Live Well Longer: Designing Homes for 55+ Active Adult Homebuyers

KGA has been an advocate of designing homes for 55+ buyers since the late 1990’s, long before it was considered a viable market segment. Demographics provided insight – Boomers as a group were, and still are, a market place juggernaut wielding incredible purchasing power. (Yes, the “wait, now hurry up” Millennials are definitely approaching in the rearview mirror).  In the late 1990’s those born in 1946 were now in their 50’s. The Boomer tsunami was on the horizon. Retirement beckoned. By 2012, those born in the Boomer’s peak birth year of 1957 were turning 55. Next year, all Boomers will be 55 or older. There is a pent-up demand for homes that allow you to age-in-place, versus being “stuck in place”.

At KGA, we believe in taking a holistic approach to design for aging-in-place. This means not only addressing questions of accessibility and mobility, but also designing homes to support health, mind and well-being. Affordability also plays an important role, and in many cases contributes to the “stuck in place” effect. The reality is that this buyer will eventually be on a fixed income, which must be factored in when considering both the purchase price and the cost to maintain the home.

First presented at the 2017 International Builders Show, KGA’s four quadrants of design considerations provide a roadmap for effectively and successfully designing homes for 55+ buyers.

Lifestyle

  • Healthy living & activity: encourage healthy habits through design. Dedicated exercise spaces make it easy to get a work-out in. A well-equipped kitchen with plenty of space for storing fruits and vegetables and counter space for juicing or canning makes it that much easier to embrace healthy habits. Back kitchens are a great way to incorporate extra storage and counter space.
  • Social interaction: the 55+ buyer is at a time in their life when social interaction and connectedness is more important than ever. Even though they are downsizing, give them a home they will be proud to show-off to family and friends! Open floorplans, which are popular across all demographics, are perfect for entertaining. Keep in mind that this buyer is more likely to appreciate a space for the dining room table.
  • Security / safety: according to Meyers Research, safety and security are among the primary concerns for 55+ buyers. Make home security systems a standard feature, offer them as an optional upgrade, or at the very least, make sure the home is prepped for easy installation. Don’t be afraid to incorporate technology: things like doorbell cameras and smart locks are appreciated by this buyer.
Open kitchen with white cabinets

Even in homes meant for downsizing, never skimp on the kitchen. Pictured: 39′ Patio Villa by KGA Studio Architects, PC.

Life Satisfaction

  • Outdoor spaces: this buyer might be sick of doing yard work, but they still want a connection to the outdoors. An outdoor room with a zero-step connection to the inside is a great option. We especially like over-sized or corner-meet sliding glass doors, which allow you to open up the home to the outside, letting in fresh air and creating an environment that encourages social interaction.
  • Natural light: natural light encourages productivity and is a great mood booster. Make sure the home has plenty of windows to let in natural light! In higher density settings, strategically placed windows maintain privacy while still letting in light.
  • Support of life goals: now is the time to pursue interests that have taken a backseat to career or raising a family. A project room or workshop in the garage are perfect places to pursue hobbies. A dedicated packing center and lock-off caretaker’s suite encourage travel.
  • I deserve it features: this buyer has worked hard their entire life, and they are ready to splurge a little on themselves. ‘I deserve it’ features are the details that make your designs memorable: a well-appointed kitchen or luxurious spa master bath. Project rooms and spacious owner’s entries are also great options.
  • Pets: even when downsizing, we can’t forget about furry family members. Make sure there is a safe, enclosed space for dogs to go outside. It doesn’t have to be large, just functional. For our feline friends, is there a good place to put a litter box? We love the idea of creating a closet with a separate, motion activated ventilation system for the litter box.
Valencia Master Bathroom

Zero-step entry showers are both highly sought after ‘I deserve it’ features and easily accessible to everyone. Pictured: The Valencia by KGA Studio Architects, PC.

Life Cycle

  • Sustained “live in place” opportunities: active adult buyers are planning ahead. Accessibility might not be important now, but it could be in the future. Eliminate the need for stairs with main level living or make stairs more manageable with a midpoint landing. In homes with multiple levels, provide an elevator or rough-in space where an elevator could easily be installed in the future. Make sure doors, hallways and closets are wide enough for wheel chair access. Provide at least one zero-step entry shower with a bench and grab bar.
  • Life cycle of the home: how much will it cost to maintain? This buyer will eventually be on a fixed income, so it is important to make every penny count. How much will it cost to heat and cool the home? Use durable materials that are easy to maintain and won’t need to be replaced often. When selecting materials, also consider health and safety: the last thing this buyer needs is a toxic home environment that will make them sick.
  • Adaptable spaces that address numerous life situations: plans should be flexible and offer a variety of options to accommodate different situations without changing over-all pricing thresholds. 55+ active adult buyers are a large and varied group, addressing a variety of life situations is key:
    • Boomerang
    • Sandwich or multi-generations
    • Non-related cohabitation
    • Grandkids
    • Caretaker
    • Still working
Kitchen with raised dishwasher

Get creative! Raised appliances, such as the dishwasher pictured, are appreciated by the active adult 55+ buyer. Pictured: Gloss Residence Remodel, by KGA Studio Architects.

Life Management

  • Less maintenance: 55+ buyers are looking for as little maintenance as possible. Think low-maintenance exteriors and little or no yard work. They want to be able to ‘lock and leave’ on a spur of the moment adventure without worrying about their home.
  • Right sizing / room count: if there is one thing the tiny home movement has taught us, it’s that it is all about well-designed, quality spaces over quantity. Offer a variety of secondary room options and never, ever skimp on the kitchen. Ever. In Colorado, where basements are common, optional finished basements are a great way to offer additional space while keeping the home’s footprint small.
  • Organization: opportunities for storage and organization are appreciated by this buyer. Make storage easier to access with pull-out drawers. It’s all about convenience and ease-of-access. Great examples that stand out with this buyer are a well-designed owner’s entry or laundry room.
  • Design features that provide ease-of-living considerations: this buyer is looking for design features that look great AND serve their needs for aging-in-place. Think plenty of stylish task lighting and lighting paths throughout the home, contrasting floor and countertop materials in the kitchen and lever action hardware throughout the home. Zero-step entry spa showers are also a great example of style meets function – easily accessible for everyone, and many have a built-in bench. Just add a good-looking grab bar!

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