Baby boomers say they wouldn’t be caught dead living in an age-restricted community, but what they eventually will do is another matter.

That’s the opinion of Eric Snider, who has a doctorate in social psychology and serves as Shea Homes’ marketing director for Trilogy, the company’s upscale active adult communities. He constantly tries to ascertain what people over 50 expect in a home and then tries to deliver that product in an appropriate atmosphere.

“Baby boomers are famous for believing one thing and then behaving totally different from what they think they do,” said Snider “When you ask boomers about age-restricted communities, they initially say, ‘I’m not going to live in one of those.’ But when you look at the characteristics of the community, it gives them exactly what they are looking for – exclusivity, amenities and personal experiences. Boomers are all about personal experiences.”

Baby boomers – the healthiest, wealthiest and largest segment ever seen on the American landscape – have coupled with discriminating seniors to form a huge target for upscale home builders. Today’s older buyers place a premium on their return on enjoyment.

Just how large is this niche market that Shea and other developers are attempting to penetrate? According to the U.S. Census, there are currently 39.5 million people in the U.S. who are between the ages of 45 and 54 alone. Most of these folks plan to work well into the traditional retirement age and their next home will be as expensive – and about the same size – as their present home.

And, while not all potential buyers in this category seek the special golf experience, they definitely are after an open feeling – if not a fairway lot. For example, the large open expanse known as the Redmond Watershed Preserve sits adjacent to Trilogy at Redmond Ridge in Washington. Toss in 12 miles of hiking trails and park areas providing tennis courts, horseshoes, bocce ball and lawn bowling and the area clearly feels secluded from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Golf, however, continues to be a huge draw. Trilogy at La Quinta near Palm Springs, Calif., spent $1 million for the rights to play the nationally televised Skins Game, a four-player, one-weekend professional event.

In an effort to pinpoint factors for the potential size and shape of homes, Shea Homes recently completed a survey asking baby boomers if they were politically active, if they were involved with their children’s educational experience, and how often they had guests over for dinner.

“The results were surprising,” Snider said, “because of the perception we still retain of the 1960s. People immediately shift their minds to that decade when boomers even begin to be mentioned.”

According to the findings, the assumption that boomers are politically active is incorrect. The huge group that once protested, waved banners and flashed the peace sign has not remained politically involved.

“After the war, boomers put their signs down, went home and essentially turned on their televisions,” Snider said.

That’s one reason why the today’s homes are so large, researchers say. During the past 50 years, homes have gone from an average of 953 square feet to 2,200 square feet. At the same time, the size of the family has declined dramatically.

An interesting section of the poll asked boomers if they were involved in their child’s educational experience. While most replied “yes,” very few were members of the PTA or part of policy decision making at the school or larger-based school systems.

“What they mean is that they engage with their child about school or a specific teacher,” Snider said. “They’re not talking to the principal or are key players of the PTA.”

The most surprising revelation in the Shea data was that boomers are no longer social beings. According to Snider, the group once known to say, “pass me the joint, let’s go get stoned” is no longer so inclusive.

“They have retreated to their homes and away from society,” Shea said. “Yet, that is not their reality at all.”

Tom Kelly’s new book “How a Second Home Can Be Your Best Investment” (McGraw-Hill, $16.95) was co-written with John Tuccillo, former chief economist for the National Association of Realtors and is now available in local bookstores. He can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.

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