50+ Interview: Robert H. Karen

Robert H. Karen is also the Managing Director of the Symphony Development Group a Community Development and Homebuilding firm specializing in serving the Active Adult market in the Mid-Atlantic and North-East regions. The vision of the firm is to develop exciting new communities that meet the needs of consumers while respecting environmental principles and municipal planning goals.

50+ Builder: What is your take on the current status of the housing market?

Robert H. Karen: With the arrival of the growing season outdoors, I am even more convinced that we are firmly planted in the growing season of the housing turnaround. The prospects for significant growth and improvement in the 50 + markets, both in the for-sale single family and multifamily sectors, are becoming manifest in broad-based improvement. In the first quarter of 2013, the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ single-family Housing Market Index (HMI) showed significant growth. In this index, numbers greater than 50 show improving markets, and all the components of the 55+ single-family HMI showed were up substantially from a year ago. Present sales climbed 19 points to 46; expected sales for the next six months increased 21 points to 53; and traffic of prospective buyers rose 15 points to 41. Builders and developers for the 55+ housing sector continue to report increased optimism in the market, and we are seeing an increase in consumer demand for homes and communities designed to address the specific needs of the mature homebuyer.

50+: What are your plans for 2013 on NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council?

RHK: Our plan for 2013 is to increase the participation of NAHB members in the 50+ Housing Council.

The 50+ Housing Council is a valuable source of learning for all members of NAHB, not only those whose primary business is the 50+ housing market. Most of our builder members have customers or prospects that are in the 50 and older age bracket. Those members would benefit from participation in the Council by expanding their understanding of that group and its housing preferences. Their sales to that segment of their market would increase, and they would create a dynamic opportunity to serve these buyers more effectively. The demographics are compelling, and the opportunity is real.

The primary goal of NAHB’s 50 + Housing Council is to assist our members in serving their prospects and customers in an educated and professional manner. The tools that the Council provides to members through our research, our educational programs, the 50+ Online Magazine, the 50+ Housing e-Source monthly online newsletter, as well as through collaboration and networking among members are invaluable. The exceptional professional third-party endorsement and showcasing that comes from participation in NAHB’s Best of 50+ Housing Awards competition is an important tool for our members – one that we are expanding and highlighting. The many years that I participated in the competition and was able to win recognition for my projects provided me with an invaluable tool to establish trust with prospective clients, and motivate them into becoming buyers. Home buyers share in the pride of being part of a community that wins national recognition.

50+: What are some of the current trends that will lead the 50+ home building industry?

RHK: A recent article in the 50+ Housing Online Magazine highlighted kitchen trends, with the one of most important being an integration of the open kitchen within the living areas. This group of buyers is quite social, and such a layout ensures that no one is isolated away from the rest of the group. Another overarching trend is that of universal design. People in this age group want a user-friendly, low-maintenance home – one they can live in as long and as comfortably possible. The 50+ Council encourages that approach to design, and highlights it every year at the International Builders Show. At next year’s show, co-located with the Kitchen and Bath Business show in Las Vegas, Feb. 4-6, there will be a Universal Design Day, with design-related presentations, discussions and networking, as well as information on user-friendly products being exhibited on both show floors.

50+: What is your take on 50+ communities going green?

RHK: There is a strong interest among this demographic group in health and wellness. They want sustainable and green building products to be used in their homes. They also are looking forward to a reduced income, so they are strongly motivated to invest up front in energy-efficient building techniques and products that will reduce their energy expenditures for years ahead. Builders who understand that can make a strong case for green construction to this market segment.

50+: What, in your opinion, is the mid-year report for the senior-housing industry?

RHK: The entire economy is growing at a slow pace. But the supply of existing homes in the current market is limited. That means that older households who’ve wanted to buy a more user-friendly home but have not been able to sell their homes at a price that would support such a purchase are beginning to re-enter the new-home market. As the HMI’s expected sales numbers show, builders in this market sector are anticipating increased growth. I am hopeful that the August HMI report for the second quarter 2013 will continue to show increasing builder confidence.

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