Real Estate

Older adults, especially those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, have been among the groups hardest hit by COVID-19. This has compelled a reexamination by many – often in concert with their adult children – about how and where they want to live the rest of their lives.

Real estate professionals, industry analysts and home builders are all tracking their choices, which show up as relocation and home buying trends in the shadow of the pandemic. How will their decisions impact what’s built and where? Here are six trends that experts are watching.

1.      Granny Flats Gain Fans

“I think a lot of seniors saw folks who were isolated in senior living facilities, unable to be with their families for a year. They don’t want that kind of future,” observes Linnette Edwards, a certified senior real estate specialist in Oakland, California and co-founder of Abio Properties. “So they are planning to age in place in their current home or downsize somewhere else, like an accessory dwelling unit on their children’s property.”

ADUs used to be called ‘granny flats,’ and since California liberalized codes that allowed them to be built on existing home sites, their popularity has soared in the nation’s most populous state, particularly for multi-generational living. “The number of permits taken out for ADUs in California alone has increased 11-fold in the last few years,” Edwards notes. “Multi-generational living via ADUs is high priority.” she adds.

In some scenarios, seniors are building ADUs for themselves, and having their children and grandchildren move into the larger family house. This helps them escape a high-maintenance home with stairs in favor of a more accessible living space. It also lets them stay in their communities and be more accessible to their families for childcare, health needs and celebrations. “They get to live affordably and independently, knowing support is just a few steps away. And so are their grandkids!” Edwards comments. A related trend for those who don’t want to leave their current home is to move a caregiver into a rent-free ADU as part of a compensation package.

2.   Multi-generational Living Surges

Multi-generational closeness is showing up in the new home construction sector, as well as in resale real estate trends. “In many of the nation’s hottest job and housing markets, we’re seeing two or three generations of families coming together,” shares Tim Costello, CEO of BDX, parent company of top-rated websites for new home construction. “The trend of ‘baby-chasers’ – Boomers following their adult children and grandchildren – will continue,” he predicts.

“Many hot housing markets across the Southeast are attracting all age groups driven by robust job growth, more affordable housing compared to major urban markets, and a climate and quality of life that appeals to Boomers,” Costello adds. What are these multi-generational buyers looking for? “Gated 55-plus enclaves in master-planned communities for all age groups provide many buyers with the best of both worlds,” he notes. This allows grandparents to live close by, without crowding themselves or their adult children.

3.    Pent-up Socialization Drive

With COVID forcing social distancing and isolation for many health-challenged seniors, the BDX executive sees builders creating amenities geared toward healthy socialization. “Is there a move to personal Peloton-style classes for the individual vs group classes? Perhaps, but there is also pent up demand to re-engage socially.”

Wellness activities create a sense of community among residents, he says, though fitness centers, spa facilities and other indoor amenities have had to close for extended periods during the pandemic. Taking their place in wellness living are biking and walking groups on community trails, outdoor yoga and fitness classes and long-popular golfing and pickleball games. These can all foster healthy social time with social distancing.

4.    Outdoor Living Increases

A good climate usually ranks high on relocation priorities for the older homebuyer. Being able to enjoy outdoor living through more seasons is more prized than ever, especially when socializing outside also brings lower risk of COVID infection. “From the moment the pandemic hit, new outdoor amenities our residents call ‘chill zones’ were an immediate response to taking food to viewpoints throughout the community to dine outdoors safely distanced, but still with friends and neighbors,” shares Jeff McQueen, president of Trilogy, Shea Homes’ division for 55-plus “active adult” buyers.

Trilogy has communities across popular sunbelt states like California, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, where outdoor living can be enjoyed almost year-round. “Within a community, the number one criterion for 55-plus resort communities are trails for walking, biking and hiking,” McQueen says.

The building executive shares that the pandemic has increased sales in non-urban regions for older buyers, which affords more outdoor living space for each homeowner. “Rural community locations have become increasingly popular during the pandemic,” he notes.

As reported in January, outdoor trends include a desire for privacy, which is showing up in sheltered side yards; pergolas and covered patios; home offices with a connection to an outdoor space, and even outdoor showers in resort communities.   

5.      Wellness Features Accelerate

Wellness means different things to different people, and has surged dramatically since the pandemic began in early 2020. COVID brought home the links between health and housing in a painfully immediate way, especially for older adults.  

In the new construction realm, wellness features with particular appeal to 55-plus buyers include improved indoor ventilation to reduce the risk of viral spread; features that enhance stress reduction; connections to nature; easy access to health care facilities, and spa features in the home, community center or both.

6.      Aging in Place

One of the top considerations for the 55-plus homebuyer is the ability to age in place, while also strenuously resisting the idea that they’re “aging.” It’s why so many older homeowners are selling out of the homes they raised their families in and either relocating or building ADUs on their properties. Their long-held large, multi-story dwellings no longer meet their needs and are too difficult to maintain.

Single-level ranch homes or multi-level properties with elevators are popular with older buyers. Barrier-free or low threshold showers with benches and handheld heads; wheelchair-friendly home entrances; cabinets with pull-outs and pull-downs, and wall-mount toilets and vanities are all also  trending with this group for their increased accessibility.  

Features that facilitate a lock and leave lifestyle, like low maintenance surfaces, built-in irrigation, smart home security systems and leak detectors, are also popular, especially with those who travel heavily or split their time between multiple homes.   

Final Thoughts

The good news for 55-plus homebuyers is that there is a wide array of options to meet their needs and an increasing availability of home features that can help them and their family members live safer and healthier.

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