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Baby boomer buyers crave comfort

These 55+ homebuyers have earned a chance to kick back and enjoy their homes. Here's how builders can best serve this important demographic.

By Lauren Hunter

Staff Writer

Millennial homebuyers have held the spotlight for a few years now, but the 55+ and baby boomer demographics remain a hotbed of home buying activity. New data from the National Association of Realtors finds that buyers age 52 and older account for 38 percent of recent homebuyers. Looking forward, the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies says the number of U.S. households age 65 and older is projected to increase by 11.3 million between 2015 and 2025.

And while many older Americans plan to age in place, research from the Demand Institute U.S. Housing and Communities Survey shows that 42 percent of the country's 77 million baby boomers are expected to move, and 57 percent of those plan to purchase homes rather than rent.

How can builders best serve this important but unique group of buyers? By providing homes with the comfort, efficiency, and smarter floorplans that older buyers seek.

Retiring in Style 

"Older homeowners, in recent years, have been able to sell their large homes in the suburbs and buy an energy-efficient, right-sized home," says Jim Chapman, chairman of NAHB's 55+ Housing Industry Council and president of Jim Chapman Communities in Atlanta. For the recent 2017 International Builders Show, Chapman worked with modular homebuilder Nationwide Homes to design a home specifically geared toward the needs of 55+ buyers. In addition to showcasing a variety of aging-in-place features, the home incorporated propane systems that boosted the home's comfort and convenience.


 
   
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"The bulk of my buyers are active adults," Chapman says. "They all want gas fireplaces, because they want a fireplace that's easy to light; gas heating; and definitely gas cooking — especially the cooktop. It's faster, easier, and you can see the flame and modulate how you use it."

Chapman adds that 55+ buyers want to spend more time living in their homes rather than maintaining them. With that in mind, builders can help older buyers enjoy the fruits of their labors with cozy gas fireplaces that turn on at the flick of a switch. A plethora of propane-fueled outdoor amenities, from fire pits to outdoor cooking to heated pools, offer entertainment luxuries that require little cleanup or upkeep.

"By this time in their lives, homeowners want maintenance-free products they know will work when they want them to," Chapman says, "plus the benefits of a ‘lock-and-leave' lifestyle where they can travel for two or three weeks and come home with nothing amiss."

Future Home Choices

In addition to valuing convenience, older buyers are also keen on comfort, according to research from the Farnsworth Group conducted on behalf of Builder magazine and Taylor Morrison's 55+ concept NEXTadventure Home. The findings indicate that 81 percent of baby boomers prefer the idea of more space in a less-populated community, over less space in a more-populated community. Additionally, these buyers rated the kitchen, master bedroom, and great rooms as the most important areas of the home.

Propane's comfort and performance advantages for cooking, heating, and water heating are an ideal match for these older buyers — especially those looking for more spacious communities away from urban amenities such as natural gas.


"With propane and natural gas being interchangeable, they can get their preferences even if they choose to live in a rural setting."


The Demand Institute has categorized 55+ homebuyers into four segments, including Comfort Seekers and New Pastorals, both of which have large contingents leaning toward rural living.

According to Jeremy Burbank, vice president of the Demand Institute, Comfort Seekers will spend the most on their next new homes and are very interested in newer construction, making them a great target for homebuilders. A third of Comfort Seekers (34 percent) are likely to move to rural locations, Burbank says, and "they're very focused on the home itself: newer, beautiful homes, nice interiors, well-appointed kitchens, and luxurious baths."

The New Pastorals segment has even more rural leanings. "That's a significant difference about this group," Burbank says. "They place a premium on having privacy and space around the home. They want big yards, and perhaps a little bit of acreage." More than half of these buyers (59 percent) are looking forward to rural living.

With the versatility of propane systems at their disposal, builders can meet their 55+ clients' comfort and convenience demands no matter where they choose to live, Chapman says. "With propane and natural gas being interchangeable, they can get their preferences even if they choose to live in a rural setting. These are the buyers I cater to, and they all want gas — in fact, if I didn't offer gas and propane in the over-55 homes I build, I wouldn't be in business."


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