“The boomers have transformed the American housing markets since the day they were born,” Pendall says, noting the variations in structure types to which the lifestyle patterns of this massive group gave play—mass-produced housing post-World War II, the 1970s apartment boom, townhouses in the ’80s, and the McMansions of the following decade.
Stephen Melman, director of economic services at the NAHB, agrees. He’s found the aging-in-place dynamic—be it an outgrowth of market conditions or a conscious choice by home-owning seniors—to be pushing the design/build community to meet a need that’s not necessarily new but is poised for a larger audience in the coming years.
Emily Salomon, state and local policy coordinator at the Center for Housing Policy and a co-author of the recently published report, “Housing an Aging Population: Are We Prepared?”told CUSTOM HOME last week that 90 percent of older adults say they prefer to “age in place.” For seniors who can afford it, particularly in weaker housing markets, that preference opens the door for Pendall’s remodeling quotient and, with its potential size, presents a new angle on a seemingly overlooked market.
Melman says that approximately two-thirds of remodelers surveyed by the NAHB reported that they’re doing aging-in-place work; and by 2020, 45 percent of U.S. households will include a member who is at least 55 years old, he says. Seniors doing remodeling work often have equity in their existing homes and can finance projects that are energy efficient, accommodate space for a caregiver or visiting relatives, offer accessible design, and use quality building materials. And those who do move, he says, look for a smaller space and energy footprint.
“People rate the laundry room and linen closet right near the top, among the [home’s] top five features,” he says. “If you’re 65 years old, you want a well-organized laundry where you can reach the washer and dryer, maybe built up shelving, appropriately spaced recessed task lighting, and proper ventilation.”
Beyond grab bars and other fall-preventing devices, builders and remodelers should look to focus living on a single floor with minimal obstructions and also to improve the air quality of homes. “This is a potential untapped place for builders, architects, planners, and others to work in coalition to make sure local rules are favorable,” Pendall says.
But Salomon notes that one-third of older adults requiring accessibility-driven retrofits can’t afford to implement them. However, she adds that revisions to local building codes will offer more seniors the opportunity to age in place.
Small-scale adjustments across a broad, growing demographic could offer new larger-scale building opportunities should the market pick up and seniors sell their homes in favor of accessible communities and other facilities, says Dowell Myers, urban planning researcher and professor at the University of Southern California and a co-author of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s study. “Everybody recognizes that the only growth sector aside from young singles and apartments is the older folks and retirement housing,” he says. “What will get people out of their houses is if they can find some new package that doesn’t exist yet. Architects who can design a more supportive community … they’ll be successful in filling their units.”