golf courses, walking and biking trails, and an 18,000-square-foot recreation center.

Buyers can select from 15 floor plans ranging in size from 1,100 to 2,500 square feet. Home prices range from $200,000 to $500,000. In 2005, Where to Retire magazine named Jubilee one of the top 100 retirement communities in the U.S.

The company is averaging five home sales per month and expects to have closed 900 sales at Jubilee by 2008. Jenamar is also developing a similar community called the Edgewater near Lacey, just north of Olympia. Willow Pointe at Mount Solo: Activity but no stairs

"Baby boomers are changing everything," said Longview developer Larry Wood. "They don't mind spending money, even if it means incurring debt."

The third and final phase of Wood & Wood Development's 58-unit adult living community near Mount Solo Middle School opened to buyers in September, with three units selling the first day. "I'm confident that we'll be able to sell out by summer of '07," Wood said.

Construction is expected to begin on eight single-family homes and six condominiums in January 2007, with prices starting at $199,900. Condominiums in Phase III will have 1,400 feet of living space with two floor plans available. Homes range from 1,750 to 2,800 square feet, and buyers have several options for customizing cabinets, carpets and other interior choices

Wood decided to focus on selling homes to the baby boomers after attending several workshops sponsored by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). He also researched developments in Nevada, California and Florida to learn what marketing strategies had been successful there.

Willow Pointe is a gated community that emphasizes "active adult living," while acknowledging the limitations that aging will bring. Units feature stair-less entries, low, step-in showers; and 36-inch doorways for wheelchair access.

"Most people don’t realize that there's no other place in our area like Willow Pointe," Wood said. "It's very progressive."

Three out of four customers at Willow Pointe have come from outside the Longview-Kelso area, said Wood, as buyers from Portland, Vancouver, Seattle, and elsewhere seek affordable homes.

"Most people who live at Willow Pointe are retired or they’re about to retire," he said. "They’re still very active, and they really appreciate the maintenance-free aspect ... No one has to mow the grass at Willow Pointe, so they have time to do what they want."
Although Willow Pointe has no age restrictions, the youngest resident is 45.

<2>River's Edge attracts a mix

Developer Chuck Bond's four-story condominium project south of the Hall of Justice is scheduled for completion in summer 2007. By the time the doors are ready to open at River's Edge, he expects to have deposits on each of the 39 units.

"We've already received deposits for nearly 70 percent of them," Bond said.

River’s Edge has no age restrictions, but he estimates that one-third of the new owners will be middle-aged professionals. The other two-thirds will be baby boomers, many of whom are looking to downsize.

"I call them ‘young seniors,’ " Bond said. "They’re retired, but they're active and able-bodied. They don’t want to stay home on the weekends, mowing the lawn and doing maintenance."

All units have a view of the Cowlitz River and feature gas fireplaces, granite counter tops, and outdoor decks. A community room and rooftop terraces will also be available. Access will be via elevator; the building has no stairs. Prices range from $199,000 to $375,000.

Once street improvements are completed and pilings are driven, work on a parking garage will begin. Framing should be underway by November, Bond said.

Builders help some stay at home
Although a segment of the boomer population is eager to trade in old homes for new ones, many older people can’t afford such a move. Others simply prefer to stay where they are.

For Cary Butler, these people are potential customers.

At Butler Construction Services, Inc. in Kelso, the company motto is "Don’t Move. Improve. Remodel With Us." Owner Cary Butler uses the approach in dealing with all of his customers, but especially those 50 and over.

"Studies consistently show that people want to stay in their homes as long as they can," Butler said. "Our client base is aging, and we're dealing with a new set of needs."

In 2002, Butler earned recognition as a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS). Sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the CAPS program instructs contractors in making modifications that enable older people to remain in their homes. The program also includes sensitivity training -- how to treat older people with respect and understand their needs.

A 2005 survey revealed that 84 percent of AARP members want to remain in their homes as long as possible, rather than moving to an assisted care facility. However, 87 percent of respondents said their homes needed to be modified to address their age-related needs.

"Older homeowners are often in denial about safety issues," Butler said. "They don’t want to admit that they require help. Our goal is to make the house livable and as safe as possible."

CAPS builders install safety lighting, grab bars, lever handles, and comfort-height toilets. Basic project work can be completed in one to three days and typically costs $2,000 to $3,000.

In homes with stairs, Butler said, it's important to get the washer and dryer moved to the main level. The price can go up significantly if major plumbing, electrical, or dry wall work is required to accomplish this.

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