12:00:00 AM

55 plus: What gets seniors moving?

By Jane Adler
Special to the Tribune

People over 50 are not particularly inclined to move, but they can be persuaded if they're offered an attractive housing alternative.

That's the main finding of continuing research being conducted by the National Association of Home Builders. The Washington, D.C.-based group, under the direction of researcher Paul Emrath, has been mining U.S. Census data, along with the American Housing Survey, to find out what older home buyers want.

The results of the research are gradually being published by the builder association's division that focuses on homes for older buyers, the 50+ Housing Council. The latest findings recently were put on the builders' Web site.

"In most cases, people in this age group don't have to move," said Emrath, assistant staff vice president of housing policy research at the National Association of Home Builders. "They have to have a reason to move."

In 2005, only about 4.94 percent of people age 55 and over moved. Still, Emrath said 20 percent of the new homes this year will be bought by people 55 or older, a segment of the market that builders can't afford to ignore. Also, older buyers tend to buy new homes rather than existing ones -- another reason builders are paying close attention to the 55-plus segment.

So what kind of homes are older people buying? In general, those moving into an age-restricted project, such as the Del Webb Sun City developments, wanted a house that was bigger than their old one. They also wanted a house of better quality. And despite the fact that older buyers tended to have money and pay cash for their homes, they were concerned about prices. "They are aware that they may be retiring soon and their income may not continue at the same level, so they were conservative," said Emrath.

A reason some people move, one not captured by the census data, is for security or health reasons, Emrath said. Older people may move to be close to a medical facility or they may want to be in a safer neighborhood.

Older buyers are being lured into new homes that have lots of luxury features, according to Evanston architect Scott Roth, who designs active adult projects. His firm does work for Traditions of America, a Pennsylvania-based builder with age-restricted developments. Roth is also working on several local projects by R.A. Faganel Builders. Its new Batavia development on Kirk Road will be called Prairie Commons, which is targeted at empty nesters, but is not restricted to those 55 and up.

"Buyers want customization," said Roth, president at Roth Architects Inc. In particular, they are looking for gourmet kitchens, often with high-end appliances such as a Viking range and Sub-Zero refrigerator. "These buyers want to be pampered."

Floor plans are wide open, he added. Buyers want a kitchen that opens to a dining room and what Roth calls a lifestyle room (sometimes called a great room). .

That's an important consideration for the older buyer. They want a place where they can have their children and grandchildren visit for the weekend. Floor plans often include a loft space, where grandkids could stay. A finished basement is another popular option that provides additional living space for visitors.

On the horizon: two master suites. The addition of a second master suite gives a couple the option of each having a private space, or leaving the second suite available for visitors.

Ranches with two master suites are expensive to build because the design uses so much land, Roth said. So, in most developments, expect to see the second master suite upstairs.

Another important feature for older buyers is the community's clubhouse. "They want to know they are buying into a community with all the bells and whistles," said Roth.

Clubhouse locker rooms are big and nice. Many are something like a luxury spa with rooms for massage therapy and steam rooms. Many places include indoor and outdoor swimming pools. And in order to make it easy to entertain grandchildren, many of the clubhouses at new communities will include pools just for the kids, or playgrounds.

"It all comes down to a sense of community," noted Roth. "People want to be with other people."


Jane Adler is a Chicago-area freelance writer. Write to her at Senior Housing, c/o Chicago Tribune Real Estate, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Or, e-mail realestate@tribune.com. Sorry, she cannot make personal replies. Answers will be supplied only through the newspaper.

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