Housing Industry Adapts to Not-So-Retiring Baby Boomers

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Are you a baby boomer? Statisticians consider anyone born from 1946 to 1964 to be one.

The first of the baby boomers are now turning 62, just old enough to start collecting Social Security and qualifying for reverse mortgages. In 2029, those baby boomers born in 1964 will turn 65.

But for all these baby boomer Americans, retirement looks a whole lot different than it did for their parents, according to Gene Warren, president and chief executive 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.

For example, baby boomers are much more likely than their parents were to move when they retire. At last week's annual meeting of the National Association of Real Estate Editors in Dallas, Warren said that, typically, just 10 percent of retirees move. He expects 20 percent of those people retiring in the next 21 years, approximately 18.2 million individuals by his estimate, to relocate.

Another difference: Baby boomers are activity-driven, Warren 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," Warren said.

Deborah Blake, a vice president of marketing for Pulte Homes who works extensively with the Del Webb-branded senior communities, said 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 said.

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

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 and dual master suites (for "sandwich generation" boomers caring for aging parents), and creating spare bedrooms that can function as craft studios.

Blake said 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 nonprofit groups and working with communities to stimulate growth.

Each Del Webb community has an online bulletin board, and local nonprofit groups and community organizations are invited to post their needs on the "volunteer" tab. Over time, Blake said, 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.

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