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Builders prep for senior rush

Colleen M. Farell
Dolan Media Newswires

Rochester, N.Y. — The much-hyped “silver tsunami” is something for which even home builders should be bracing.

That’s the advice of a recent national study, “55+: Builders, Buyers and Beyond,” conducted by the MetLife Mature Market Institute on what baby boomers will be looking for when it comes to building a home for their golden years.

The 55 and older group is projected to be one of the key drivers of the national home construction market, the study reports, but industry observers say senior housing already is an important sector.

“The numbers are staggering for our baby boomer industry, and 50-plus housing already is a big market,” said Dawn Aprile, chairwoman of the board of the Rochester Home Builders’ Association. “That will only increase based on the population statistics.”

Seniors aren’t rushing to the Sun Belt to find their home for their golden years, Aprile said. Because seniors are working longer or want to stay close to their family, friends and an established support network, more are choosing to stick around, she said.

The top four reasons cited by seniors who choose to build are the desire for a maintenance-free lifestyle, the desire to move closer to family, lower living costs and a desire to change neighborhoods.

“That results in more demand in our area with our existing people,” Aprile said.

The report suggests homebuilders aren’t always aware of just how the silver tsunami will affect their businesses, specifically when it comes to the amenities seniors will want in a new dwelling.

Study respondents said they value features such as nonslip floors, larger medicine cabinets, lower kitchen cabinets and emergency call buttons, features “many builders see as less important,” according to the report.

Where builders and consumers see eye-to-eye, according to the report, seems to be in building near shopping centers or health care providers.

The MetLife study found that the suburbs are a popular senior choice, with 32 percent of respondents desiring a home in inner-ring suburbs, 31 percent in outlying suburbs and 28 percent in rural communities. Just 9 percent said they would want to buy a home in a central city.

Jay Tovey, president of Rochester-based Tovey Co., said he is fully aware of how critical it will be for his homebuilding and renovation company to be ready to serve the region’s seniors, which is why he became an aging-in-place specialist certified by the National Association of Home Builders.

“I’ve pursued it because I’ve had to deal with it in my own personal life,” he said, “helping my parents as they’ve aged — both of them are now into their 90s — and we’ve done so many retrofits to existing homes.”

A smaller home also is a popular choice, Tovey said.

“I think that’s been the trend, to go for higher quality, little bit smaller space,” he said.
Features seniors want include first-floor master suites and accessible bathrooms and closet space, Tovey said. Those elements also are part of universal design, a design theory enabling anyone — a senior, someone with special needs or any able person — to use the space.

Features include wider doorways and hallways, walk-in showers, more lighting features and at least one step-less entrance installed to grade.

Universal design basically comprises small details “that, if you think about them in advance, you get a better design for the masses,” Tovey said.

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