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America turns gray.

Mature buyers figure prominently in the plans of builders - and of this magazine - for the coming year.

By now, you've probably heard that every eight seconds a baby boomer turns 50. Or that the biggest growth market for housing during the next 15 years will be people 55 and older.

Builders everywhere have gotten the message. Whether tweaking plans for less-mobile buyers, developing new ones for empty-nesters, offering amenity packages geared to active adults, or building age-restricted retirement communities, builders are preparing for the aging of America.

Showing Promise

"The 55-plus market is possibly the strongest and most promising long-term segment of the housing market," LeRoy Hanneman of Del Webb Corp. told potential investors recently. "It's just too big a market for other people not to shoot at."

Especially considering that this segment controls more than half the discretionary income in America. "It's one of the more profitable parts of the housing industry," says Isaac Heimbinder, president and co-CEO of U.S. Home Corp. "We have an opportunity in each market [we do business in] to create a retirement community.

A retirement community usually isn't necessary to attract older buyers. AARP's most recent housing survey, for instance, shows that only 18 percent of people 55 and older want to live in an age-restricted community. Tony Green builds for a wide array of empty-nesters on Cape Cod; his product has ranged from $150,000 to $1.9 million. First-floor masters, direct-access garages, flexible space for a home office, low-maintenance exteriors, and appealing surrounds (like lakes and woods) make the homes desirable. "This is a difficult buyer to please," says Green. "They don't have to move."

For builders who can coax older buyers out of their current homes - whether it's through design or a community amenity such as golf - the payoff can be great. Contrary to conventional wisdom, people in the 55 to 64 age group trade up rather than down more than half the time, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Big Plans

BUILDER plans to explore the market this year. We'll be doing our first BUILDER marketing workshop on mature buyers from June 4 to 7 in Las Vegas. It will feature presentations from Del Webb, U.S. Home, Continental Homes, and Tony Green, among others. (If you'd like to attend, send me your business card or see the ad on pages 120-121.) At the workshop, we'll be unveiling the results of our research into the desires of these buyers.

So much of the industry's attention in recent years has been focused on prodding a house in the 'burbs for the typical family of four with two kids. Clearly, we're on the verge of a major demographic upheaval.

As Pulte Home Corp.'s Jim Weissenborn says, "We're very focused on this market. You have to be. It's almost a demographic imperative."

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Title Annotation:builders and the aging population
Author:Thompson, Boyce
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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