Golden Years The age-50-plus housing market is transforming the way builders design and develop active adult homes, according to experts with the NAHB's Seniors Housing Council. Builders and architects say demand is growing for smaller communities with interesting streetscapes and high-end homes designed for individual lifestyles.

While most active adult communities traditionally have been built in suburban locations, urban buyers command a greater share of the market, especially for condominiums, townhomes, and multifamily apartments. Many buyers expect a high level of service, spend more on upgrades, and are less likely to consider moving into an age-qualified community.

Young at Hearth American Housing Survey data from the Commerce Department show that households headed by Gen Xers and members of the “echo boom” (those born after 1979) purchased 55 percent of all newly built homes sold in 2003. Further, NAHB research indicates that 37 percent of Gen Xers and 27 percent of echo boomers intend to buy homes in the next two years, compared with just 13 percent of baby boomers and 6 percent of seniors.

What does this mean for the next generation of home building? “[T]here was speculation that younger buyers would be thriftier than their parents with respect to [housing],” says NAHB director of research Gopal Ahluwalia. Instead, the NAHB finds that many younger buyers overwhelmingly favor options—including larger, single-family detached homes; four or more bedrooms; and 9-foot or higher ceilings—that support the idea of a “move-up mentality” among Gen Xers and echo boomers.

Buckeye Bargains According to the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index, for the first quarter of 2005 the metropolitan statistical area comprising Youngstown, Warren, and Boardman, Ohio, was the nation's most affordable housing market among major metro areas with populations exceeding 500,000. Ninety percent of homes sold in the first quarter were affordable to families earning that locale's median household income of $51,300. The median price of all homes sold in the area during that time was $86,000.

Also near the top of the scale among major metro areas with populations exceeding 500,000 were Grand Rapids–Wyoming, Mich.; Dayton, Ohio; and Buffalo–Niagara Falls, N.Y., in that order.

Three Wishes May was American Wetlands Month, and so the NAHB released its Wetlands Wish List, three reforms that would improve the permitting process:

  • Don't give ditches, curbs, or gutters the same protection as wetlands. Congress needs to provide clear guidance on what can be called a wetland. Court decisions and inconsistent federal enforcement have made the definition overly broad.
  • Issue individual permits in 120 days or less. Home builders often find it can take years to get approval, which adds to the total cost of a project.
  • Streamline the Nationwide Permit Program. For many builders, the program is an efficient alternative to individual permits. Since its inception, however, additional required paperwork and a longer permit review time have made it less useful.
  • Learn more about markets featured in this article: Youngstown, OH.