There are 86+ million Americans aged 55+ in America today.1 According to Nielsen, by 2018 more than 50% of the US population will be 50 years or older.2 These Americans are diverse and discerning, and as a result, builders and developers are acutely focused on them. But still more time needs to be spent understanding who they are and how they really want to live.
Age-qualified. Active adult. Age-targeted. Active lifestyle communities. Ageless living. Nearly every major national homebuilder has released a new brand and product for 55+ buyers. Dr. Margaret Wylde, an active researcher, author, and the founder and CEO of ProMatura, a global market research and advisory firm specializing in 50+ consumers and their housing preferences, shares her view on ageless housing: “Take the age out of it. Age doesn’t matter. It’s a place to live.”
Where did age-qualified housing really come from?
Margaret offers a history lesson that bears repeating. “The only reason we have age-qualified housing is because it kept out the younger people from nursing homes –the young kids with head trauma or some other injuries that meant they needed care and had to be there. They wanted to play their music loud and be kids. That’s how it came about, and that’s about all the thought we should give age today.”
My experience has been the opposite. Much time is spent deciding what to call housing targeted to the 55+ consumer and to send a clear signal that this is a place for them, but not the place where “those people” live. How to feel age-targeted, but not? Is it a product? A place? A lifestyle? What’s the new dimension that improves upon the pioneering work of Del-Webb and their expansive clubhouses, golf cart paths and planned activities?
Focus on customer niches, not product niches.
None of us are alike. Although it is more efficient to develop and build based on a template, there is no one model that works for all 55+ customers — it’s about creating spaces that people can use and come to when they want to and where they can get together with friends how and when they want to. Although some older homebuyers prefer to live on a street with others who are mostly at home during the day, not all want the same product.
Community amenities are important to certain 55+ buyers, but not at all to others. There is room for both and a need for more creativity beyond amenities. This requires less financial investment, but requires more thought. According to Margaret, “small-town feel” wins out more often than “resort-style amenities” in every survey she does, and how a community feels is more important than the home itself. She will also tell you customers are actually willing to pay more, sometimes $20,000 – 25,000 per house, for that small-town feel. That can translate into tangible development dollars to put into planning and creating that palpable, demonstrable feeling of community.
What is that “small-town” feeling?
Helen Foster is Principal of Foster Strategy, a real estate development consultancy providing concept, marketing and operations guidance to some of the most creative and respected multigenerational and 55+ communities. To her, small-town feeling comes down to creating places for intergenerational connections. “People are working longer and supporting their kids or grandkids, assisting the family in other ways, and they are looking for active adult experiences in a number of different interpretations,” she says.
It’s about experience and engagement. You can feel it when you see it. That front porch-ness. The energy. Helen advocates that successful developers targeting 55+ buyers bring the lifestyle of a community forward, early. And food and beverage is a big one. “Convertible amenity spaces that can be activated with F&B events are essential. Open spaces that connect indoors and out,” she continued. Echoing Margaret’s research, Foster notes that “Amenity scale is essential. Consumers don’t want to pay for more than they will use or have amenities that are beyond something they can realistically sustain.”
The “3 As” of ageless living — and age isn’t one of them.
To bring it all together, Helen believes there has never been a time when homebuilding mattered more and offers three areas of focus for targeting 55+ customers, driven by their individuality:
Access — to things that feel city-close, experiences they have always enjoyed, places that encourage a connected and fulfilling life.
Affordability — will continue to be a driver, but don’t presume it means an acceptance of homes of lesser quality.
Aesthetic appeal — there’s an unmet need for creating smaller, more contemporary design elements that surprise and delight consumers and let them express their individuality.
Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki is the principal of tst ink, bringing a customer-focused “how might we?” approach to creating communities and brands that connect and engage with how people want to live their lives. www.tst-ink.com