Though lifestyle comes first, you can't skimp on the housing. Active adults like open plans with co-joined living spaces so they can have the whole clan over for weekends and Thanksgiving dinner. They love great rooms and views. They also want plenty of living space outdoors. Steve Buck even sees a trend for larger lots--as long as yard maintenance is part of the package. With years of yard work behind them, mature buyers don't want to fiddle with lawn mowers.

"Today's active adult buyers want to customize their homes to their particular needs," says Perry DeSiato, director of sales and marketing for DeLuca Homes, in Newtown, Pa. Two-bedroom homes may be going the way of the dinosaur. Boomer buyers want a third bedroom that can be fashioned into a home office for the ubiquitous computer.

High-tech wiring is a given. Slenker's houses in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina feature RG-6 cabling and Category-5 wiring. Slenker "future-proofs" with runs of empty conduit to accommodate whatever comes next. Boomers will likely want more, such as gateway devices that govern their homes' HVAC, lighting, and security systems. They may spring for high-definition TVs, and they'll probably want broadband access.

Future-proofing is especially important to new active buyers because it helps them connect with family.

Lose the Labels

Marketers are learning that for new boomers, old is as old feels. One active adult buyer chided builders about labels, saying she would have never gone to see the model home she eventually bought had she known it was in an active adult community.

Steve Lampmann, president of D.O. Allen Homes, in Richmond, Va., says his buyers "want ADA-friendly homes." However, it's best to lose the accessibility labels or keep them to yourself.

Jim Migliore, president of Miami-based Lennar Corp.'s special projects division, had to recast an accessible model in one of his communities. "Buyers wouldn't buy obvious accessibility," he says.

At Solivita, Avatar treads the line carefully, with no overt mention of future health-related needs. Jon Fels is building hallways at a width that will accommodate wheelchairs and puts supports in the wall for future grab bars, but he doesn't sell these features. "It's very subtle," he says. "None of us wants to be reminded that we're aging. In our minds, we're really 30."

To sell accessibility or "universal design," something buyers may be thankful for later, try tactics that work well for online merchant Gold Violin, in Charlottesville, Va. Gold Violin doesn't sell magnifying glasses to help the vision-impaired; instead, the devices "help one read a menu in a dimly lit French restaurant". Same product, world of difference in perception. Likewise, the company's peacock-colored shower chair is a cool bathroom accessory, not necessarily a safety device.

Purchasing Power

Buyers in this powerful demographic account for only about a quarter of the total U.S. population today, but they account for nearly half of total consumer demand, almost two-thirds of total net worth, and nearly three-fourths of all personal financial assets.

Consider income levels when marketing age-qualified communities. Preference for age qualification declines as income increases, according to market researcher Margaret Wylde, CEO of the Oxford, Mississippi-based ProMatura Group. Among mature adults who earn less than $20,000 a year, 9.3 percent say they prefer an age-qualified community, while only 5.9 percent of mature buyers with annual incomes over $50,000 prefer them.

Analyst John Schleimer of Market Perspectives, a Roseville, Calif.-based research and marketing firm, reports that buyers keep more than $70,000 from the sale of their previous homes. Steve Buck sees a mix of cash buyers and those who use online investing to maximize their portfolios. The $64,000 question is: Will boomers, many of whom will add inherited money to their hard-invested assets, have the same value orientation as their parents?

So what's next for the new active adult market? The best advice is to think differently. New boomers have always been about change and choice. Because they're living longer than any other demographic group, they'll likely expect more housing options than ever. And they have the wherewithal and the marketing clout to be picky.

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