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Housing the Retired Baby Boomers

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by Dale Wilkes, Director of Advancement, Realty of Maine

If you were so lucky to have been born between 1946 and 1964, you are among the 78 million Americans like me who are lovingly referred to as Baby Boomers. We burst forth as toddlers during the baby boom that followed the end of WWII. We were the long-haired, trouble-causing hippies of the 60s who miraculously morphed into middle-class and upper-class couples with 2.4 children, a dog, a cat and a beautifully decorated suburban home. The Volkswagen flower-power van was replaced with the soccer mom SUV. And now we are the largest group of retirees this country has ever seen.

Arthur C. Nelson, professor of urban planning at the University of Utah, estimates that 1.5 to 2 million homes belonging to seniors will come on the market by the end of this decade. He sees a growing trend among Baby Boomers to put their homes up for sale and downsize. The first Baby Boomers to hit age 65 started in 2011 and will continue until 2029.

Baby Boomers are healthier than their parents' generation, and therefore, will live longer. Statistics show that some seniors will be retired for more years than they actually spent in the workforce. That sounds great until you consider that few of us Baby Boomers will enjoy the generous pensions and retiree health benefits that most of our parents earned.

John McIlwain, Senior Resident Fellow at The Urban Land Institute, recently completed a housing report in which he details how this 78 million-strong generation is creating both challenges and opportunities for the real estate industry.

This boomer generation is not like your grandfather's generation - no shuffleboard or ceramics classes for them. Most are still physically fit - they are running marathons, taking cycling vacations and skiing the best slopes. For those who can afford it, they are building new, smaller homes with energy-efficient features, the latest tech trends, wider doors/hallways, home offices, first-floor bedrooms and low maintenance exteriors/landscaping.

Your typical retirement community has become less desirable to this energetic group. Many are finding smaller towns attractive with reasonable home prices, opportunities for new businesses and a slower pace of life. Some are opting to downsize from the suburbs into the urban core where they enjoy public transportation and cultural diversity. Others are making the difficult decision to move in with grown children, either by choice or by financial necessity.

In the end, though, where a Baby Boomer grows old will depend in large part on what he or she can afford. Downsizing in some urban locals like Boston or New York may not make economic sense. But, in Maine, towns like Bangor, Belfast and Ellsworth offer affordable housing solutions with vibrant downtowns filled with new restaurants, shops, a thriving arts and theatre scene and recreational opportunities at every turn.

"One size does not fit all" perfectly describes this boomer generation. Catering to the housing needs of this diverse and eclectic group will call for innovation, insight and ingenuity in the decades to come.

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