Planning Beyond The Boomer Bubble
I have not-so-fond memories of visiting elderly relatives in a “home” as a child. Most places were healthcare-oriented, and looked, functioned (and smelled) like hospitals. But something happened sometime in the late 1970s: these facilities became true communities, attracting recent retirees with appealing independent living options and the comfort of knowing that they would have a continuum of care, if and when needed.
Flash forward to 2012. Visit any traditional retirement community and you’ll probably see luxury villas, detached homes, cottages, or one- and two-bedroom apartments — sitting empty. And a marketing staff at its wit’s end. Is the independent living model, which has been a standard feature of the traditional community, an endangered species? It could be, unless serious changes are made to accommodate the Boomer generations.
Demand for traditional continuing-care retirement communities (known in the industry as CCRCs) is poised for growth in the coming decades as the population ages and experiences declining health. These communities provide residents with three levels of care, including independent living, assisted living/personal care, and skilled nursing.
Build It and They Will … Wait?
But many communities exhibited a “build it and they will come” mentality during the housing boom, resulting in a glut of high-end independent living products. Combined with sliding real estate values, the availability of home care, and the increasing popularity of “aging-in-place,” many traditional communities are facing serious census issues. In particular, they’re finding it even more difficult to sell through to Boomers, who are working longer, seeking younger-feeling, more active options, or remaining in their homes until physically unable to do so.
We recently worked in tandem with a nationally known architectural firm and retirement consultancy to conduct some focus group research to gain some insights into the mind-set of folks in their 60s and 70s. What were their attitudes toward current community attributes, and what will they be looking for in terms of services, housing and design — should they choose to relocate at all? Some findings: many living spaces are too small, too opulent, and don’t have enough storage; technology will be important for the now-common two-computer household; transportation should be on-demand; dining should not be a formal event, and must include healthy options; payment options should include traditional mortgages or rents; and healthcare must be available, and should include memory support.
The conclusion? While assisted-living, skilled nursing and other healthcare-related facilities will always be needed, many communities, architects, planners and directors will have to rethink the whole idea of the independent living space.
Steps in the Right Direction
A recent article in the New York Times spotlighted the builders of a community that took steps to loosen the strict age limitations typical of “adult” communities, while locations such as suburban Boston’s Southfield offer a range of multigenerational, transit-friendly options. Others have expanded into home- and community-based services that allow people to remain independent.
Boomers have redefined everything, and aging and the concept of retirement itself are no exceptions. Clearly, they’re not going to accept the same community where Mom and Dad or Grandma lived, nor will they be content to sit poolside or play shuffleboard. For marketers, understanding Boomer consumers’ mind-sets, lifestyles and life stages is the best way to plan for their impact on related products and services. Communities – new and old – that address these issues now could reap benefits that reach beyond the Boomer bubble.