3 Whopping Assumptions Industry "Experts" Make About Baby Boomer Home Buyers
By W. Alex Goldie
Anyone over the age of 40 is by now hyper-alert to the entire marketing stratosphere’s buzz intended to attract the Baby Boomer consumer. Most of those folks are starting to feel like their being treated like big dollar signs, without anyone listening for what they’re really interested in. The Real Estate industry’s efforts to corral this demographic are not exempt from this behavior, so I’ve identified three wholly obsolete or incorrect assumptions that builders and Realtors alike have fallen into. Let me know if any of this sounds familiar-
1. Boomers want new lifestyles to come along with their new addresses!
2. Boomers are getting older, but still think they’re in their 20’s!
3. Health issues affect older people; so Baby Boomers need Universal Design building principles to remain independent.
Yikes – Those are pretty bad. Let’s take a closer look at what these assumptions mean, and what a more accurate picture might look like.
Quite often we see advertisements for a new retirement community designed not for baby boomers, but for their parents – G.I. Generation or Silent Generation members. Marketing materials from these types of developments typically extol the ability of seniors to take up fresh pursuits, and begin to enjoy a new lifestyle in their planned communities. In addition to providing a “new way of life,” sales materials are often gluttonously weighted with helpful features that seniors will benefit from.
To bolster sales, age restrictions have been lowered on most of these communities – some as low as 50 or even 45+ years for the youngest residents. A question would obviously be why more baby boomers have not been sold on these communities? Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that baby boomers do not need “new lives?” Perhaps they’re fairly happy with life now, and want to merely move their life to a new address, not a new reality. When a baby boomer takes a trip through a new construction model, they are far more likely to be reconciling the new residence with their existing lifestyle.
By now, we’re well accustomed to the stereotype that baby boomers are obsessed with youth. This very important aspect of many baby boomers’ personalities has been terribly misconstrued by kind folks responsible for marketing baby boomer oriented products and services, and particularly in real estate. They are advertising with a presumption that, for baby boomers being young means being 21! Overall, baby boomers have played by their own rules, and often see old age or youth to be a conscious choice, a mindset. However, the overall consensus of people I talk to is that few intend to go back into their twenty’s, they just want to retain their youthful spirit and keep their good looks! The problem with most of the marketing efforts is in many of the marketers. If a marketing team is made up of 20 and 30somes, especially if they’ve been inundated with the notion of baby boomers being vain or age defiant, they have a tendency to advertise to THEMSELVES. They are doing what is most natural, which is why we see so many baby-boomer-oriented advertisements with individuals acting peculiarly for their age bracket. Advertisers, and those designing homes and providing services, need to be able to walk a fine line between observing this natural desire for baby boomers to retain and regain youthful vigor, and patronizing it with the vague notion that fresh faced young adults are an IDEAL which all others envy.
As I have noted in past articles, the rate for disabilities of the 65 and older crowd has actually dropped from 26.2 percent in 1982 to 19.7 percent in 1999 (Census Bureau Statistic). The devotion to physical fitness by many in the baby boomer generation will decrease those percentages even further, and we all expect boomers to outlive their predecessors significantly. However, those who decide to plan ahead, taking a proactive course in their home search, are expected to be looking for homes that utilize “Universal Design” in their new home’s floor plan and amenities. “Universal Design” is a home designed to accommodate those with disabilities in a floor plan that is friendly even to those who are not disabled. It emerged after World War Two, with the hundreds of thousands of Veterans returning home effected by the ravages of war. Understandably, connotations of Universal Design are not readily welcomed by baby boomers, as opposed to home buyers of the 1950’s, and much to the chagrin of industry analysts and experts.
While universal design may be helpful to those with physical challenges, those without them are not excited by the prospect of hand-rails in the bathroom, or extra-low countertop heights. The features they may enjoy, however, are those which provide added luxury in addition to ease of access. Things like wider doorways, an ergonomically designed kitchen, more open floor-plans, and a bathroom that is larger and more conveniently laid-out. This concept of universal design, developed over the past 60 years, needs to evolve to suit the healthiest generation in history. Boomers are not being forced into new homes; they just want a blueprint that can easily adapt to their needs as they age, yet still provide the comfort and luxury that they've earned and deserve.
It is no doubt that the housing industry will need to adapt over the coming years as more and more Baby Boomers reach age 60 and beyond. How that change manifests itself is going to change many of the preconceived notions that the “experts” have been duped with. Hopefully, for the sake of those who are looking to make a move for the sake of their future, those preconceived notions will be shed in favor of reality. Baby boomers are not looking to start over with a new life, metamorphous into 20 or 30somethings, nor move into a home expressly designed for elderly needs. Here’s a novel idea – how about selling baby boomers based on each individuals’ wants and needs? Maybe that’s over-thinking it.
W. Alex Goldie is a Realtor & Broker Associate with Baird & Warner Residential Sales, Inc. He is a Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES), a member of Baird & Warner's Vice-President's Club, and an Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR). Based out of Saint Charles, Illinois, he works primarily in the western suburbs of Chicagoland.
Correspond with him via email at email@example.com or phone at 630.803.1725. Or check out his blog, "RealTopics," at http://alexgoldie.thewrittenblog.com
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