When it comes to figuring out what to call aging Baby Boomers, forget about using the word “senior.”
Del Webb, a unit of Detroit-based Pulte Homes, which builds about 20,000 homes for “active adults” age 55 and older, doesn’t use the word “senior” in its promotional materials.
“Baby Boomers start to turn 60 this year and they are the healthiest, wealthiest and most fit generation,” notes Dan Owens, a housing consultant who specializes in communities for older Americans.
“Sixty is the new 40,” he adds. “Advertisers are starting to figure out that Americans at 60 years of age or older have the money to spend on their products.”
Advertisers aren’t the only ones. With thousands of Baby Boomers turning 60 every day, the focus for home builders has been to develop age-restricted communities that combine maintenance-free living with a cornucopia of recreational, social, and lifestyle opportunities.
In fact, when describing the social infrastructure and recreational attributes of a Del Web, Dave Schreiner, Pulte’s vice president for Active Adult Business Development, sounds like he’s describing a high-priced country club.
“The social infrastructure is the clubs, activities, programs — that is bringing people together, socializing, conversing, being around each other,” he explains. “There’s a creative focus that has to do with the lifelong learning, education programs, creative expression, arts, crafts, computer-oriented programs. And then there’s a health and fitness-oriented piece, which is wellness programs, fitness centers, aerobics, dance classes, meditation, spa treatments, that sort of thing.”
Del Webb research shows that the vast majority of their buyers are looking to buy “lifestyle” when they move.
But not everyone wants the same thing.
With nearly 78 million Boomers approaching their retirement years, Owens said the biggest mistake economists and housing industry observers make is assuming this group will move like a herd.
While the vast majority of buyers intend to live full-time in a Del Webb community, for example, aging Boomers often buy second homes as an investment. Many are retiring to college towns where they plan to take full advantage of the intellectual stimulation and resources available.
On a large scale, Owens said Boomers aged 50 and over are moving from the North to the Southeast. North Carolina is the fifth most popular state for retirees to move to, and South Carolina is twelfth.
“Florida is seeing the departure of “half-backs,” Owens adds. “They’ve moved from the North to Florida and are now moving half way back to North Carolina.”
As Boomers age, universal design is becoming more important, notes Richard Duncan, head of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.
“There are 5 to 6 design elements that can be added to a house to make it much more user-friendly as we age,” explains Duncan. “Raising appliances so you don’;t have to bend over and having a master control for all electronics, air conditioning and heating systems, blinds and other things sound good for everyone, but they’re especially good for seniors.”
“If we could eliminate all steps in our houses, we would,” adds Schreiner. “But to make a house complete step-free would add thousands of dollars in costs.”
Schreiner says Del Webb homes have fewer windows to help cut glare, which can be tough on older eyes. The company practices universal exterior design as well.
“Our golf course sand traps have a low side so it’s easy to climb out of them,” he reveals.
One thing on which housing experts agree: “People are savvier about using their dollars today,” Owen notes. “They move around a lot.”
“AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) says people want to stay in the house that they’ve been living in. Maybe some do. But the new trend is for the Boomers to move to a new place. They’ve already moved 5 to 6 times in their life and they’re okay with moving again for their retirement,” explains Duncan.
So when might you use the word “senior?”
You might use it to describe the 72,000 Americans aged 100 and older, a group that is expected to grow to 300,000 by the year 2030.