Six years ago, Susan and Tim Ballesteros attended a wedding in DeLand, Fla., and they left with dibs on a new home. On a whim, the couple decided to move their young family from northern New Jersey to Victoria Park, a brand-new master planned community on the edge of the quaint town in Central Florida.
Within a few months, Tim's parents, Nancy and Leonard Ballesteros, bought a house in the neighborhood next door in the same St. Joe Co.?developed community.
Flashy hyperactive adult communities that boast of over-the-top amenities and age-segregated lifestyles continue to grab headlines. For most top-tier big builders, an active adult strategy is virtually a must, and market share for active adult product lines is a trend line destined to rise for the better part of two decades Yet, with even the most active builders of age-restricted products only devoting a fifth of their construction activity to the rapidly expanding boomer market, there's still plenty of opportunity for builders to capture market share.
The frenzy now, though, is over whether what was called senior housing yesterday, and is marketed as active adult today, will adequately serve and seduce those denizens "of a certain age" tomorrow, as baby boomers by the tens of thousands approach and cross the line each day into that third stage of life.
While amenities, floor plans, interiors, streetscapes, and community activities has commanded the lion's share of builders' focus on 55-plus housing economics, that focus has shifted dramatically. Now, as the bull-in-a-china-shop baby boom generation looms as the next market for active adult, the sea change is away from amenitized isolation, putting the focus on land positions that offer discretionary connectedness.
One new model for over-55 housing is already emerging. Strangely, perhaps, it looks a lot like a very old model–multiple generations of families living near each other, only with a little bit more of a kid-restricted quiet zone built around Grandma's house.
While as many as one-fifth of people aged 55 and older have the dream of moving far away from their original homes and family to live in huge sun-soaked, active adult community, most don't. Surveys show the bigger share of the aging baby boomers would prefer to stay near their long-time home communities and friends and family.
And, while the older generations were ready to sally off into a new stage in life unencumbered by regrets about how they raised their children, some baby boomers are entering their 50s with some unfinished child-rearing business. "The emerging baby boomer regrets, more than other generations, how much time they spent working," Burns explains. "They are actually trying to reconnect with their grown kids."
Pulte Homes' Del Webb division is responding to this desire by taking scaled-down versions of its active adult community product beyond the Sunbelt and into the outskirts of major metropolitan areas. While other developers and builders are coming up with ways to meet that sizeable demand for age-restricted housing by weaving age-restricted housing into the fabric of multi-age master planned communities.
When The St. Joe Co., a Jacksonville, Fla.?based land developer was planning Victoria Park, the numbers showed there would be enough demand to make the entire community age-restricted. But the land, just off of Interstate 4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach, Fla., lent itself to four different styles of neighborhoods due to two bisecting roads that divided the acreage into quadrants.
"The two natural roadways create different experiences within the concept of the whole development," says Jeffrey Gersh, vice president and project manager for St. Joe. "On one hand, market research said demand was sufficient to do the whole community as active adult." On the other, the 4,200-unit development, with an expected population of 10,000 residents, had the potential to change the population mix of DeLand, which stands at about 20,000. Company planners decided it was better for the new community to more closely mirror the age mix of the greater community, Gersh says.
Victoria Hills, the southwest section where the younger Ballesteros live, has the higher-end houses and the golf course. Victoria Commons to the southeast is neo-traditional and non-age-restricted, something the older Ballesteros' needed because they are still raising children. While the Miles family, in their mid-60s, found the age-restricted Victoria Gardens, with its lush clubhouse and peripatetic activities calendar, to their liking. The fourth quadrant, Victoria Trails, targeted to families, will be opening soon.
The extended Ballesteros family is one of a good number of multiple-generation families to move to Victoria Park, says Gersh. "From an active adult perspective, the ability to enjoy an active adult lifestyle and still have the benefits of a true community right where they live is wonderful."
Go With The Flow
A few years ago, Standard Pacific Corp. decided to build a small age-restricted community within the larger Talega development in San Clemente, Calif., to appeal to former customers moving into a new stage of life.
"We are building for the same people we built for 25 years ago, they're just older now," says Ralph Spargo, vice president of product development for Standard Pacific. "There's an opportunity to reach that market in in-town places, where people want to still be in their communities, near their family, their friends and, most specifically, near their grandkids. I think that is a major issue with people leaving their families to move away [to a far-flung active adult community]. We are seeing people who would really rather not do that."
But they would still like something new that tailors to their differently paced lifestyle. "There's a demand for a product that is designed for the aging population," Spargo continues. "They would rather have their major living spaces on the first floor. They don't need a lot of bedrooms."
In the 4,500-unit Talega development, Standard Pacific built a 283-unit age-restricted component. After a bit of experimentation with product and sales techniques, the product took off and is now nearly built-out. A bonus: there was no real need to educate buyers about the community because 90 percent of buyers came within a 25-mile radius.
