Market Strategies: The Housing Age Wave

As baby boomers retire en masse, they’ll demand different housing options

By Patrick S. Duffy

Four years ago, the first waves of the enormous Baby Boom generation reached the age of 66, and therefore were able to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits.  Over the course of the next fifteen to twenty years, more of this group of 76 million will eventually join these early adopters, and in so doing will undoubtedly have an outsized impact on the U.S. housing market.

Much has been written lately about the relative affluence of this cohort and what that means for retirement housing.  Not only is the poverty rate for people age 65 and over lower than any other age group, but over 80 percent own their own home.  This group is also remarkably stable by today’s standards, with about 75 percent of those in their late 60s to early 70s in a marriage.  Older Boomers can also generally look forward to greater longevity, with life expectancy for a 65-year-old American now another 17.7 years for males and 20.3 years for females, or three to four more years versus the previous generation.

As they move into this next stage of life, Boomers are also expected to redefine retirement on their own terms.  Notably, just 65 percent of workers retire in the traditional sense at age 65.  Of the remaining 35 percent, over one-third remain employed part-time, and those with a higher education (and divorced women) tend to continue working the longest.   As they sell off large homes and prized possessions, this cohort is also about simplifying their lifestyle in order to engage more in experiences such as travel, civic engagement and spending more time with family and friends.

Recently, AARP updated its annual “Livability for All” report, which surveyed residents’ age 50 and older in eleven different metro areas about features of their current home, a ranking of community features, and perceived gaps in between today’s conditions versus their preferences.  The report also focuses on the ‘eight domains of livability’ which the World Health Organization has not only identified as the key to the quality of life in retirement, but help cities design strategies for dealing with the rapid aging of their populations and a concurrent increase in urbanization.

What’s most striking about this survey is the split between Boomer wants and needs, with 80 percent or more preferring to age in place.  However, just over half of respondents said they would consider moving if they found a home that would maximize their ability to live independently, followed closely by living in a larger or smaller home.  Curiously, just 35 percent of those surveyed said being closer to family and lower living costs was an important factor in a move.

So, if you’re hoping to capture the imagination of retirees and convince them to sell their homes to start a new life, what should you be selling?  Besides the home itself, I would recommend also focusing on WHO’s eight domain of livability:

Outdoor Spaces and Buildings—Provide greenbelts, outdoor seating areas, defined sidewalks and easily accessible buildings.

Transportation – Help people get out of their cars by presenting other options including shuttle services, access to public transit, taxi services like Uber or Lyft or even car sharing. 

Housing—Accentuate the ability for buyers to age in place and provide options for housing at different income levels.

Social Participation—Since loneliness has been found to have an out-sized impact on health, combat social isolation with regular and accessible social activities.

Respect and Social Inclusion—Launch intergenerational programs so younger people can learn from the older, whether it’s mentoring, teaching or volunteering.

Work and Civic Engagement—Help residents remain engaged in the workforce if they so choose, even on a part-time basis.  Volunteering for Meals on Wheels, the local animal shelter or even in local politics can help retirees continue to use life-long talents and skills.

Communication and Information—Although today’s retirees are more tech-savvy than ever, don’t assume they all have Internet access or smart phones; information needs to be distributed in multiple ways.

Community and Health Services—Since at some point nearly everyone will require some type of community or health care assistance, not only is it important to have such services nearby, but that it’s also accessible and affordable.

The good news is that is does seem that today’s retirees are embracing the later stages of life with both curiosity and vigor.  Or perhaps they’re simply mindful of the quote, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”

Patrick Duffy is a Principal with MetroIntelligence Real Estate Advisors and contributes to BuilderBytes. He can be reached at pduffy@metrointel.com or at 310-666-8288.

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