Courtesy TDK Construction
Billy Pettit has a unique outlook on what seniors housing is and what it won’t be very soon.
“Seniors, today, tend to follow the rules and live by the rules,” Pettit says. “But the baby boomers—they tend to redefine the rules.”
And because of that, Pettit predicts that conventional senior housing will have a complete product overhaul as the baby boomers age.
As vice president of Seattle-based Pillar Properties, Pettit has a unique perspective on seniors housing. Pillar is the market-rate component of R.D. Merrill Co., which also owns the well-known senior living company Merrill Gardens. And sometimes the two companies develop side by side, giving Pettit the inside scoop on what’s to come.
Baby boomers are expected to account for 20% of American renters by 2020, according to Census Bureau projections. Today’s developers are tasked with building apartments that will attract and retain this ever-changing demographic. It all starts with finding the perfect site that will provide enough space and a neighborhood that accommodates the lifestyle baby boomers want.
Pettit has started to see more boomers try apartment living, especially in the firm’s newly built downtown Seattle apartment community Stadium Place.
“Some of the baby boomers have started to downsize and relocate from the suburbs to the urban core, and they’re looking for a location that caters to their lifestyle,” he says.
Stadium Place was built next to and overlooks CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks, and is surrounded by local eateries and cultural attractions. And although the project wasn’t built specifically with baby boomers in mind, the location is premier—and that’s exactly what they’re looking for.
When the location of a proposed project isn’t walkable, accessible, or located directly in the heart of a big city, sometimes you just have to make it work.
Not all baby boomers want to live in the urban core, but most of them want something that’s accessible, says Kent Ayer, president of Murfreesboro, Tenn.–based TDK Construction. While designing a 241-unit community in Murfreesboro dubbed 3343 Memorial, Ayer has kept the baby boomer renter in mind.
The project is located near a large commercial development that includes a drugstore and restaurants. But the land posed a problem for TDK; it wasn’t zoned for a multifamily development and wasn’t accessible to the commercial corridor.
“So, we provided sidewalks to the commercial space—we made it walkable. Now, our residents can walk to Walgreen’s, to the Mexican restaurant, or McDonald’s and Subway,” says Ayer. “We provided this walkability in a suburban environment, and that helped us in the rezoning and negotiations with the city. As part of our pitch, we figured out how to help the community, and we bent over backward to make sure it was going to be a positive project for North Murfreesboro.”
Sally Abrahms, a baby boomer expert who wrote the housing chapter in the book Not Your Mother’s Retirement, says connectivity between apartment developments and the rest of the community is the most important factor for baby boomer renters.
“The ability to get someplace easily is key,” she says.
And if the apartment complex or building isn’t directly located near public transit, then a means to get to transit should be provided, she says. “Boomers want to be in the center of the action and not depend on their cars,” she says.
Having enough space to build a large-scale project is another thing the suburbs have to offer developers looking to attract baby boomers, says Brenner Daniels of Vancouver, Wash.–based Holland Residential.
Daniels is working on a 112-unit community for renters ages 55 and up in Wilsonville, Ore., called Portera at the Grove.
“Our units are very large,” he says. “They’re, on average, about 1,225 square feet. You can’t do that in an urban environment. You would want to go much smaller than that, but the demand [among this demographic] is for these slightly larger units. [Boomers] still want to be able to use the furniture they have and have storage and bike parking.”
More land also allows for larger amenity spaces, Daniels says. When it comes to amenities, baby boomers want much of the same things every generation wants, including large pool decks, barbecue areas, and high-end finishes.
That’s why Wermers Cos. doesn’t focus on boomers specifically. Branden Wermers, director of development of the San Diego–based company, says while baby boomers present a large opportunity, they have the same wants and needs as younger renters.
“People want to have pet washing stations and walkability and fitness,” he says. “Health-oriented communities are huge, especially for the older and younger groups of renters. The fitness center is always the No. 1 amenity.”
Connecting people with others is also something Wermers considers an amenity, and having a space for residents to do that is important.
“We do events that are tailored toward millennials, but we’ve found that boomers are coming to these events because they want to be a part of what the millennials are doing,” he says.
And one of the reasons Wermers doesn’t home in on the baby boomer generation specifically is that boomers aren’t just choosing apartments based on the amenities and finishes; they’re looking for a location that works best for their families, too. And that often comes down to where their children and grandchildren are living.
“It’s a lifestyle choice,” Wermers says. “They want to have the flexibility to move. Sometimes their kids are moving and they want to rent a place where the kids are living, but they don’t want to buy there, because the kids could move again.”
Abrahms agrees. Grandchildren are playing a larger role in which location baby boomers decide to live in, she says.
“I’ve seen an interest in aging in place, not necessarily the current home, but in your community where you have roots or someplace near family,” she says. “They want to be near grandkids but still want to be independent and have their own life.”