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Some 75 percent of home buyers 50 and older want a home that comes complete with yard or ground maintenance so they have more time to travel, relax and enjoy a care-free lifestyle, according to a study released last week by the National Association of Home Builders and Countrywide Home Loans.

The survey of homebuilders and developers also finds that many in the 50+ demographic planning a move choose to live close to their current home. The survey was released at NAHB's Seniors Housing Symposium, an industry event for homebuilders to delve into needs and desires of the lucrative Baby Boomer market.

"The study results affirm that baby boomers and older home buyers want a maintenance-free lifestyle, freeing them up to travel, socialize and pursue the active lifestyles they want to lead," said Kent Conine, president of NAHB and a home and apartment builder from Dallas. "At the same time, the study dispels the common perception that seniors prefer to move to traditional warm-weather retirement destinations like their parents did. An overwhelming majority of seniors want to live near their loved ones or in the communities where they have put down roots."

The desire of Boomers to have a maintenance-free lifestyle is underscored by the increase in condo and townhouse sales in 2001. Not only did the number sold break a record, but the median price increased 11 percent to $137,100 - a rate greater than detached homes.

"We've also seen a growing popularity of upper-end units that appeal to retiring baby-boomers, and more luxury units have been built in recent years, said David Lereah, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "The higher mix of more expensive units being sold accounts for some of the rise in the median condo price."

About half of buyers in the Baby Boomer surveyed want to live close to children, grandchildren, and family.

For those who are staying put, Joan McCloskey, editorial marketing director of Better Homes and Gardensmagazine, told homebuilders at January's International Builders Show that many are remodeling to reflect their maturing lifestyle - and burgeoning pocketbooks.

"Aging boomers want their house to be the central gathering spot for their kids and grandkids so they often create a dorm room and a mini-resort out back complete with pool, tennis court, and lounging areas," she said. "They'll add universal design features in the kitchens and bathrooms, and perhaps add that wine cellar they've always talked about."

Universal design refers to achieving a design in which anyone can function and get around in your kitchen - whether it's your kids, an elderly or wheelchair-bound parent, or you as you age.

McCloskey says that when it comes to the kitchen, homebuilders should place dishwashers and ovens low and choose hardware that's easy to grasp. In the bathroom, they should plan for easy access to the lavatory, shower, and tub. And there shouldn't be any steps at the front or garage door.

Meanwhile, other findings from the recent NAHB survey include:

  • More than half of the builders building for the 50+ market built detached homes in 2002. Some 75 percent were one-story.
  • About two-thirds of builders said their buyers were relocating from within the same community or state.
  • 50+ buyers prefer homes that promote safety and a sense of security.
  • Today's seniors are technologically savvy, prompting nearly 70 percent of builders to build communities with high-speed Internet service. Many also integrated structured wiring and intercom or entrance phones.
  • Seniors want convenience. More than three-fourths of builders surveyed built 50+ communities close to shopping centers, churches, or medical facilities.
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