The traditional rite of passage for the senior set is familiar to many: retirement followed by a move to Florida or Arizona, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast or perhaps Spain’s Costa del Sol, for a life of pool lounging and early-bird specials.
Today’s older adults are very different from their prior generations. It’s not all about playing golf and warm weather.
Today’s retirees, however, are looking for more substance. Thanks to emerging technology—including medical advancements that help people stay healthy longer into old age—retirees are looking for new ways to spend their twilight years.
“I can definitively say that the idea of a traditional retirement community does not hold the same appeal for baby boomers that it did to the generation before,” says Mark Hager, founder and CEO of AgeInPlace.com.
“Today’s older adults are very different from their prior generations,” adds Anusuya Chatterjee, managing economist at the Milken Institute. “It’s not all about playing golf and warm weather. They are seeking out [places] that have quality healthcare, an active lifestyle, opportunity for intellectual stimulation and easy access to amenities.”
This shift in thinking—and its impact on housing—will continue to evolve as the number of seniors grows in the years ahead. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the population of Americans aged 65 to 74 will rise from 21.7 million in 2010 to 38.6 million in 2030. That’s a whopping 78 percent increase.
Now add in the flood of retirees from other nations around the world. Where will they all live?
Home Alone for Seniors
One retirement trend that has become popular in recent years is “Aging in Place,” which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
By “aging in place,” seniors can maintain their current lifestyle and even find part-time jobs to supplement or extend their retirement dollars. Plus, they can make an impact in a community instead of leaving for an institutionalized resort life. College towns and medium-sized cities such as Ashville, N.C., and San Diego have become popular destinations for American retirees to settle down.
“Retirees want to live in a vibrant economy that provides them and their children and grandchildren with job opportunities and entrepreneurial activities and volunteerism,” says Chatterjee.
Aging in place has become a good option for younger retirees. However, when people reach their 80s, their self-sufficient lifestyle often gets complicated as declining health requires formal care and routine activities such as driving become difficult.
“What we need is more multi-generational housing and more mixed-use redevelopment, where older people can live with their younger counterparts while getting support that they need from the community,” says Hager.
That’s the idea behind cohousing communities, which mix people of different generations in developments. The goal is to build an organic ecosystem whereby younger, able-bodied people can voluntarily assist seniors by running errands for them, providing medical assistance and serving as a social network. Cohousing has been attempted in various locales in the U.S. since the 1980s, but it has grown in popularity recently thanks to the unique needs of Boomers.
There’s another key factor that is impacting the housing decisions of boomers: financial concerns. Many seniors were hit hard by the economic collapse of 2008, which wreaked havoc on mutual fund, retirement and real estate investments. The effects of the recession have made seniors more cautious in their spending habits.
We will probably continue to see a lot of them downsizing or ‘right-sizing’—simplifying their lifestyle to have less clutter, less to manage.
Now that the economy has improved, some retirees are selling their homes and moving to smaller accommodations. “Those in suburban areas are in a good position to sell that larger home and get something that fits their lifestyle,” says Hager. “We will probably continue to see a lot of them downsizing or ‘right-sizing’—simplifying their lifestyle to have less clutter, less to manage.”
Chatterjee predicts many communities will be redesigned over the next 10 to 15 years to better integrate seniors with younger generations. That means initiatives such as virtual villages—in which seniors pay yearly fees to access resources that help them age in place—will be further refined. “The future communities for all ages would include opportunities for economic strength, quality healthcare, an active lifestyle, intellectual stimulation and connectivity and easy access to amenities,” says Chatterjee.
Hager believes developers will build more mixed-generation communities that better cater to the modern senior. However, it may take many years for them to fully take shape. Until then, boomers will try to make the best out of their available options.
“A few developers will get a good concept for a retirement community, and some consumers will choose that,” he says. “But overall, most seniors will stay where they are because they want to. Or, because they feel like they have to.”