It's not your father's retirement community. In fact it's not a retirement community at all any more, with more than half the buyers reporting that they are still working when they move in, a panel of active adult community builders told an audience at the Big Builder '07 session, "Reinventing Active-Adult Communities," on Wednesday, Nov. 28.
Actually, the term active adult community might need a reworking as well. Perhaps active-active adult or hyper-active adult might be better monikers considering the types of activities these active adult developers are including in their best-selling communities.
One of Pulte's Del Webb communities has a club of motorcyclists who call themselves Del's Angels, reported vice president of marketing for Pulte Homes' Southwest division Deborah Blake.
"Lawn bowling is not what we do today," agreed panel moderator William Becker, president of William E. Becker Organization.
Today's active adult community residents are buying younger, and they are often not moving in alone. The baby boomers are sometimes called the "sandwich generation" as well because they are sandwiched between parents who may need their care and children who are still young to leave the nest or who boomerang back home as adults.
"The boomer generation, we are never going to let go of our kids," said Bill Slenker, principal of Slenker Communities. "They will be back."
The dynamics of having a still-full nest as well as those of continuing to work past the traditional age of retirement have dictated different home designs, according to the panel's participants.
Home offices are common in new age-targeted homes. And such product offerings are being designed large enough to accommodate both Mom and Junior.
Pulte's Blake said Del Webb is building separate 600-square-foot to 700-square-foot "casitas" on its lots, complete with a bathroom, to accommodate either an elderly parent or returning child.
Slenker, a developer in the Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware markets, said his company is including second floors on some plans, which include two master suites, one upstairs and one down. The master suite on the first floor could accommodate an aging family member who can no longer negotiate stairs. Slenker also incorporates elements of universal design in his homes, including a stepless entry for improved wheelchair access or to accommodate those with walking problems.
But it's not all about function in the reinvented active adult community, according to Shea Homes vice president of acquisitions Jim Jenkins. Buyers of Shea's age-targeted Trilogy communities like lots of bells and whistles including dedicated exercise rooms and bonus rooms hidden behind bookcases. Extra space in model home garages is decked out with power tools, plugged in and ready to go.
Even the locations of newer communities are being reinvented. The far-flung parcels are no longer as in favor, with many residents still working in city centers. And transportation in general from the communities into town is becoming more of a focus for developers.
While builders of large communities, such as Shea and Pulte, still indicate they favor building big, Slenker said he thinks many boomers feel more comfortable with smaller, boutique developments. "I personally believe that boomers are more individualistic than their parents," he explained. "Boomers like smaller, more intimate experiences.
The panelists said they are incorporating more amenities related to healthful living and holistic healing in their developments. Shea, for instance, has a doctor on staff who writes a newsletter and is available for consultations.
Blake said that buyers want to live in an environment where they can keep their minds and bodies healthy. Del Webb is incorporating life-long learning opportunities into its developments.
Facilitating all of the amenities and programs required to develop a successful active adult community takes many builders beyond the bricks and mortar experience and into something much more complex, said Slenker.
"In the home building industry, it is a difficult marriage, because you can honestly say it is a commitment," he said. "It is a difficult business."