Baby Boomers and Retirement: What Housing Options Lie Ahead?
by Marvin D. Roos

Today’s adults who are approaching their retirement years have a range of expectations that are considerably broader than their parents or certainly their grandparents. But with those expectations come a number of dynamic conditions that affect their decisions regarding the timing of retirement and where they will live.

First, the recent and ongoing economic implosion has rendered early retirement a fantasy for many. This suggests that a greater number of households will extend their stay in traditional housing rather than move to a more choice retirement locale. The new housing options and choices predicted for Baby Boomers prior to the recent recession are just not happening now. While we can expect more new retirement-focused housing in the future—particularly in the Sun Belt areas, the expected numbers will likely stay low for another five years or so.

Second, with housing values eroding significantly during the economic meltdown, many Boomers may have a smaller nest egg than they had envisioned. When retirement is a finally a reality, they will have more modest expectations for their residences. So, they will likely be looking for retirement housing that is smaller and less expensive than what they would have envisioned a decade ago. The good news is that this is a step toward more sustainable senior housing environments in the future. Smaller single-family abodes will still be an option for those who wish to relocate.

However, an interesting housing alternative under these “reduced expectation” circumstances may be more forms of co-housing, in which more than one family shares a housing situation. It might be two or more unrelated single adults sharing a large home—similar to the “dual master suites” concept popular in condominium development in resort areas. It could go beyond that to six or more families building a housing complex that has separate living quarters but shared kitchen and entertainment spaces. This housing concept has found some adherents, particularly those who like living in a supportive community. Certainly the general trend toward higher densities and compact building footprints will also factor into retirement housing options.

A third hallmark in the kinds of housing options that Baby Boomers may prefer is a greater interest in fitness activities than their predecessors. With many denying that they are aging and preferring to avoid anything that connotes “senior,” retirement communities will have to eliminate labels that suggest old age or infirmity. While there will still be the need for the full range of retirement living options that are currently available, the success of “active adult” communities will require a greater focus on fitness and health activities. Builders such as Del Webb are designing home and amenities to appeal to the interests of those who are 55+, with features such as diverse clubs and classes, multi-purpose community centers, and strong neighborhood networks. Golf is likely to assume a smaller role in many new communities due to higher costs for land and water. This could put a damper on construction of new courses, but could also shift attention to existing courses to keep them economically viable.

Thus, community developers that have been planning to provide new housing opportunities will be fighting over a smaller pool of buyers until more Boomers can finally afford to move. There is definitely a growing market, however, so innovative builders can be successful if they properly respond to what this generation finds important. These elements include sustainability, quality architecture with many styles to choose from, health, wellness, and community. 

Marvin D. Roos is the Director of Design Development at MSA Consulting, Inc. and can be reached at:

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