A house is a house is a house.
If that is true, then the nation’s planners, developers and builders would not now be fervently in search of the Holy Grail: Baby Boomers' very deep pockets.
As I see it, this quest to conceive the ultimate Boomer retirement home is taking place in three dimensions.
The first is physical. Builders and their consultants are daily weighing lofty decisions such as, “Should we use granite counters in their kitchens?”
As the Boomer marketing guru at a meeting of homebuilders recently, I began a speech by plaintively saying, “Use ceramic instead of brass in the bathroom … and thank you for your time!” The somewhat stunned audience sat blankly for a second during my pregnant pause, and then a few chuckles turned into belly laughs.
Of course, there are physical elements of design that will be important to Boomers in the future. Research is revealing that Boomers, not surprisingly, want a spare room for a home office since so many will continue to work after separating from their full-time jobs. Others will pursue intellectual hobbies requiring fast internet connectivity.
We want guest bedrooms for periodic visitations by children and grandchildren. We’re pretty definite about expecting utility or mud rooms for the washer and dryer. We’d like neighborhoods that remind us of the idealized “Leave it to Beaver” days of yore. This means wide, meandering streets, lots of landscaping and front porches. Some of us expect security, either roving or fences and gates. Almost all of us want to live where someone else does the yard work. (I, for one, had plenty of that when I was a kid.)
The next dimension of housing comes in the form of catered experiences. Farsighted planners are developing communities with full-time activity and recreational directors. At a Del Webb community, for example, you can expect a wealth of planned recreational options, from junkets overseas to hometown barbecues.
Catered services also include outstanding fitness facilities and even leading-edge brain gymnasiums. A keystone of Boomer aging will be “healthy aging,” so we’ll be looking for communities that optimize participation in daily workout regimens. Many will also seek places that offer massages, yoga, stretching, swimming and much walking.
Builders focused on adults 50+ are doing a pretty good job at delivering housing products that include cohort-sensitive physical and experiential benefits. But that brings me to a third dimension of housing: the transcendental.
It’s not common for builders and developers to fully appreciate the transcendental needs of adults as they age. And even those that do are a bit sheepish about how to build this dimension into a master planned community.
The transcendental dimension for Boomers is not necessarily about spirituality or religiosity, although as my previous blog entry attests, some will shape the final years of life around intense pursuit of spiritual ephemera.
Transcendental neighborhoods include a focus on learning, creativity, avocations, and the ever-present yearning for community. These “being spaces” will include “third places” –- or environments that stimulate thinking, growing, actualizing, and connecting with the wider world. Community members will pursue self-development and discover how to make a difference, whether that is through volunteer work or writing a novel.
Can developers really build for the transcendental dimension? I believe they can, and because of the Boomer market’s economic value, they will.