"We don't have to go out and spend all this money to create a community," says Spargo. "We have got the place and the people who come generally already know it."
Standard Pacific now has plans to include age-restricted products in other developments, including at its La Floresta community being developed by Chevron, the oil company, in Brea, Calif. Standard Pacific plans about 200 age-restricted homes and 700 of other product types
"It's going to be a non-age-cognizant kind of place," says Spargo. "We want to build a multi-generational or an ageless community as opposed to designing the family community or the baby boomer community or the seniors' community. We kind of take the approach that there's a certain mix of people who can live together given parameters."
And, in this case, the parameters are that the age-restricted component will have its own 7,000-square-foot clubhouse and will be gated to vehicular access. But, in a move toward creating more connections with the all-age neighborhoods, pedestrian traffic will be allowed to pass through. "They still like to see the little kid with a lunch pail walk by every once in a while," says Spargo.
A Great Age-Scape
No gates will set the boundaries of age-restricted neighborhoods in the giant Rancho Mission Viejo's 22,815-acre development in Orange County, Calif. The small neighborhoods of 6,000 age-restricted homes will be carefully woven into the community plan so passersby will have a difficult time telling age-restricted sections from ones with the 8,000 all-age homes. Yet, because of design, the age-restricted communities should naturally attract fewer passersby.
"It's that artful placement that is the big shift in this plan," says Paul Johnson, senior vice president of community development for Rancho Mission Viejo. We are not about gates. You are not going to drive by and see a big gate up and a walled-in community and say, 'That's the age-restricted area.' We are carefully placing the age-qualified neighborhoods with the philosophy that people don't walk through them, but the people who live in them can walk out of them and experience a community just like everybody else can experience a community," says Johnson. "We believe there is still a sensitivity that the mature marketplace wants to go home and have a like atmosphere around them."
Yet with that one nod to 55-plus preferences, Rancho Mission Viejo is designed to be as ageless as possible. Even the community centers, often bastions of age segregation in 55-plus communities, are open to all.
"We will look to provide programs and services that benefit all ages," he says. "When you walk into our clubs, it isn't 55 to the left and everybody else to the right. The buildings will work intergenerationally by programming, by service level, by timing. By being thoughtful and sensitive you can intermix all generations of people. We are planning for all life stages.
Grading and infrastructure construction of Rancho Mission Viejo's first 1,100-home village in is scheduled to begin this summer with a grand opening in late 2009. The idea of building an "ageless" community for Rancho Mission Viejo cropped up in 2003 at the beginning of the planning process.
"At that point there were smatterings of national research being done that started to talk about the new mature adult and this lifestyle they were looking for," Johnson says. "They have this 'I'll never get old' kind of mindset. The solution today that is offered by the adult communities that are solely focused on the adult environment is attracting, at most, 15 percent to 30 percent of the population that is hitting their later years and is seeking a different lifestyle. If 70 percent to 80 percent of the people out there would like to move, but don't move because nobody is offering a better environment, we want to offer them a better environment."
Successfully tapping into the surging 55-plus home-buying population is the Holy Grail for many developers and builders. "This is a tremendous market niche that the baby boomers represent," Johnson says. There are other development benefits as well. In many areas, age-restricted communities carry less development costs because school and road impact fees and requirements can be lessened and sometimes more development can carry greater densities. In the case of Rancho Mission Viejo, the mix of about 40 percent age-restricted "allowed us to optimize our total unit counts," says Johnson.
But the community's mission statement goes beyond optimizing unit counts. The stated mission is to create "An ageless fully dimensional community that acknowledges the human potential for wellness and longevity and enriches and enhances the lives of their residents. We have hung that out there and now we are trying to learn how to do that," says Johnson.
It's not unusual for moms pushing strollers and toting toddlers to show up at sales seminars for Pulte's Del Webb communities, says Caryn Klebba, manager of corporate communications for Pulte. "They are shopping for their parents."
Perhaps they recently moved to multi-age communities nearby and decided it might be nice to have their parents move down, too, says Klebba.
In some areas, such as Pulte's Anthem communities, where age-restricted and all-age communities sit side-by-side, the tendency toward attracting multiple generations of the same family is even stronger, she says.
There's only one drawback, sometimes the active adult parents get so busy with the activities in their new communities that they don't have time to babysit. "We do hear a lot of complaints that they thought grandma and grandpa would be more available to babysit," says Klebba.
The Ballesteros haven't got any complaints about lack of babysitters with both sets of grandparents living nearby; still, Susan Ballesteros admits, she has a tough time nailing down her parents.
"I can't keep up with my parents," she says. "There is always something going on over there. My mother is on the go all the time."