The large Baby Boomer contingent (those born between 1946 and 1964) began reaching retirement age in 2011, and the U.S. Census Board projects that by 2029, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65.
The trend of a larger aging population is expected to continue and is driving concerns by many of how and where they are going to live out their golden years.
With older homebuyers looking for ways to stay in their own home for as long as life circumstances allow, how can you help those clients find the right home to help them do that? And how are homebuilders providing options and features to help buyers create their perfect aging-in-place home?
Explore the Options
Before looking at homes, any buyer should consider what’s important to them in a home, but for older buyers, that up-front evaluation process becomes even more necessary, particularly if major lifestyle changes or health concerns are involved.
“It’s important to have a discussion with the client about their needs and building an awareness of what’s out there,” says Sarah Garlick, corporate communications specialist at PulteGroup, whose brands include Del Webb active adult communities and Pulte Homes active adult communities that are geared for older buyers (typically 55-plus).
For some, that could mean they end up staying right where they are and making some changes to their existing homes; for others, it could mean moving closer to grown children (and grandchildren) or finding the perfect vacation or second home. Or perhaps they want to simplify and downsize to a smaller house or condo.
“Just because a couple is getting older and downsizing doesn’t mean they have to give up what they love,” says Realtor Nancy Doyne of New Jersey-based Weichert Realtors.
Doyne, who holds a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation, outlined several key questions real estate professionals should ask their clients to help them assess their values and wish list:
- What will the family dynamics be over the next 20 to 30 years?
- What kind of yearly lifestyle do the buyers want to have?
- What’s not negotiable in a home?
- What’s the motivation for buying a new home at this stage?
- What is the investment potential?
Depending on a buyer’s needs, new construction homes can offer a great alternative for many older buyers because they can get exactly what they want to start this next stage of their lives. Of course, that means real estate agents and their clients must do their homework on which builders in their area offer the right mix of floor plans, features and amenities. Builders like PulteGroup and Maryland-based Williamsburg Homes are among those responding specifically to the needs of older buyers.
“The 55-plus segment is very diverse,” Garlick says. “We know that some baby boomers want to live in an age-restricted, highly amenitized large-scale community, while others want to downsize in place but with no amenities.”
Del Webb offers an “Explore Del Webb” program that allows prospective buyers to “try before you buy.” Buyers can stay at a Del Webb community for a couple of days, meet with residents and sample the amenities to see if an active adult community is a good fit.
In addition to determining what kind of community is the best fit, older buyers may be on the lookout for certain kinds of floor plans or they may need help figuring that out.
“The layout is important,” Doyne says. “Buyers need to acknowledge what’s best for them.”
That could mean dedicated spaces for each spouse to pursue individual hobbies or just some important alone time. Or, perhaps a couple enjoys entertaining and wants an open concept floor plan, plus a dining room or an outdoor kitchen and patio. Doyne says that real estate professionals may need to serve as a life coach of sorts to help buyers make a true assessment of their needs. “Sometimes a spouse will listen to someone else rather than the husband or wife,” she says.
Current or future health concerns also factors in choosing a floor plan.
“Zero entry is very important in the active adult sector,” says Tim Morris, co-owner of Williamsburg Homes. He added that, ideally, zero entry (where the entry is flush with the floor that leads into it to allow for easier access for disabled residents or guests or wheelchairs) should occur in two spots — the garage and the front door — but at least in one of those places.
Floor plans with a first-floor owner’s suite remain popular, no matter the buying sector, but an alternative that Morris says they are increasingly seeing is an in-law suite on the first floor that allows for multigenerational families.
Features and Amenities
“Del Webb homes are constructed with the idea of aging in place,” says Sarah Garlick, corporate communications specialist at Pulte Group. “Certain conveniences and features are built in, such as the laundry room next to the master suite, multilevel countertops, a lower microwave and a fixed staircase leading to the attic.”
In Williamsburg Homes’ active adult communities Osprey Landing and Walden Woods, standard features include items clients might not think about as helpful, such as lever door handles and comfort-height toilets, with plenty of options depending on the homeowner’s needs.
“We can widen hallways, make wheelchair-accessible doorways, increase the turning radius in the bathrooms and include zero-entry showers,” Morris says. “It just depends on the focus of the buyer; some may want a closer to ADA-compliant home.”
Ultimately, it comes down to helping clients stay true to themselves.
“As a Realtor, we should help direct them and be excited for them,” Doyne says. “Your client’s true goal is always freedom: ‘What next move will give me the most freedom?’”
Judy L. Marchman is a freelance writer and editor who, during her 20-year career, has written on a diverse number of topics, from horses to lawyers to home building and design.
She currently writes for NewHomeSource, and, in a nod to her equestrian background, copyedits for Southern Racehorse magazine and The Horsemen’s Journal. Judy is also the proud owner of a newly built home and has gained plenty of story inspiration from her home ownership experiences.