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As baby boomers age, local housing market adjusts

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PHOTO/CHRISTOPHER HOLLAND
Becky Wilder lives in a 55-and-older community in Northampton County.
PHOTO/CHRISTOPHER HOLLAND Becky Wilder lives in a 55-and-older community in Northampton County.

Over the last two decades, baby boomers created a market for sprawling houses that sat on expansive, suburban lawns.

But as they age, many boomers are leaving behind their McMansions and moving into smaller units in developments tailored for people 55 and older.

Others are choosing retirement/assisted living communities that offer a continuum of care, boosting demand for age-restricted housing developments in the region.

Whatever they choose, most boomers want to avoid mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. They want to scale down and live in smaller spaces.

But they also want to stay active and social.

And because of its size, the baby boom generation has critical mass and often, the economic wherewithal, to sway the real estate market, particularly in Pennsylvania, where boomers are the largest generation. There are more than 165,000 baby boomers in both Lehigh and Northampton counties, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, which gathers data from the U.S. Census.

“With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day there is tremendous pressure on developers for housing,” said Liz Brandl, community relations and outreach coordinator for Morningstar Living, a nonprofit retirement community based in Nazareth. “This generation knows that their house is not going to give them the lifestyle they want. Baby boomers want services and amenities with their housing, to keep them physically and mentally active, engaged in living and connected socially.”

MOVING OUT

Twenty years ago, people added ramps to get in and out and otherwise adjusted to remaining in their homes as long as possible.

But seniors today are seeking other options and developers have stepped up to fill that need.

“Ten years ago, there were not the choices we have today,” said Jane Schiff, associate broker for Howard Hanna Frederick Group in South Whitehall Township.

In some townships and municipalities, senior housing developments incorporate both active adult options along with continuing care retirement services. These properties can run the gamut from single-family houses and townhouses to condos and apartments.

Active adult communities often include on-site fitness centers, pools, tennis courts or other amenities while continuing care communities include medical or health care services on site.

The growth of age-restricted communities has influenced the real estate market, not just economically, Schiff said.

In many cases an agent or broker is dealing with people who have been living in their homes for many years. “It becomes much more emotional,” Schiff said.

Schiff, who has more than 30 years of experience in both commercial and residential real estate, obtained a senior real estate specialist certification last year.

“I did that because I realized, as I was entering that market, so are clients,” Schiff said.

Whether or not seniors stay in their homes greatly depends on their financial situation, but so too does moving into a senior-living community. Both have their costs and they often mean being on a waiting list, particularly for a continuing care community. For seniors, preparation, planning and knowing one’s financial picture all play a role.

DEVELOPMENT SLOWING?

These days, there are many types of communities to choose from, according to Schiff.

However, Schiff said she believes the growth of new senior housing will slow.

“Real estate is cyclical,” Schiff said. “I think the building will slow down a little bit.”

Developers are still proposing senior-housing projects, but the pace appears to be slowing. According to data obtained by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, developers proposed 230 age-restricted or assisted living units in 2017, down from 276 in 2016. In 2015, the figure was 643.

The Radnor-based homebuilder, Traditions of America, has completed two local 55-and-older communities and earned approval last year to build another in Bethlehem Township off Green Pond Road. Traditions also has plans to build a community near Quakertown.

The company has built communities in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Lancaster but is also starting to move into Ohio and Virginia, said Jay Goldberg, vice president of marketing for Traditions of America.

“They’re very popular, hence our commitment to that market,” Goldberg said.

He expects the market for age 55 and older communities to continue growing.

“In five years, we expect to be closing and selling about 800 homes,” Goldberg said.

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