Retirement Communities May Have to Retool to Attract Boomers

April 20, 2012 ( - Boomers pose major challenges for the future of traditional retirement communities, a study found.

Baby Boomers want plenty of storage space when they retire, and they’re not giving up their WiFi or their alcohol.

Just as they’ve charged through and transformed nearly every stage of life, the never-shy Boomers are now changing the typical retirement community, according to a study by the communications firm Varsity. Demand for traditional continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) is poised to grow over the next two decades as the Boomers age, and the market will have to accommodate a generation of retirees that is highly vocal about its likes and dislikes.

“Boomers have redefined a number of consumer areas,” said John Bassounas, director of client services for Varsity. “Aging and 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.”

During the housing boom, a glut of high-end independent living products is now decreasing real estate values. The increasing availability of home care and “aging-in-place” have created serious census issues for many traditional communities, which are having a hard time selling to the  Baby Boomers.

One reason: these potential residents are working longer, and they want housing options that feel younger and more active, or they’re remaining in their homes until they’re physically unable to do so.

“This research showed that, while assisted living and skilled nursing will always be necessary,” Bassounas said, “many communities, architects, planners and directors will have to rethink the whole idea of independent living.”

Survey participants—adults age 60 to 75—gave a thumbs-up to generously proportioned kitchens (some mentioned that they enjoyed cooking together), covered parking, built-in safes, vegetarian meals, generous linen storage and closet space, and sufficient data ports and coaxial outlets. “We’re bringing at least two computers,” one participant said.

Deemed crucial were onsite health care (with “memory support” considered a paramount feature), and flexible transportation routes and schedules.

The groups surveyed gave a thumbs-down to high entrance fees (especially in the face of declining home values), extravagant housing options, expensive-to-maintain recreational facilities, such as swimming pools and indoor tennis courts, inadequate kitchen counter space and bedrooms that are not big enough to accommodate a queen- or king-sized bed.

Other key findings include:

  • Many living spaces are deemed too small, too opulent and lack sufficient storage;
  • Dining should not be a formal event and must include healthy options;
  • "Green" labels are met with skepticism; and
  • Payment options are too limited, and should include traditional mortgage or rent structures.

Varsity’s report, “The Next Generation: Understanding What the Boomer Consumer Wants from Retirement,” is a look at the mindset of Boomers as they contemplate retirement living options; their attitudes toward current community attributes, and what they will look for in services, housing and design—that is, if they decide to relocate.

The research was conducted in early 2012, and is based on focus group findings and tours of prominent retirement communities involving adults age 60 to 75. Groups comprised adults age 60 to 75 who have not made a definite commitment to moving in a retirement community, are ambivalent about doing so, or who have no intention of ever doing so.

The survey is available from Varsity

- Jill Cornfield