The so-called stay-at-home phenomenon has been
manna to developers who never imagined a market for resort-style
communities near major urban centers throughout the Northeast
and Midwest. When Parks began his directory in the mid-1990s,
half of these communities were in the Sunbelt. Today, three-quarters
of them are outside the Sunbelt. Prices start in the $150,000
range for a two-bedroom, two-bath townhome and climb rapidly
"Take Washington D.C., which is not a popular
retirement destination," says Jenkins. "In D.C.
alone, there are a dozen active adult communities being built.
You would never have imagined that 10 years ago."
Dave Schriner, vice president of active adult
business development of Del
Webb branded communities for Pulte Homes, says even the
more mobile one-third of the herd no longer yearns for the
sun as their parents once did.
"They're willing to move further, but interestingly,
their motivation is not all weather-oriented. Many times,
the children and grandchildren have moved away, and they're
actually chasing them," he says. "The same reason
people stay typically is the reason some people go, which
is to be close to family and friends."
Ironically, some boomer retirees are migrating
with their job-seeking kids and grandkids right back to such
Sunbelt destinations as Las Vegas and Phoenix, where the jobs
Today, Del Webb, which started the concept back
in 1960, has 30 communities in more than 20 markets, ranging
from 500 homes to 5,000 and above in the Sun City mega-communities.
Schriner says another 140 are in some stage of acquisition
or development that will put them in more than 40 markets
nationwide. They hope to open at least 100 of them in the
next three years.
How does a boomer retire?
So how will the boomers retire? The short answer
is, slowly. An AARP poll found that 43 percent of boomers
plan to work into their 70s and even 80s, due in part to the
double-whammy of child care and elder care of the "sandwich"
generation and the high dive of their tech stocks.
But those ready to depart the old neighborhood
will enjoy that trademark of the baby boom: choice. You want
the sun? You got it. Interested in staying close to the kids?
There are now age-targeted (instead of age-restricted) active
Still working in the inner city? New developments
in the Boston and Chicago suburbs are conveniently situated
near freeways and commuter trains. Some developers are even
building new active adult high rises for those who have spent
their lives in condos and apartments. Schriner says Del Webb
has redeveloped a prison, factories and school campuses for
their prime, close-in locations.
Some communities, such as Fearrington
Village outside Chapel Hill, N.C., have become de facto
active adult communities because their residents just won't
leave. R.B. Fitch developed Jessie Fearington's 1,100-acre
farm into a cozy village of 1,000 homes because he liked the
feeling of the British villages he visited while stationed
at an RAF base. Everything about Fearrington Village flies
in the face of traditional retirement communities.
"I'm not age-restricted. I'm not a gated
community. I don't have a golf course or a big country club.
I've found there are a lot of people who don't want that,"
he says. "In place of a golf course, I put 40 cows and
I just added some goats. But you know, people look at this
and they sort of smile."
Today, 70 percent of his residents are active
retirees. There's a café in the old granary, a bookstore
in the barn and a Zagat-rated restaurant and bank in other
original farm buildings.
"We've been doing 'active retirement' for
25 or 30 years," says Fitch. "We just didn't know
Bill Parks admits it's going to be a challenge
catering to the needs of a generation that has stayed at the
Ritz-Carltons of the world. He doesn't figure them for what
he considers "contrived theme" approaches such as
the Disney community of Celebration. If he had to place money
on it, they're going to want top-quality, scaled-down homes
in smaller communities with a wide variety of activities and
proximity to world-class dining and the arts (i.e., a big
city) or sports (i.e., a college or university). A golf course
is probably no longer the draw it once was.
But you can probably skip the country club.
Boomers are apt to be more interested in high-speed Internet
connections, concierge service and their own community coffee
"Frankly, we don't know what the boomers
are going to do yet; they haven't started doing it,"
says Park. "They are not as organized as past generations
have been in terms of social activities; they would just as
soon have an intimate dinner with a few close friends. We
don't know exactly how the social activities will evolve.
We are now doing a lot more Starbucks-type venues where they
can come in. The boomers came out of the coffeehouse era;
they are more casual, less structured, and they are not prone
to accept the controls of the codes, covenants and restrictions
of large developments."
As the boomers gaze down life's back nine, one
thing is certain: When faced with a choice between lifestyle
and a sound investment, their choice will likely be both.
Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based