CHANTILLY, Va.–The initial view of retirement in the United States was focused on Dad and his golf clubs. What was this man who had spent years in the working world going to do with all of his spare time?

Lately, however, builders and developers are finally starting to “get it.” They now are well aware that women make a majority of the decisions in the home-buying process and that they no longer are merely housewives of a nuclear family. Since the 1960s, the percentage of men entering the workforce has diminished. During this same period, the percentage of working women has increased substantially. Today, women are independent, empowered, educated and employed — and often single.

A profile of home buyers and sellers from the National Association of Realtors showed nearly 30 percent of all U.S. home buyers were single. Single women accounted for the second-largest segment of home buyers, accounting for 21 percent of transactions, after married couples who bought 59 percent of homes. NAR also estimates that 47 percent of condominium owners are single women.

According to a panel featuring women in the housing industry, women 50 and older are choosing to live in communities that emphasize social interaction and convenience, enabling them to simultaneously nurture and multitask. The experience of community is a key driver for women as well as the proximity to jobs and public transportation.

As for home amenities, older women are very focused on security. They are attracted to high-tech home security systems as well as automated home lighting systems. Women are just as busy as men and they appreciate anything that saves time. Convenience, in terms of location and saving time and effort, are a big plus with female home buyers. They also look to have amenities that play into the needs of children. Shared areas are critical to community life, as well as nearby stores, parks and recreational areas. Communities centered on a single amenity (i.e. a golf clubhouse) are perceived as less welcoming for women and children.

According to Doris Perlman, founder and president of Denver-based Possibilities for Design, women control 80 percent of consumer purchases, direct 91 percent of housing decisions and guide 94 percent of home furnishing choices. While Perlman’s research has delineated many of the specific home features that are likely to particularly attract older women, in their shopping habits she suggested that these customers are apt to be “circular, exploring and tactile” and “do not make linear decisions.”

“Her needs for personal connection and security are key,” Perlman added. “Women don’t just buy a product; they join it.”

Among Perlman’s observations on what will sway baby-boomer women home buyers are color and light. Women are very attuned to colors. In 2005-2006, the color trends include brown becoming the “new black”; grayed-out greens; reds coming up orange; classic colors with such new names as “wasabi,” “aero blue,” and “vanilla”; and textural effects suggesting copper, pewter and stone.

Illumination — both task lighting and natural light — is of major importance to compensate for declining vision and to add drama. Women buyers are looking for strong character in home design, such as cottages with a crisp and clean look, urban enclaves with rich colors and textures, and calming and contemporary Asian influences.

Women who are 55 or older are cyber-savvy and use their computers for ordering and correspondence.

Women this age now have more time to relax, engage in social activities and explore hobbies, making “special interest” rooms an essential feature in new home marketing. Perlman also says, “women shop with peripheral vision: they notice everything,” and “harness the power of grand parenting.” It’s OK to include a grandkid’s room. They also want walking trails, which make a hotel/resort-fitness feel.

Sara Lamia, founder and president of Fort Collins, Colo.-based Homed Building Coach said that builders who hope to succeed in selling to the older woman need to learn how to build their trust first. Lamia cautioned that women over 50 “are especially perceptive and will know if you appreciate them or not.”

“We need to be respected and heard and expect nothing but the best including luxury and superb customer service,” Lamia said. “We want to be able to die in our new homes…and don’t want to ever have to move to an institution.”

Aging baby-boomer female buyers are not only active but they are also proud and extremely good listeners, according to Joanne Chappell-Theunissen, president of Mt. Pleasant, Mich.-based Howling Hammer Builders. Unlike younger women, the 50-and-older female buyer is also likely to be relatively unaccustomed to business dealings, but the average 70-year-old thinks of herself as middle-aged.

Builders and remodelers wanting to focus on this category will be working with a woman “who likes to have the rules set for her,” so it is important to set them at the start, explaining her responsibilities and what can, and cannot, reasonably be expected as the construction process moves forward.

“What isn’t she saying to you, and why? She’s not comfortable talking to you about her frailties. Turn it into a third-party conversation and take the onus off her,” Theunissen said. “Don’t say, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll fix it.’ Instead, tell her how it’s going to be fixed, who’s going to fix it, and when it will be fixed.”

That sounds like some of the questions being asked around our home.

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


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