Small Is the New Big in Active Adult Communities
Now is the perfect time to be a small or midsize builder of active adult communities, according to one of the country’s leading 50+ housing marketing consultants.
Janis Ehlers, CAASH
The Ehlers Group
“For many years big was in — big communities with extensive amenities,” said Janis Ehlers, CAASH, of The Ehlers Group, a marketing and communications company that specializes in real estate development and active adult communities.
“While these fully-amenitized communities may continue to hold appeal with the growing number of boomers looking for new homes, there are tremendous opportunities for smaller niche communities,” said Ehlers during a presentation at the International Builders’ Show in Orlando last month.
Ehlers said that marketing strategies used by big builders and their communities can easily be adapted for smaller communities — with the same level of success.
These strategies for small and midsized active adult communities include:
- Builders should take the opportunity to build brand recognition of both their company and the community.
Big builders often are known only by their corporate name rather than by the new community, Ehlers said. The smaller builder can take advantage of this shortcoming by creating a strong community identity in the local marketplace. Brand should be more than a logo and positioning tag line, she stressed. It should represent what the community and company stand for.
- Boomers like dealing with the top dog, Ehlers said. Smaller builders can take advantage by being more accessible to individual home buyers. But she also cautioned builders to remember that boomers talk with their neighbors and compare notes. If builders make concessions to a home buyer, word will get around. There needs to be consistency, she said.
- Boomers like to see their builder in the field and involved with checking on their new home. Ehlers recommended that small builders attend community events and take advantage of every opportunity to build a stronger customer relationship ― including recognizing their buyers and knowing their names. Customers appreciate name recognition, she said.
- Adhere to the “pronounce-ability” factor when naming a new community, Ehlers stressed. Choose a name that resonates with the customer or taps into the historical relevance of the site’s location. She recommended starting with a telephone book for naming ideas and using the Internet to research whether names have been taken or see how they have been used in other communities.
- Commit to a marketing plan and budget with a timeline and plan for expenditures and contingencies. Big builders have a track record and history, Ehlers said. Their budgets are “on the shelf” and ready to be updated for the next community they develop.
It is a challenge for smaller builders to plan in advance, but it is well worth the effort, she said. She suggested that builders use marketing and other subcontractors who can assist them in estimating expenditures.
- Plan how to respond to early inquiries and build an interest list. These initial leads are worth their weight in gold, Ehlers said. While big builders may route calls to phone rooms, smaller builders can offer the immediacy of a quick response by phone or e-mail — and a personal touch.
- Be prepared to market a community from the moment it is put before local officials for its first presentation ― if not before. Word gets out, Ehlers said, and builders need to be ready for an inquiring public. Even a temporary Web site can capture interest and help promote a new community.
- Web inquiries are hot leads, she said, noting that the customer who e-mails on Sunday could be a very hot prospect. Being able to quickly respond is key.
- Draw from a team of experts with active adult and real estate experience and benefit from their expertise rather than save money with people who are learning at your expense. A “penny wise and pound foolish” approach could put a new community in a poor position in the marketplace — one that could be expensive to overcome.
- Take advantage of hosting intimate strategic promotional events to create traffic and sales. Boomers are curious about who their neighbors will be and welcome the opportunity to meet them in informal gatherings, Ehlers said.
She also recommended that builders take advantage of off-site venues such as local art galleries, sports arenas or wine bars to host similar events. Even people who may not attend will enjoy knowing there are things happening to promote the community. The boomer customer loves to party and appreciates opportunities to interact.
- Plan activities early in the sales process. Create a preliminary activity calendar as part of the collateral package rather than waiting for first occupants, Ehlers said.
Market the area's lifestyle and promote the external community’s benefits. Even if customers are local, they may not realize how close the community will be to local library, recreation and day-tripping opportunities.
- Big builders may add a lifestyle director during their launch. Smaller builders can offer a part-time recreation staff person by simply using collateral materials.
A big key with active adult communities is that builders have to promote lifestyle — not just real estate. Promote the positives of a smaller community center and its economic value as well as walking paths, community gardens, RV and boat parking and other lifestyle amenities.
- Look for media alternatives to weekly advertising. Consider everything — good signage, the Internet, publicity and more — to reach potential purchasers, Ehlers said.
Marketing a new, smaller active adult community may take some legwork. She suggested that builders work with their local media representative to find bargains and alternatives.
By incorporating these strategies, niche builders of smaller active adult communities will be better able to market the “hometown advantage,” attract boomers and compete with big dogs.
Janis Ehlers, CAASH, is one of the nation’s foremost active adult and senior housing specialists and has built a 30-year career in marketing and communications. She heads The Ehlers Group, an award-winning strategic marketing company with offices in Florida and Virginia specializing in real estate development and active adult communities throughout the country. Her corporate experience includes marketing positions with two major developers of active adult communities, Levitt & Sons and Cenvill Corp. A Certified Active Adult Specialist in Housing (CAASH), Ehlers is active in national and regional associations related to 50+ housing. She has an MBA in real estate from Nova Southeastern University. For more information, e-mail Ehlers, or call her at 954-726-9228.
Tour Top 50+ Communities in New Orleans
Sign up for the active adult housing tour at the 2008 Boomers and Beyond: 50+ Housing Symposium in New Orleans, May 19-21.
The symposium will also feature the most innovative new community designs during the Best of 50+ Housing Awards gala.
Click here to register, or for more information.
Earn CAASH Credits at Building for Boomers & Beyond
The three required courses for the Certified Active Adult Specialist in Housing (CAASH) designation will be held Saturday, May 17 and Sunday, May 18 at the 2008 Building for Boomers & Beyond: 50+ Housing Symposium in New Orleans.
The CAASH designation gives housing professionals serving this rapidly burgeoning market the essential knowledge, tools and skills that will help them succeed.
To learn more about CAASH, visit www.nahb.org/CAASHinfo.
Find Out What the 45+ Housing Market Wants
“Right House, Right Place, Right Time: Community and Lifestyle Preferences of the 45+ Housing Market,” available through BuilderBooks.com, will help 50+ housing professionals determine the right design, home features and amenities to attract boomer home buyers in their market.
Margaret Wylde guides readers through the latest survey results on this important consumer group and explains what their responses mean for today’s and tomorrow’s home building industry.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here, or call 800-223-2665.