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It's a message that continues to resonate throughout the housing industry: Baby Boomers and seniors have housing needs and desires - not to mention the extra money - that their parents didn't. Homebuilders and remodelers alike are positioning themselves to accommodate this burgeoning market segment.

The sentiment was echoed once again at the recent symposium, "Building for Boomers and Beyond," sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders.

"Today's boomers want choices," said William Novelli, executive director and CEO of AARP, at a keynote presentation. These are people who are not afraid of making decisions, and they want instant gratification."

The audience of builders, developers, architects and others in the homebuilding industry was reminded that Boomers - anyone born between 1946 and 1964 - are 77 million strong and have a combined $930 billion in disposable income. Last year Boomers represented 31 percent of the population.

Industry experts said it's a mistake to lump the senior market into one category. Today there are many sub-segments and lifestyle and cohort segments.

"If there's no social component, there's no incentive for boomers to move out of their present homes where they have invested so much time and created so many memories," Lux said.

But building for the older population can sometimes be tricky as an increasing percentage tend to want to stay put.

In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau said only 4 percent of those between 65 and 74 moved from March 2000 to March 2001. And a 2000 survey by AARP shows 90 percent of those 65 and older want to stay in their home for as long as possible.

So homebuilders at the symposium were told they need to provide a range of choices and incentives if they want to capture part of this market.

"The Boomer generation is the first to have seen its parents live long enough to transition into different levels of seniors housing," said Tracy Lux, president and CEO of Sarasota, Fla.-based Trace Marketing. "Because people are healthier and living longer, retirement may now be 30 years of a person's life and that led the industry to offer more housing choices to satisfy the growing diversity in the housing market.

"Only 5-8 percent of those over 65 will move across state lines," Lux said. "When boomers get older, chances are they will want to stay closer to home and be near their children and grandchildren."

Along with the emotional attachments, many Boomers are continuing to work longer. A Baby Boomer survey conducted by Del Webb, the nation's leading developer of active adult communities and a subsidiary of Pulte Homes, reveals that most Boomers don't plan to retire until they're in their 60s.

And Del Webb is responding to these trends.

"Del Webb has been studying Boomers for years and is determined to evolve and change with them," says Mark O'Brien, CEO of Pulte Homes. "We already offer home office options, business centers and continuing education centers in our Sun City communities. You can bet those kinds of facilities will only increase as more Boomers retire. There are no shuffleboard courts in our future."

And while homebuilders weigh the risks of building for this segment of older homeowners who are opting to stay where they are, NAHB is also calling on its remodelers to learn more about how to cater to those who choose to "age in place."

Earlier this month NAHB, in collaboration with AARP, launched a new designation program called the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. The credentials will identify those remodelers who have trained in the technical and customer service skills specific to home modifications for aging-in-place. The program was sparked by the AARP survey "Fixing to Stay," which revealed most of those 65 and older want to stay put. That survey also revealed that they want remodelers who can be trusted and who know what they're doing when it comes to aging-in-place conversions.

Through a three-day course (two days for those who already have an industry certification with a business component), CAPS teaches the strategies and techniques for marketing, designing and building aesthetically enriching, barrier-free living environments, NAHB says.

That can mean anything from shower grab bars, ramps, and adjustments and variations of countertop heights to the creation of first-floor master suites and installation of elevators.

It also requires integrating the new functions with design considerations to create a unified, aesthetically pleasing whole.

Those who receive the designation will be listed in the NAHB Remodelors Council nationwide database.

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