Demand for Maintenance-Free Living Grows Among Baby Boomers

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When Deborah and Thomas Turcol decided to leave San Deigo after 15 years, they bought the kind of house they had always dreamed of, with open floors, gorgeous views-and no backyard to care for. "We wanted a house that seemed more like a resort," Deborah Turcol said.

The couple moved into a house in an active adult community - an age targeted development for those 55 and above-in Surprise, Ariz. They joined the growing number of baby boomers seeking a different kind of housing, one that offers maintenance-free living not far from where they worked and lived or that's close to family and friends.

“The buyer wants all the goodies with none of the maintenance,” says Dorcas Helfant, general managing partner of Coldwell Banker Professional Realtors. “The boomer can travel, see the world and play golf or tennis when he so chooses. This is a step between single-family and senior housing.”

In its annual survey of baby boomers, Del Webb, a developer, found that 59 percent had plans to relocate for retirement. In a comparable survey in 1999, that figure was 31 percent. Seven percent of those planning to move, or about 2.4 million retiring baby boomers are likely to move to an active adult community.

“Whenever the baby boomers went, whatever they wanted, they created a surge in the market,” says Zudi Karagjozi, president and founder of East-Brunswick, N.J based Kara Homes. “The future of the market lies in fulfilling their needs as they enter their golden years.

Already, there are 7.7 million homes in age-targeted communities, according to the 2001 American Housing Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Housing and Urban Development Corporation.

“These people are a younger and more energetic group than what we would think of as seniors,” says Stella Koop, an architect with Chicago-based RTKL, a home design company. “Typically their kids are grown up and have gone to college, and they want very little maintenance because many are still working –they don’t want to mow the lawn, shovel the snow or plant flowers.”

Not only is the type of home they want different-single floor, condominium type, often gated-even the prize location is different.

“Older communities were developed in South Florida, Arizona and South California, mainly because of the weather,” says Bob Schultz, a housing consultant based in Boca Raton, Fla. “Now, people in their 50s are not moving to the Sun Belt. They want to stay close to their families in lifestyle communities in places like South Carolina or just outside metros like Chicago or New York.

Thirty-one percent of baby boomers surveyed by Del Webb said they would move only about three hours away from their current locations.

Another recent trend is for people to return places where they went to school or to a university town where they have access to adult education or cultural events and where they are very closer to medical centers, shopping and recreational events.

“For intellectual stimulation, they want to go to college towns like Raleigh in North Carolina and Madison-Wisconsin in the Midwest,” Koop said.

“Since not everyone is inclined toward living in the suburbs, they want the cultural environment of museums, theaters and restaurants,” said Allen F. Goldman, senior vice-president of Applied Development, a Hohoken, N.J.-based developer.

The Turcols can take a 40-minute bus ride to Phoenix to go shopping. They spend $750 a year on maintenance of the grounds around their house, one of 8,000 age-targeted homes in the Sun City Grand complex. “That’s much less than what we paid in san Diego, and we have four golf courses and a lake right here, too.”

There is distinct change in the way these communities are marketed. They are not advertised as assisted living complexes but as resort-style dwellings. Developers say their target customer is one who is already a homeowner and merely looking for a different kind of house.

“The buyer is definitely upper income,” Helfant said. “Not necessarily top-tier but definitely someone who has had properly and is looking to lead a footloose and fancy-free life.”

It helps that the baby boomer’s estimated annual spending power is more than a trillion dollars, according to MetLife’s Mature Market institute analysis.

The average household income for the younger boomers (ages 35-44) is $52,626 after taxes; $54,149 for older boomers (ages 45-54) 70 percent of them are homeowners and 30 percent of their expenditure is on housing.

In may 2003, Gloria Bivins, 54, and Emmett, her husband, sold the house they had lived in for 14 years in Lakewood, N.J., and bought one for the next stage of their lives: One that would offer them more freedom, more time and more space.

“We are empty-nesters, and we wanted a house that needed very little maintenance,” said Gloria Bivins. Kara's web page is


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George G Garmus