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Sell more single-family homes to the active adult market by value engineering your designs with beautiful basics and fewer frills. Just don’t tell anyone.
This market segment, while changing, remains steadfast in its demands, so you need to offer your prospective buyers everything they want. If not, they simply won’t buy from you because they don’t have to.
As they have demonstrated during the last half-dozen recessions — and even in good times — prospective buyers in the active adult market are in no rush to buy and can usually stay put until they find what they want.
So, to help get them off the fence, don’t include elements in your homes or community that your buyers never really had to have in the first place.
- Second floors — offer second floors as options and avoid designing and placing any required rooms above the first floor.
- Three-car garages — but don’t forget to provide enough storage.
- Unnecessary rooms — offer formal living and dining in a great room product.
- All-brick homes — but don’t shortchange the street view.
- Complicated house and roof forms.
- The 50,000-square-foot clubhouse.
- Volume ceilings — but option them to younger active adults or use 9-foot ceilings throughout.
Meet Basic Demands With a Smaller, Less Complicated Floor Plan
The typical active adult buyers of single-family homes, while wanting everything, seem to have some basic demands.
They generally want two bedrooms — plus. The “plus room” can be shown as a den — that can easily be converted into a bedroom or exercise room — or as an actual third bedroom.
Your younger empty-nester might accept the second or third bedrooms on a second floor, but don’t offer that to your older active adult buyers. Position everything on the first floor for them — at almost any cost.
Two critical areas that can benefit from value engineering and improve your cost-to-build include room types and room count.
Offer your more formal buyers a formal living/dining room. But for your casual lifestyle buyers, eliminate the living room and, possibly, the dining room. Instead, provide a large, open great room. A flex room for formal dining, living or use as a den will appeal to these buyers and can eliminate up to 150 square feet without disappointing them.
Other obvious ways to subtly value engineer your current designs include: reducing hallway space; reducing wasted space such as unusable areas and spaces that can’t be furnished; using window placement to make smaller rooms appear larger; using 9-foot ceilings instead of vaulted ceilings; including some high glass; shrinking the master bath by including a larger shower instead of an oversized tub; and providing double-use spaces such as hallways that, when necessary, can serve as art galleries or work spaces.
A less complicated floor plan can reduce your cost-to-build as well. That doesn’t mean your plan should be a box. However, to achieve maximum effect from your street elevations, consider putting your offsets at the front of your plans.
Front porches play a big role in the boxy floor plans that we create. We have found that buyers will choose to add porches to a home when they won’t necessarily choose overly complicated plans.
Similarly, active adult buyers will choose other options to enhance their lifestyle, so value engineering should tap into this opportunity by allowing for pre-planned sunrooms, expanded rooms, basements and second floors in addition to porches.
Essentially, with value engineering, make sure the standard design works for your buyers, then option the add-ons and extras.
Simplify Your Plans Without Eliminating Essentials — or Their Appeal
The following floor plans and elevations depict several possibilities. If you know your buyers, their lifestyle and needs and price constraints, you can adjust your plan accordingly.
With the following plan, a 2,400-square-foot home was value engineered to 1,800 square feet without giving up the have-to-have items that buyers expected.
Value Engineering Your Elevations Won't Cost You the Sale
Elevations are one element of a home where active adult buyers enable builders and architects to cut costs.
Features such as overly complex roof structures, gables on hips on gables, high front-to-back roof lines and extensive use of expensive materials and detail are not necessary to make the sale. While you should not pare your floor plans to their absolute basics, you can simplify while still appealing to your buyers.
Concentrate on developing and keeping “character” in your product, even if it means limiting your stone or brick accents. You want to provide just enough detail to bring the warmth to your streetscape that your buyer insists upon.
Active adult buyers don’t want to be perceived as stepping down in prestige. They want to move into a house and community that more than meets — and expresses — their lifestyle needs.
You can achieve this by paying attention to details in the front door area as well as through window placement, an entry porch and, possibly, even a dormer. These types of details can make a one-story home feel more impressive. Also, consider adding a “feature” window in the front elevation.
Some Clubhouse Pointers
You will most likely still need to provide a clubhouse in your community, either up-front or as soon as possible when appealing to this market. But you can value engineer your clubhouse without diminishing its appeal to your prospective buyers.
First, consider whether or not to include an indoor pool. When including a pool, you should expect to build a clubhouse of at least 8,500 square feet to 9,500 square feet. Without one, you can conceivably offer a clubhouse of 7,000 square feet, or maybe even less, if you have to.
Keep your cost-to-build and cost-to-maintain in mind when designing the clubhouse. Focus on a few social and fitness activities and design the clubhouse so that elegance trumps square footage. Be imaginative and, as with your house plans, make the minimal feel gracious.
‘Location, Location, Location’ Still Matters
“Location, location, location” — one axiom we lost track of these past few years — is still important to these prospective buyers.
Do your homework to determine whether prospective buyers in your community want to be within a few miles and within easy access of a city or amenity, close to their children and grandchildren or near required facilities. Find out where they want to live, rather than just building an active adult community where you can get it approved.
The active adult market is changing dramatically. The age-restricted community may not have the broad appeal it once did. Younger retirees may be more inclined to want to stay within their existing community fabric.
I don’t believe that the larger, restricted communities will disappear, but they will attract a smaller percentage of the market — and that can be good news for the industry.
It means that more active adult products and communities in a variety of sizes can be built in cities and inner suburbs, as well as in their more traditional locations as builders continue to learn more about universal design and how to better design for an active adult market.
Yes, the active adult market won’t compromise much, but the return of baby boomers to the market in large numbers presents many new opportunities. In addition, many of us in the industry have the instincts and have conducted the research to provide what our market wants and, just as importantly, the flexibility to change as their needs and wants change.
So keep looking at your product and your buyers and keep trying to produce the value engineering that active adult buyers need and want — without taking out the essentials.
William J. Devereaux, Jr. is the president of Devereaux & Associates, P.C., a McLean, Va.-based architecture and planning firm. Devereaux has been involved in the design of thousands of active adult and 50+ housing — including land planning and clubhouse design — throughout the East Coast for the more than 35 years. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call him at 703-893-0102, or visit the company’s website at www.devereauxarch.com.
Highly visual, the book features projects showing room contexts and photos of details. Basic specifications, how-to tips and other technical content are featured throughout the book in easy-to-find boxes and sidebars.
To view or purchase this publication online, click here.
“Right House, Right Place, Right Time: Community and Lifestyle Preferences of the 45+ Housing Market,” available through NAHB BuilderBooks, will help determine the right design, home features and amenities to attract boomer home buyers in your market.
Author Margaret A. 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.