What Generation Gap?

Meeting the needs of the 55+ homebuyer doesn’t look too different from meeting others


For builders and community developers, the trouble with the housing market is not so much determining when it is time for a change, but rather how best to usher in change. Figuring out the timing part is easy: now.

Housing needs and preferences have been changing across demographics, and it’s generally understood that our conventional suburban sprawls and dense urban developments are not suitable for much of the population.

We are all aware of the growing focus on younger, less affluent homebuyers looking for versatility and affordability in a first, or move- up home. But how is the older buyer fitting into the equation?

It’s easy for attention to stay fixated on the trends and ploys of the millennial-oriented developments, but the truth is that all buyers, from millennials to the Silent Generation, are eager for something fresh, interesting, and practical.

There is a story we are all use to: kids move off to college, parents are left all alone in their big detached 3-4 bedroom home, and then seek a more practically sized smaller home. The part that has sometimes been missing from the story are options that truly match the needs of the empty-nester.

In fact, it’s this area where millennials and downsizing Boomers actually have a lot in common. Both are interested in more small-scale, multifamily developments that offer amenities and cost-saving energy features.

One of the main differences is intended use. Where the millennial homeowner might want more open, versatile space for regular entertaining, Baby Boomers look for these spaces with holiday meals and celebrations in mind.

And instead of additional bedrooms going toward a roommate or perhaps an office space, as older homeowners downsize the extra rooms are almost always reserved as a guest bedroom for when family comes to stay the night.

Another style in modern living that has been on the rise in recent years, and is an appealing option for older buyers, is the idea of multi-generational homes. Most individuals are familiar, as a Pew Research Center survey found that last year a record 64 million Americans live in a multigenerational household.

The idea is fairly traditional – your immediate family all living happily together under one roof – but some of today’s multigenerational homes take the idea to the next step. Builders have gotten quite creative when designing homes for occupants of multiple generations.

These homes take up a larger plot size, but emphasize an efficient use of space, moments of familial bonding, and comfortable, yet private floor plans. There is space to accommodate the whole family, and design is thoughtfully executed for accessibility and functionality. To keep these homes from feeling cramped and overbearing, serious consideration of layout must be taken. Some common features of a multigenerational home include multiple living rooms or dens, bedrooms on both the main and upper floors, and even separate entrances.

Families can enjoy spending their days in each other’s company and feel a sense of security and togetherness without feeling suffocated or stifled.

The versatility and functionality allows for change as the family grows. Rooms are easily switched around or repurposed to accommodate everyone’s needs, allowing every family member the chance to enjoy the home at any stage of life.

Those enjoying the later stages can live at ease in a home with their loved ones close by knowing there will be someone there for those just-in-case moments, and that the home itself is fitted to their needs.

For other homebuyers, however, the simple truth is that the whole point of getting the kids to college was so that they’d finally leave! These individuals aren’t necessarily looking to downsize, nor do they want a sleepy retirement community.

The next step for these buyers is one that is more lifestyle-driven with opportunities for living to the fullest. This is yet another living style that has evolved over time and remains highly attractive to buyers.

Today’s active adult communities are breaking the mold and broadening the scope when it comes to appealing to the 55+ homebuyer. Many are taking a page from the millennial homebuilding book and focusing more on design, amenities, and the living experience.

Buyers still want all the essentials of a 55+ community – suburban style developments rich in luxury amenities – but expect something beyond the basic golf course and clubhouse. It’s true that empty-nesters and retirees want leisure and comfort in their later homes, but like any homebuyer, they also want a sense of engagement and intrigue.

What we see from developers in active adult communities are some of the same design features that emphasize accessibility and functionality; open floor plans with a focus on convenience and independence.

Amenities are meant to garner community engagement, and some builders take the extra step to provide activities like social hours
or exercise classes to bring 55+ community members together.

We never truly stop growing, and our homes should allow us to continue growing through the years. While we mature as individuals and as communities, let’s be sure that our housing can mature with us in ways that add value and precious memories into our lives.

Zack Johnston is an Assistant Editor for Builder and Developer Magazine. He can be reached at zack@penpubinc.com.