David Kennedy – Downsizing Baby Boomers Choosing Attached and Single-family Housing

Daily Herald

February 17, 2016

Many baby boomers are in the process of giving up their single-family homes in favor of attached living (condominiums or townhouses) as they seek a more carefree lifestyle, according to David Kennedy, principal of KTGY Architecture + Planning.

Many of these “anti-outdoor maintenance” boomers are gravitating to suburban downtown areas where they can walk to restaurants, theaters and bars and also have easy access to public transportation that will take them to downtown Chicago for even more activity.

Others are opting for smaller single-family homes on smaller lots because they want to maintain their privacy and are concerned about hearing their neighbors in a multifamily living arrangement. This group of boomers often enjoys gardening and grilling and will choose communities where boating, hiking, bicycling and other outdoor endeavors are king.

“There is lots of demand for both types of housing. Those with out-of-town children find it particularly difficult to give up space because they want it for when their children come to visit. They also find it difficult to give up a houseful of furniture,” he noted.

But no matter the housing choices boomers make, indoors they are seeking similar amenities, Kennedy said.

They want ample space to entertain, including en-suite bedrooms where their out-of-town children and grandchildren can stay while visiting.

Boomers also tend to want at least one multifunctional room to tranform to suit individual needs — from a music room, to an office, to a formal living or dining room.

They also want well-designed spaces that incorporate “universal design” principles without screaming “age in place.” Safety features like grab bars should be disguised as towel bars and wider hallways that could someday accommodate a wheelchair should just look like an open floor plan.

An open floor plan is a “must” for most boomers who want their smaller homes to appear larger than they are and who crave natural light and great traffic flow.

In addition, thanks to the many television cooking shows, most boomers want oversize gourmet kitchens with space for guests and family members to congregate around at least one, but maybe two, islands. Built-in seating at the islands is also a common request.

Many also desire a “snore” room next to the master bedroom where the spouse who is lying awake because of a snoring partner can take respite, Kennedy said. This room could someday be used for a visiting grandbaby or even a caregiver, if necessary.

And when it comes to master bathrooms, tubs are disappearing. Instead, boomer homeowners are opting for huge curb-less and doorless showers into which they can walk or eventually, roll. Jacuzzi tubs and even soaking tubs are going the way of the dinosaurs.

A few are also choosing to install an elevator or to stack closets in such a way that an elevator can be added later.

Finally, Kennedy said, most are opting for a healthier, more comfortable and energy-efficient living environment so they are asking probing questions with regard to air quality, humidity control, water conservation features and lighting.

Discerning boomers are just as positive about what they don’t want. According to Kennedy, they don’t want a high-maintenance exterior, even if they opt for a single-family home.

“They don’t want to do anything more than open the door,” Kennedy quipped, “and they don’t want to pay for common amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts unless they are sure that they are going to use them.”

Most have also decided that two-story foyers are a waste of space and only function to give an impressive first view of the home to guests. Three- and four-season rooms are also becoming obsolete. Instead, boomers are creating more true outdoor spaces that are adjacent to indoor gathering spaces so that during a party, guests may freely move from indoors to outdoors and back again.

Rock Creek Homes’ Henning Estates subdivision in Huntley is becoming a mecca for those boomers who want to continue to live in a single-family home in a rural setting.

Homes at Henning Estates are exclusively ranches with basements that many homeowners are choosing to have finished by the builder. They are creating a bedroom-bathroom suite on the lower level, along with a recreation room space, often with a wet bar, according to Jennifer Arndt, marketing manager. One homeowner even chose to have Rock Creek Homes install a second set of stairs from the garage to the basement so that it can be used as a living space for an adult child, if necessary.

Buyers at Henning Estates enjoy the open concept floor plans, Arndt said. They are also opting for higher-end bathroom finishes like glass tile and they want separate stall showers, but usually in combination with a tub. Many third bedrooms are being used as offices; kitchens are generally large with more usable work space and an eating bar; and both sunrooms and screen porches that showcase the rural view are popular.

“Prospective buyers tend to come to Henning Estates because they like our large, one-third acre lots where they can garden or install a private pool. The fact that they can customize our homes, which range from 1,803 to 2,422 square feet, without the basement, is also appealing and they like to be able to have a finished basement. But none have asked us to install an elevator,” she said.

