The Future of 55+ Housing

The numbers are looking up for the 55-plus housing market. But there’s a question of how long these numbers will be available, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

At a briefing during the group’s annual conference, NAHB Vice President of Survey and Housing Policy Research Paul Emrath was upbeat about the recovery of housing targeted toward seniors and baby boomers. He noted in particular that builder confidence in new, single family homes in the 55-plus market tripled in the third quarter of 2012 as compared to the same time in 2011.

“Everything is up, year-over-year,” Emrath said. “It’s an indication that we’re starting to dig out of the hole we fell into in 2009.”

In NAHB’s forecast, boomers and seniors are projected to grow their share of the market over the next few years. By 2020, the group expects the market share of U.S. households in the 55-plus age bracket to grow more than four percent, to 46.6 percent.

Yet Emrath warned that the future of NAHB’s reporting on boomer and senior markets is in peril because the Census Bureau changed the way that they collect generational information.

“The forecast that you just saw is at risk right now,” Emrath said. “When I get back to Washington, I’m going to spend a lot of time writing letters trying to persuade [HUD and the Census Bureau] that they were misguided in removing these 55-plus questions from their surveys.”

In addition to the economic data, Emrath hit a few of the boomer and senior highlights of NAHB’s new consumer preference survey, called What Home Buyers Really Want. The group asked respondents who have bought homes recently or are thinking about buying soon about their housing preferences across a wide range of issues. Emrath noted that older buyers are not downsizing, as many believe.

“For every age bracket, people want a bigger home than they currently have,” Emrath said. “The degree of upsizing gets very small when you get to the 55+ market, [but] I don’t see a lot of evidence of downsizing here.”

Emrath noted a few other surprises in the report regarding what features buyers do and do not want in their homes.

“Older buyers, in a lot of ways, have similar preferences to younger buyers,” Emrath said. “Maybe the most interesting thing here is how energy efficiency pops up toward the top” of each generation’s list of desirable home features.

Of course, older buyers are more interested in accessibility and outdoor areas that reflect their activity levels than younger ones are. But Emrath cautioned against avoiding universal design in homes and communities targeted toward younger buyers.

“You don’t wake up on your 55th birthday and suddenly say, ‘I like walking trails,'” Emrath said. “We don’t see a lot of outright hostility to accessibility features.”

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]

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  1. Very fantastic information here Meg, the 55+ housing market has always had a harder profit then most other types of houses, you are right no 55 plus person will wake up and suddenly want to live in a house that has walking trails, or is unaccessible for an older person. Thanks for sharing!