As ‘Boomers’ near retirement, developers keep eye on trends

Friday, May 16, 2008 at 12:53am

Are you a baby boomer? Statisticians consider anyone born between 1946 and 1964 to be a full-fledged baby boomer.

The oldest of the baby boomers are 62, and just old enough to start collecting Social Security and qualifying for a reverse mortgage.

But for this group of Americans, retirement looks a whole lot different, according to Gene Warren, president and CEO of Thomas, Warren and Associates. Warren, an economist who specializes in the study of retirement, helps developers and communities figure out how they’re going to attract future retirees.

By 2029, those baby boomers born in 1964 will turn 65, notes Warren. But this group of individuals looks at retirement in a different way. For example, baby boomers are much more likely to move when they retire than their parents were. At this week’s annual meeting of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, in Dallas, Warren said that typically just 10 percent of retirees relocate. He expects 20 percent of boomers to relocate, or approximately 18.2 million individuals.

Another difference: Baby boomers are activity-driven, he notes, unlike their parents who are from what he calls the “silent generation.”

“Boomers are much more active than their parents were. They are amenity-migrants, not sun-migrants. They’re not necessarily going to buy a house on a beach, but will look at all the amenities in the area.”

Deborah Blake, a vice president of Pulte Homes, who works extensively with the Del Webb-branded senior communities, says that today’s seniors are looking for “a purposeful life.”

“They’re not looking to play golf for 10 years. They’re asking themselves, ‘What’s next?’ ” Blake says.

Del Webb has found that seniors living in their Sun Cities developments (the average age of a Del Webb buyer is 62) are fans of lifelong learning, social networking and active volunteering.

“We provide classes on Internet Safety at many of our communities,” Blake explains.

Del Webb has begun shifting the designs of its houses to meet the needs of boomer seniors, including building larger kitchens to accommodate computer technology, dual master suites (for sandwich generation boomers), and creating spare bedrooms that can function as craft studios.

Blake says that looking for a purposeful life has turned seniors on to the idea of leaving a legacy. For them, volunteering “doesn’t mean holding someone’s hand in a hospital.” Instead, Del Webb residents are writing business plans for local nonprofits and working with communities to stimulate growth.

Each Del Webb community has an online bulletin board, and local nonprofits and community organizations are invited to post the needs that they have on the “volunteer” tab. Over time, Blake says, they’ve learned that if they ask for a specific skill set, say “event planners,” and offer seniors flexibility, so they can continue to work out and enjoy local amenities, they’ll get a larger response.

Staying mentally and physically fit, “so that the mind and body hit the finish line at the same time,” Blake quips, is also a key concern. Developers and builders who aren’t paying attention to the wide and varied needs of today’s boomer population risk building a community no one will want to live in.

Finally, 50 to 80 percent of Del Webb community residents continue to work, Blake says, reflecting a widespread concern about financial security. There is a growing concern that many boomers won’t have the resources to fully retire, and will have to continue to work at least part-time.

Architect Carl Malcolm, an associate with James, Harwick and Partners, says that even boomers on a limited budget want an amenity-filled lifestyle on a budget.

“These folks have the same cell phones, e-mail and Internet habits,” he explained. “They are time-starved seniors looking for places they live in to take care of what they don’t want to do,” he explained, adding “but the economy overlays it all.”

In some of the Atlanta-based projects his company has designed, Malcolm says they have been able to cut corners by increasing space flexibility (“the dining room also functions as a ball room,” he notes) and designing buildings with economical floor plans.

“But we’re learning,” he says. In the first building, seniors parked their scooters in the hallway and used the landlord’s plug to charge up their batteries. “In the second generation, we added a scooter parking area.”

Contact Glink at www.thinkglink.com

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