The age of the penny-pinching retiree is ending. There are still some skinflints moving to Florida, Arizona and other warmer climbs to live out their remaining years. But more and more retirees are spending big money on their houses.
"Everyone wants bigger, and they want the finishes, too," says Victoria Robbins, vice president of sales for Beazer Home's Florida division. "Institutional, low-maintenance design is out. They've had a lot better than that where they come from, and they want more of it."
Long-time Florida developer Ken Colen calls it "the architecture of opulence." He finds it "amazing" that single seniors today often buy 2,500 square feet of living space or more. "It's a huge shift," Colen says, "and a lot of it has to do with wealth."
David Parker sees the trend, too. "They're already on the road coming down here," says the Jacksonville, Fla., marketing consultant. And the shift is only going to become more pronounced, he adds, not just in the Sunshine State but everywhere seniors tend to flock.
Because these "New Age" retirees, as Parker calls them, are part of the extravagance generation, the "good old days when retirees came for the sunshine and cheap prices" are just about over.
Much of this has to do with the differences in how the two generations were reared.
Seniors raised in the Depression era or during World War II, when goods were scarce, were subjected to a frugal upbringing that has influenced their spending habits their entire lives. But those born after the war were exposed to the unprecedented extravagance of post-war America.
"Not only did they learn spending habits from their fully employed parents, they achieved new records in education and income as well," Parker says.
And as a result, builders are finding it harder and harder to make a living offering condos starting at $49,990. Now, to be successful, it's high design, options and amenities.
"Value doesn't bring 'em in the doors anymore. It used to, but not anymore," the marketing specialist says. "Today's retirees are used to spending money. That alone makes them very different from those who learned to be cheapskates their entire lives."
Another factor influencing the trend is the fact that New Age retirees are no longer staying home in droves. That's a far cry from just six years ago, when surveys by AARP found that perhaps 85 percent of its members wanted to retiree in place; that is, in the homes they already lived in.
Now, though, Parker estimates 55 percent of future retirees will move, and 30 percent will make a distant move.
Why the change? They've already lived in many places, so they're not tied to a single house or community like their predecessors. And their children and grandchildren are likely to be strewn across the country, so they're not as inclined to stay put for family reasons.
"New Age retirees received better educations, traveled more, owned more homes in more places throughout challenging careers, and earned more money," the consultant says. "They demand more satisfaction out of life, and have the energy, education and affluence to pursue it."
Colen, who's 53-year-old Ocala, Fla.-based family firm, On Top of the World, is developing an as yet unnamed 13,000-acre new town in Marion County about an hour and a half north of Orlando, agrees.
"Even if David is only half right," he says, "we've got a groundswell of change on the horizon. It's a gradual shift, but I'm already seeing it."
When the Colen family developed its first retirement community in Clearwater, seniors wanted golf, but they didn't want to pay for it. Today's retirees want that and more, much more -- and they're only to happy to foot the bill.
"Frugal buyers are still around; they're living well into their 80s and 90s," he says. "But today's younger retirees are prestige buyers. They're demand driven. They want a lot, so you can't put them in a little box anymore."
One thing Colen is sure New Age retirees want is a greater sense of community. They want to be near younger people, not just others their own age. They need to be connected, either through employment or volunteerism, and the association has to be meaningful.
Today's retirees don't want to be sold, either, according to Robbins, the Beazer vice president. They want to buy.
The old tried-and-true critical path method greet, qualify, present, follow-up and close is still valid, she says. But New Age retirees "really, truly don't want to be led. If they think they are, the will leave and they won't come back. They are tired of being herded into a closing room like they're buying their first Ford."
Relationship selling is still relevant, too. That's where the sales agent builds a rapport with potential buyers by trying to find something in common with him. But these days, "agenda selling" is far more important.
"It doesn't matter where they grew up or where their children live," Robbins says. "You must determine what their agendas are before you try to sell them anything."
Given the fact that personal programs tend be diverse and very individual, that may be easier said then done. But it is critical, says Robbins, who suggests moving prospects out of the sales center and onto the property as quickly as possible.
"Focus on what they think their agenda is," she urged the audience. "If it's golf, take them there first and play golf with them. If it's ecology, put on a pair of shorts and hiking boots and take them for a walk."
Robbins says builders who skip this all-important first step will not get the sale. "But if you do it right," she promised, "you'll not only sell them, you'll sell their friends, too."