Boomers Look for Smaller Homes to Do More
As trying economic news and unrest has been the topic of the headlines over the last few years, the story of the aging population has slipped to the background. Maybe that’s because today’s “baby boomers” aren’t aging in the traditional way. Boomers today are the largest aging demographic in our history, and are making their expectations known; partly because of their demands, smaller but better homes are the trend.
As more people plan for retirement, the plans are looking different than the grey-haired segment of society used to look. Many are planning to continue to work part-time to supplement their shrinking income. Many are working longer than they had originally planned to work, to make up for losses in investments and in their nest egg because of the recent economic downturn.
Planning for Housing for The Boomer Population
No matter what the circumstances, this expanding population still needs housing, and builders are looking ahead to plan for the communities and homes that baby boomers will be seeking.
What are the numbers for baby boomers? Currently, older adults make up the fastest growing population segment in the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five, or eighty million Americans, are 62 years of age or older.
According to a recent Washington Post article about the growing need for housing for the aging, “The U.S. population over age 65 is expected to include 73 million people by 2030.” At least one-third of this group is expected to have new housing needs. Even those who plan to age in their homes will need adaptations to make it possible.
Retirees will be looking closely at their current communities for adaptations such as
- more street lighting to increase safety;
- increased signage that allows older people to feel confident about driving or using public transit;
- benches that provide rest while waiting;
- and longer traffic lights to allow them and all pedestrians to cross streets safely.
Aging baby boomers also prefer accessibility to health care, recreation and social opportunities. Retirees also want to feel safe but not isolated. Homes located near a town square or an easily negotiable “downtown” area will be highly desired.
Other trends: homes will be combined for multi-generational living, or boomers will build or purchase a home that includes an additional suite, cottage or other type of property to bring in rental income.
Inside the Home
Inside the home, boomers are looking for
- four-foot wide hallways
- a master bedroom on the first floor
- door handles rather than knobs
- easily reached light switches
- there must be one entry into the house that does not have steps
As many boomers opt for “aging in place”, these types of features will provide independence and stability for the high percentage of baby boomers who want to stay in their homes, even if they have physical limitations.
Modifications such as these in a physical urban environment offer greater independence for older adults in their everyday activities. Boomers will also be looking for pedestrian walkways, improved street design and accessibility for those using walkers, wheelchairs or motorized scooters. For recreation, accessibility to walking trails will also be required.
Smaller and Simpler Inside
In past years, boomers were expected to desire larger and more lavish homes, along with the rest of the population. However, smaller and simpler are what builders are hearing these days, not only from the aging population, but from millennials who are entering the real estate market.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB, homes are being scaled back by 200 to 400 square feet, and rooms often serve double-duty. A laundry room may be built larger to include space for a small office. A smaller “great room” will serve as kitchen, living and dining room. The formal living room has disappeared from most builders’ blueprints.
The National Age in Place Council
Retirement Living Information Center