New American Homes, Inc. is also building for the boomers who want to live an active, outdoor lifestyle. Their Newport Cove community features 67 homesites and 105 boat slips, located along the Chain O’ Lakes in Antioch. It is perfect for those who enjoy boating and fishing, as well as those who just want to live on the water, according to Susanne Tauke, president.

“We have people living here who range from toddlers to 87, but the most common age seems to be young empty-nesters who move here because they want their adult children to visit and that strategy seems to be working for them because I see lots of the adult children here boating, tubing, water skiing and fishing every weekend,” Tauke revealed. “They also enjoy our 8-acre waterfront park which features walking paths, a volleyball court, a community garden and this summer we will add a kayak launch.

“My sister is an architect and a professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo and her specialty is universal design. During the recession, she and I took one of our standard plans and reworked it using universal design. In 2012 that design won the National Home Builders Association’s ‘Best of Fifty Plus Home Designs’ award,” she said.

Consequently, Newport Cove boasts many features and amenities that appeal to baby boomers because they will allow them to live in their homes for many years to come.

“We offer the huge curb-less, doorless showers that you can just walk into and enjoy a seat, rain heads, body sprays and hand-held sprayers. We also routinely install dim, motion-sensored pathway lighting in crown molding so that homeowners can see when they walk into a dark area at night,” Tauke said.

In addition, they have designed a sloped front porch that functions as a ramp without looking like one and a wide, 42-inch front door is now standard because people like them and know that it would make it easier to bring a wheelchair into the home.

And since 15,000 people die each year in the U.S. from falling down stairs in their own homes, Tauke and her sister have also used varied color carpeting on staircases to make it easier to see the steps.

“It looks really fun and costs virtually nothing extra,” Tauke said.

Stacked closets that can be converted into an elevator someday are also popular, as are second master bedrooms for visitors, created by combining the second bedroom and the den in certain plans. A fully accessible kitchen with an island offering chair-height seating in one section is also popular.

Boomers, in Tauke’s experience, also want things as maintenance-free as possible so they are using Hardie Board or smart siding on their homes’ exteriors and are replacing carpet with hardwood flooring, wherever possible. Quartz countertops are also eclipsing granite countertops, for the same maintenance reasons.

Next Generation Development of Wheaton is working to fulfill the dreams of baby boomers who would like to live in single-family homes, villas and condominiums in those closer-in suburbs. They are building 26 villas and 93 condominiums at the Hamptons of Hinsdale and will soon open single-family home models at Springbank of Plainfield where they be one of several participating builders.

“We never want to confuse older age or older style so in both communities we are working hard to create lifestyles that are current and relevant and adhere to universal design,” explained Gail Payonk, director of sales and marketing.

“The Hamptons is a maintenance-free lifestyle community for people who are looking for great design and upscale features. They want all of the same features that they had in the lovely large homes they are leaving so we include large islands with seating for four or five people and custom cabinets in the kitchens, for instance, and walk-in ‘car wash’ showers. In the villas, which are three-story townhouses, we are stacking closets so they can add elevators and about 20 percent of them are doing it,” Payonk said.

“Springbank won’t be an age-restricted community, but two of our seven home plans will be age-targeted. One is a 2,231-square-foot ranch with an optional three-car garage, covered patio or three-season room and an open concept plan with a unique kitchen,” she continued.

“The other is a 3,409 two-story home with a first-floor master suite. It will particularly appeal to those who are close to becoming empty-nesters. The upstairs bedrooms will be great for visiting grandchildren and guests or those boomerang kids who return home after college. It features a formal dining room, which many boomers still want, a walk-in pantry and space for bulk storage of purchases from warehouse clubs,” Payonk added.

No matter where they choose to live, common requests include wider, threshold-less doorways; “snore” rooms where partners can separate if it is necessary to get some sleep; and bedrooms on the other side of the house or unit for grandchildren.

“Our research has shown that 43 percent of baby boomers want a great room. Among this group, 57 percent still want a formal dining room or living room experience. In addition, 63 percent have pets and 22 percent treat those pets like royalty,” Payonk said, “so we are offering pet spas in many of our homes. They are adjacent to the owner’s entry and laundry room and feature a dedicated space where pets of all sizes can be showered and dried off. The area can also be used for gardeners and others with muddy feet to clean off.”

Because so many boomers still want some formal spaces, but not everyone wants the same thing, Next Generation Development is offering flex space that can be used as a craft room, music room, yoga studio or office.

“The concept of having a room where the owner decides how it should be used resonates with people of all ages,” Payonk said. “There are endless possibilities and they want it their way.”