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Baby Boomers Shaping Up as a Prickly Market for Seniors Housing
Home builders and developers who hope to capitalize on the 30 million post-World War II baby boomers who are starting to enter their senior years should proceed with caution. While it is true that members of this age group expect to be moving to another home at some time in the future, panelists at the NAHB Seniors Housing Symposium said, they won’t be looking for the same things as the generations that preceded them.
These “nexers” are “very, very different from people in your active adult communities now,” Myrl Axelrod, president of New York City-based Marketing Directions Associates, said at the symposium, which was held in Chicago on April 14-16. She based her remarks on the results of ongoing research by Feinberg & Associates.
In a “search for answers to what makes the nexers tick,” Bill Feinberg said that his company last year held a series of in-depth focus group discussions in the Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, NC; and Chicago metropolitan markets. The study looked at boomers with high incomes of $150,000-$225,000+ and those with middle-incomes in the $60,000-$100,000 range.
Axelrod said that the Feinberg research identified several characteristics of the nexer generation:
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- They are not ready to move yet. Many are still raising a family; many are worried about finances, and many are preoccupied with their children’s future. “This is a Peter Pan generation,” said Axelrod. “They think they are never going to get old. This is so much a part of their self-image that it will have a great deal to do with that they do with their housing.”
Boomers believe it could be five to 10 years before they are in a position to move, and when they do start looking at “next-stage” housing “they won’t come in one wave,” she predicted. “Each individual family has its own timetable.”
“We in the industry have to start thinking about a totally new paradigm,” Axelrod said. Nexers are not thinking about housing because “there’s nothing out there that’s really appealing to them.”
- Nexers may never fully retire. Those with high incomes want to keep working because it keeps them mentally active, she said, while those with middle incomes think they never will be able to make it financially if they retire.
- Active adult communities turn nexers off, even though they acknowledge that in their current situation they may have an extra bedroom they don’t need and lawns they don’t want to take care of, Axelrod said. There is also a stigma associated with living in a retirement community: “They wouldn’t want their friends or children to know they were living in this type of community,” she said.
- Nexers believe that active adult communities are segregated from the rest of society, she said. “They want to be with a mixed population that makes them feel young.” They also believe that active-adult homes all look the same: “The people look the same and they even do the same things,” she said, making architectural diversity “so important.”
The study also identified several things that are appealing to nexers:
- Maintenance-free homes hold enormous appeal and could be the hook that gets them to move. “They are intrigued by having a place where everything is taken care of,” Axelrod said.
- Every focus session brought up the desirability of a Main Street concept where homes are planned within walking distance of restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters, boutiques and services. Nexers are looking for a return to a “simpler life,” she said, and “don’t want to have to get into their car for everything they do.”
- Nexers like the idea of getting back to nature and prefer outdoor activities like hiking, boating and fishing over golf and tennis. They are not interested in elaborate clubhouses, but are looking for a place they can meet with their friends. A location next to a bird sanctuary is a good site for housing for this market, Axelrod said.
- Nexers want to live within a reasonable drive to a city.
In the next stage of its research, Feinberg & Associates will be studying product preferences, including site designs and floor plans.
More information from the Seniors Housing Symposium will appear in the May 10 issue of Nation’s Building News Online.
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