I’ve known Stan Johnson for more than 25 years. He is 60, divorced and the father of two children, the younger child a girl who will graduate from high school next spring. He’s had the same job since he was 21 and will retire soon on a comfortable government pension with the maximum of 40 years of benefits. He has been known to have more than one cocktail between quitting time and supper, and spouts streetwise wisdom most of the day.

“Will you tell me something?” Stan asked one Saturday afternoon while tossing his post-hole digger into his pickup truck “Is everybody over 50 an active, health-freak adult? What do you call guys like me who simply want to come home, relax, pour something special in to a glass with ice, and eat popcorn on the couch?”

Stan Johnson, as usual, had a point. Why are potential home buyers in this country age 50 and older typically lopped into an active-adult group even though some of them could be worlds away from being “active”? This bunch would include some of the different buyer types you’ve heard about – move-down, empty-nest, last-time – any moniker you would like to place on a resident older than 50.

The bottom line is that Stan is just beyond the upper-age limit of 77.5 million baby boomers that were born between 1946-1964. Because so many of these people will soon be over 50, they are grouped into the largest definable category – active adult.

Harris Interactive conducted the online survey on behalf of Pulte Homes’ Del Webb Division from April 14-20, 2005, that included 1,802 adults aged 41-69 who live in 10 different regions of the U.S. Of the group in the 60-69 age bracket, 46 percent said they would consider moving to an active-adult community. The numbers were about the same for the 50-59 group – 47 percent said they would consider the active-adult community, while 41 percent of respondents age 41-49 would consider the move.

Housing analysts, designers, builders (Del Webb) and planners have spent millions of dollars in research trying to ascertain what most people around Stan’s age would like in a home if they were to move. Understanding a retirement lifestyle for a typical buyer in a specific area is extremely difficult. More than 60 percent, like Stan, may move to a smaller home in the same community, or simply stay put, surrounded by people of all ages. Others, with the kids gone and work finally slowing, have shifted their activities and energies on themselves and become more aware of their diet, physical fitness, eagerness to learn new skills and hobbies. They now are seeking a home that can better accommodate those changes and allow them to age in an area with more security and comfort with people their same age.

According to Irvine, Calif.-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting, which specializes in property analysis, the term “active adult” has become linked with the large communities where thousands of retirees flee their friends and families to join a resort-like club in a sunny climate. In the future, active adult will apply to a much wider profile of home buyers who will buy locally, as well as in the amenity-laden resort communities.

The word “community” has already taken on a new connotation in many Pacific Northwest neighborhoods. While most active-adult communities traditionally have been built in suburban locations, urban buyers command a greater share of the market, especially for condominiums, townhomes and multifamily apartments. Many buyers are empty-nesters who expect a high level of service, spend more on upgrades and are less likely to consider moving to an age-qualified community.

Remember, just as so many things in life, a move often does not turn out the way it’s planned. An empty-nester grandpa suddenly is asked to raise a granddaughter; the move-down buyer ends up paying more instead of less for the next home; and last-time buyers eventually come to see that they will actually move two more times.

Many, like Stan Johnson, probably will never move again. His pickup will be parked in the same driveway and he will relax on the couch with popcorn and something wonderful in a glass.

Tom Kelly’s new book “The New Reverse Mortgage Formula” (John Wiley & Sons) is now available in local libraries and bookstores. Tom can be reached at news@tomkelly.com.


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