According to a recent survey of remodelers by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the aging population will significantly influence the remodeling industry over the next five years. However, most older Americans have not prepared their homes for life's inevitable changes.

"With America's 50+ population hitting 100 million by the year 2010, the building industry has developed a strong awareness of the importance of this segment of the market," said Norman Cohen, chairperson of the National Association of Home Builders' 50+ Housing Council. "The baby boomer generation has changed the ways builders do business."

Though the vast majority of older Americans want to "age-in-place," many of these homeowners will require special modifications in order to live safely and independently. "Most who remodel for accessibility only do so after their home becomes too difficult to navigate," said Remodelors Council Chairman Vince Butler, CGR, CAPS, GMB, a remodeler from Clifton (VA). "With a little foresight, homeowners can enjoy an independent lifestyle without undergoing a difficult and unexpected transition."

When evaluating a home, Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS) recommend that a newly-built home contain the following:

  • A master bedroom and bath on the first floor.
  • A low or no-threshold entrance to the home with an overhang.
  • Lever-style door handles.
  • No change in levels on the main floor.
  • Bright lighting in all areas.
  • A low-maintenance exterior.
  • Non-slip flooring at the main entryway.
  • An open floor plan, especially in the kitchen/dining area.
  • Handrails at all steps.

"People often believe that aging-in-place modifications make your home look like an institution, but it's the exact opposite," said Butler. "CAPS trained professionals seamlessly implement these changes into the existing look of the house so that most visitors will not even know their ultimate purpose. Plus, it is simply good design."

Technology is also important to boomer home buyers. They want to be online and high-tech, with media-rich capabilities. In many active adult rental communities, "tech centers" are now called business centers, reflecting the extended employment years of today's active adults.

"An influx of builders into the market has pushed active adult developments to step up their amenities as competition is keen for the active adult dollar," said Symposium speaker, Jim Daniel, vice president of sales for Robson Communities' PebbleCreek Resort Community in Buckeye (AZ). "Amenities like golf and tennis used to be enough, but now amenities have to be about technology and learning."

"Homeowners are no longer looking for the traditional retirement communities," added Cohen, a principal at Camelot/Signature Development of Marietta (GA). "They want to live somewhere where they can remain active."

Author and generations expert Neil Howe adds that because boomers, who make up 37 percent of all homeowners, are retiring at such varied ages, they're in no hurry to move. When marketing to boomers, he recommended that builders do away with language about "retirement," and instead stress that their products allow buyers to be engaged and employed. In order to draw these buyers in, he says, builders should stress informality and spontaneity.

"Boomers want to discover communities on their own, rather than buy into a planned development. This trend is resulting in NORCs, or "Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities," said Howe, "where influxes of older residents create unplanned 50+ communities."

"Unlike the generations before them, boomers don't want to "get away from it all," said Howe. "They want to be near cultural and spiritual hubs that keep them connected with community and culture and involved in lifelong learning at local universities."

The CAPS designation is the only national program that trains remodelers how to design and implement aging-in-place modifications.

To find a certified professional who specializes in aging-in-place remodeling, visit nahb.org/caps.

To learn more about remodeling, visit nahb.org/remodel.

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