Boomers are the talk of the town these days, and with good reason. Starting in the year 2011, 76 million boomers will be turning 65 at a rate of more than 11,500 a day. Through 2025, boomers will be turning 60 at a rate of eight each minute. Many of them will tell you that life begins at 60.
Before we can successfully target new homes and communities to meet their evolving needs, expectations, and desires, we have to distinguish this market segment from the cohort that went before. Many myths and incorrect assumptions are swirling around.
In our industry, boomers suffer from a massive case of generational mistaken identity. Too often they are lumped in with stalwart seniors in a category that encompasses home buyers ages 55 ages and up. But make no mistake: Boomers won't tolerate being pigeonholed with people known to segmentation marketers as “matures,” those born 1945 or before.
Members of the mature generation served in World War II, and Tom Brokaw chronicled their impact on history and society in The Greatest Generation. They tend to live life by the book. If a rule exists, they regard it as a rule to be honored. They worked in top-down, structured environments. They've diligently retired at age 60 or 65.
As builders, we created senior housing for this generation throughout the Sun Belt. It's the matures for whom the phrase Active Adult emerged as a palatable label for their retirement havens, a way to differentiate their age-qualified milieu from an environment that sounded more like an assisted living community.
The boomer generation presents stark contrasts. Its denizens have historically been known to take chances, question authority, and enjoy things as they come. Leonard Steinhorn defends their legacy in his book The Greater Generation, recognizing that people in this generation have spent their careers in team-driven organizations. Boomers, by nature, tend to feel younger than they are, sometimes, by as much as 20 years. So for a boomer, life after 50 means that half of their adult life remains. And they expect the second half to be filled with new experiences and more adventure.
As boomers approach 60, many see themselves at the height of their career and aren't yet ready to retire. And when they do ultimately retire, they have no plans to do it as their parents did. From 1994 to 2003, the majority of Active Adult home buyers were no longer working. But today, more than 50 percent of these buyers are not fully retired.
For boomers, buying into an Active Adult community represents a “quality of life” proposition. It's all about the lifestyle. That being said, their lifestyle is active. They flock to fitness centers, go back to school, travel, and shop—all in an attempt to make a difference to others and enjoy their lives.
And yet, for a generation known for its tendency to buck the system, we should not be surprised to learn that they're hardly comfortable with the Active Adult label. Historically resentful of authority, this is apt to be the group that can't wait to get the developer out of a community so they can remove the “Active Adult Community” disclaimer from all the signage.
So what will the term be that will ultimately seem amenable to this evolving post-55 living solution? Just as our adult community profiles remain in constant motion, expect the terms to shift as well. Just as “Retirement Community” morphed into “Active Adult Community” for matures, “Active Lifestyle Community” may end up as the term defining all things boomer.
William Becker is president of William E. Becker in Teaneck, N.J., a home building marketing consultancy.