Forecasting the Future of 50+ Housing

For builders of 50+ housing, success will depend on, not only knowing this information, but also delivering it.

By Doris Pearlman

When asked to write this story, I thought long and hard about what the best definition of forecasting is. I decided that, in the context of the future of 50+ housing, forecasting can be defined as knowing what the next best thing will be. For builders of 50+ housing, success will depend on, not only knowing this information, but also delivering it.

It starts with knowing the buyers and what they are looking for now and in the future. Here’s what we do know about the 50+ buyers: they are demanding a redefined product for their new phase of life. They are seeking a lifestyle, as well as looking for the perfect home. This will present multiple challenges to housing professionals, as this buyer is very detail oriented, with a high expectation for service. Comfortable with social networking, they won’t hesitate to share with their friends if they are thrilled—or not—with a product or service.

Shape-Shifting Design

Meeting the future demand of this market will require shape-shifting designs. This means, not just smaller homes, but smarter and better homes, with spaces that serve multiple functions. More than ever, this consumer considers their home a personal expression of their age, stage, wage, interests, and values.

The boomer buyer is active, loves life, and wants to be in on the party. Highly social, they’ll need room and features for entertaining. With less need for a formal living and dining, we’ll continue to see the popularity of the great room and indoor/outdoor entertaining. We need to offer products that allow spaces to flow seamlessly. Flooring and full window walls that retract completely are just a few examples of this.

A home office nook or command center will continue to be important. Consider carving a niche off the kitchen or a hallway on the way to the garage, where the home owner can pay bills, search for recipes, and possibly work from home.

With life spans increasing and boomerang children returning, many boomers are caring for both generations simultaneously. This calls for a casita or even two masters. And don’t forget the grandchildren. You will warm your buyers’ hearts by giving them a special space.

According a recent AARP survey, 75 percent of respondents over 45 hopes to age in their homes. Universal Design will facilitate aging in place. This will call for rethinking the placement of appliances, sinks, and storage and it requires barrier-free showers. And it can all be done without sacrificing style.

It’s Personal

All 50+ buyers are not the same, however. They won’t tolerate homogenous, cookie cutter designs; they have varied personal tastes. What part of the country they live in, whether they’re urban or suburban, working or retired, will all affect their design style and choices.

• The Urban Buyer. This buyer wants clean lines and minimal accessories. Square footages are often smaller, so floor plans must be efficient and merchandising big on quality. Furniture designers are responding by offering sleeker pieces without ornamentation. Shaker-style cabinetry paired with contemporary hardware is a perfect example of what this buyer wants.

• Traditional Classics. For many buyers, particularly on the East coast, this is the personal style of choice. Give them updated versions. Show a fresh look by presenting “classic with a twist.” All-white kitchens and baths featuring Carrara marble is a popular look right now. Top spaces off with a new twist in color. Instead of the old reliable forest green, try the newer, deeper emerald.

• Mediterranean. What has traditionally been referred to as “Tuscan or Mission”-style is now part of this larger category, perhaps inspired by the buyers’ travels. Warm and textural, this style is full of natural materials, wood beams, rich colors, and leather furniture. Merchandise this space with global accessories and photos of travel.

• Cottage Casual. Remember shabby chic? Today it’s cottage casual. In the West (think Carmel or Coronado), this look is relaxed and informal, characterized by wood floors, bead board, and applied trims on walls and ceilings. This style of home spells relaxation to the home owner and their guests.

• Unexpected Combinations. In what is perhaps the most exciting trend of all, we are seeing a mix of these style choices juxtaposed in surprising ways. Imagine rustic beams on a ceiling with a formal, traditional chandelier and styles inspired by mixing traditional furniture with industrial accents.

The over 50 buyer is more demanding than ever before, and they have the money to back it up. This will present challenges to providers of housing today, but for the builder who is willing to listen and anticipate the next big thing, the rewards will be many.

Doris Pearlman is founder of POSSIBILITIES FOR DESIGN, INC., a nationally recognized, award winning, interior design and merchandising firm based in Denver, Colorado.

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