Kay Vogt is getting ready to start her new life.

The tall, blond fifty-something widow is selling the Glen Ellyn, Illinois house in which she raised her college-age daughter and is moving to Chicago’s west loop, a neighborhood that is increasingly attracting aging baby boomers as well as single professionals.

Once known for its population of prostitutes and street people, this former industrial area has been reclaimed over the past generation, as developers bought up aging warehouses and office buildings and converted them to condos. Once vacant lots now boast steel and glass skyscrapers with dry cleaners, grocery stores and gourmet coffee shops on the first floor.

Trendy restaurants, shops, and clubs draw thousands of local residents and suburbanites on evenings and weekends, making parking almost impossible, while morning tapings at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo studios bring the area to life during the week.

“There’s just more activity. The suburbs are so family-oriented and not oriented to adult living,” Vogt said as she walked the empty hallways of her brand new condo. “It’s time for me to have fun.”

“Cities almost become naturally-occurring retirement communities,” said Susan Brecht, a housing consultant based in Philadelphia, PA., who is watching this phenomenon occur in major cities nationwide. “As people’s children leave home, they get to move back into the city where they’ve always wanted to live but didn’t want to raise their children.”

Brecht says Baby Boomers do not view retirement the way their parents and grandparents did. For starters, they’re much more active.

“My 55 is not my mother’s 55,” Brecht stated. “I think there is a change in how different generations respond to the aging process. And, that’s what we’re seeing (now) and will see in a dramatic way for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Since most of her research focuses on the Boomer population, Brecht has been closely monitoring her generation’s real estate wants and needs.

Apparently, they want and need a lot of different things. With more than 70 million baby boomers heading into retirement over the next 30 years, the challenge for real estate developers is to figure out what kind of home they’ll choose.

It’s definitely not “one size fits all.”

“People in this age group are very demanding,” explained Brecht. “They want options. They want choices. They’re extremely sophisticated buyers. They will have toured a number of other communities, and you really need to know your consumers, your buyer, to suit their needs.”

Jean Neumann, chief marketing officers for Neumann Homes, a developer building homes for seniors and baby boomers in Illinois and Colorado, admits the challenge of building for the Baby Boomers is creating something a diverse audience will appreciate.

Amenities, Newmann Homes discovered through research, are key. Their active-adult communities include a large clubhouse that can be rented out for events, swimming pools, walking paths, and other activities to keep people busy in their community.

“It’s similar to what you see in Florida,” Neumann said. “We do it at the entry-level price point which is anywhere from the low $100,000 range for single family houses to slightly under $100,000 for townhomes.”

In addition to amenities, many Boomers are looking for single-story living. And they want whatever they buy to feel luxurious.

“It will be elaborate. The master bedroom and bath will include a large bedroom with terrific walk-in closets. It will incorporate a bathroom that will have a separate tub and shower stall,” explained Brecht. Boomers now expect granite, custom cabinetry, and top-of-the line appliances even at entry-level prices.

But is that so different from what the majority of home buyers want today, regardless of age?

Perhaps not, admits Brecht. “But the older consumers that are selling their homes didn’t buy the home that the younger consumer has helped to design with all of those nice amenities.”

“They’re moving from a house that didn’t contain those features and are looking for one that does,” she added. “It may not be that what each generation wants is all that different, but it’s a function of where and how you’re living now and where you would like to be living in the future.”

A maintenance-free lifestyle seems to be at the top of the list.

“That’s what I’m after,” said Boomer Kay Vogt. “I want to own something where I can travel and no one knows I”m gone and there’s no outside to take care of and no maintenance to do. I am past that.”

And how does her daughter feel?

“She’s leaving for college in August and she’s going to the west coast. At first, she wasn’t too pleased with the move because she wanted to come home and visit her friends in Glen Ellyn,” Vogt recalled. “But now she’s getting pretty excited. She saw this place and loved it.”

“And now I’m thinking her friends will come down here and stay (overnight) here when they come home from college,” she added.

Published: June 11, 2004