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New Hot Button Features for Boomers

New Hot Button Features for Boomers
An open living space provides convenience.
[NOTE: This article speaks to professional builders but has important advice for anyone thinking of building a new home. Read on!]

Market researchers sometimes create the impression that the only way to coax aging baby boomers into new homes is to build a whole new community in a Sunbelt location. But who besides the biggest public builders has the resources to do that?

Thankfully, the larger opportunity may be building one-off homes in cities where boomers already live. Boomers, just like proceeding generations, would rather remain in their hometown as they reach their Golden Years. What can you do to attract boomers, who are likely to drive the new-home market for another decade? Baby boomers remain an independent-minded generation looking to have fun and enjoy life, to be sure. But their age also creates demand for design features to help them navigate and live comfortably in their home. Consider these:

Ranch plans
Single-story living is back in vogue, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, as an aging population decides it would rather not take the stairs. The problem for builders is that it’s not cost-efficient to spread out footprints when you could build up and put more home on the lot.

The middle ground: first-floor master bedrooms, as shown in Plan 120-189, above.

An elevator option
Builders in the big metro markets are having success with three-story townhomes, often built in close-in desirable locations. If an elevator doesn’t come with the home, space is typically left for one. Lifts make rooftop getaways more accessible. They also make it more convenient to move main living areas to the second floor, leaving room for parking and a bedroom/office below.

The example shown here, with optional elevator beside the entry, is from Plan 449-22 by David Cox.

A low-threshold entry
Low thresholds probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about baby boomers. But working out a spec so that anyone – including people on crutches or using a wheelchair – can easily enter the house makes a ton of sense. It’s on a list of invisible touches that includes walk-in showers, wider hallways, lever handle sets, and blocking behind towel racks that can later accommodate grab bars. Here's

an example by Larson Shores Architects with a shallow ramp to the entry deck.
Sliding barn doors
Boomers may be looking to downsize, but they still want adequate living space. One way to economize is to use sliding barn doors to separate rooms. Not only does it provide more livable square footage, but rooms can swing between public and private uses -- an office door can be closed for privacy, a den can be

converted into a guest room. This example is from Plan 890-1 by architect Cathy Schwabe.

Space for a bar
Researchers at this year’s PCBC reported that bars have come back in as baby boomers rediscover the joys of alcohol in their old age. Bars don’t have to be elaborate, but they do require some dedicated space, in the

sweet spot where entertaining is likely to occur. This example, doubling as a butler's pantry, is in Plan 497-18.

Energy independence
Baby boomers grew up at a time when energy independence was top of mind. So it’s no surprise that they are willing to pay extra for energy-conserving features, including net-zero homes that can free them from electrical bills altogether.

The spread of leasing plans for solar panels makes this a much more attractive option today (Plan 890-1 by Nir Pearlson).

Outdoor living
Having a big lawn isn’t as important to this buyer as it was when the kids were at home. But spending time outdoors – or at least enjoying the outdoors – certainly is. Appealing to boomer buyers is behind the growing trend toward indoor/outdoor living space, including outdoor kitchens and living rooms,

as shown here in Plan 140-149.

Rear views
Builders who have always served to empty nesters know the importance of backyard views. In fact, many of their home designs are so oriented toward the back that the front elevation is almost forgotten.

Capitalize on the opportunity to provide views of a treed lot from as many rooms as possible (as Plan 449-13 by David Cox does).

Multiple masters

Older couples don’t like to talk about sleep trouble that ultimately lands them in separate bedrooms. But make no mistake: Dual masters are an untold secret to the success of empty-nest builders. The second

master is often marketed as a guest bedroom, of course. Here's an example: Plan 48-640.

A real home office
Studies show that boomers are transitioning slowly into retirement, often working from home either full or part-time. That raises the need for dedicated office space, with enough room for storage and equipment. Home workers may need privacy for phone calls and even a door for deliveries. Serious work doesn’t get done surfing the Internet on the couch. Here's a design -- Plan 888-18 by architect Nicholas Lee -- with a

home office near the master suite, so it could also be the second master in a pinch.

Boyce Thompson is the former Editorial Director of Builder Magazine, and the author of The New New Home.

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