Baby boomers are set to inherit $10.4 trillion over the next few decades. So says AARP Magazine, in a recent article, "Taking Your Lumps."
Interestingly enough, remodelers may have already worked for the people who will pass along that wealth: homeowners older than 57 and baby boomers in their 50s. (Baby boomers are generally described as those born between 1946 and 1964 -- currently between the ages of 39 and 57.) And even if the money comes much later, this group is ready to pass wisdom and referrals on to their children.
Remodelers in markets attractive to both middle-aged and older home buyers, or markets now affordable to affluent home buyers with children, report that second-generation customers are easy referrals. And while they have different expectations from their elders, they're easy to do business with.
"We're now into the second generation of 10 or 12 customers," says Tim Moore of Keating-Moore Construction, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "This has been a great source of business for us." He estimates that within the past three years, second-generation customers have made up 35% of the firm's revenues.
Moore's affluent market is attracting grown children of residents who've retired to the area. He says because the grown children are either self-made, have inherited wealth, or have flexibility about where they work, they're delighted to live in a place that holds good memories from when they vacationed there with their parents.
"They're leaving New York and the Northeast and buying these homes," he says. "Some are using them as a second home, some are in the process of moving down. But the workplace has become so global, people with home offices can have these second homes and run up to New York or Chicago when they need to."
In West Hartford, Conn., Russ Liljedahl of Liljedahl Bros., a third-generation business, recently finished a $500,000 whole-house remodel for the daughter of a past client who had died. (She bought the house from the estate, because there were siblings.) "She had total trust in us," Liljedahl says.
Kermit Baker of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies says he's not sure he sees a connection between growing wealth and second-generation customers. But, he says, "what strikes me as interesting is the share of that wealth that is housing wealth -- given growing housing prices -- and how preserving this wealth for their children might mean greater investment in housing," he says.
Plusses: Begin with trust
Recently, when Liljedahl received a phone message from a client his company had completed three additions for over the years, he returned the call within 15 minutes. "It took me a minute, after I heard his voice, to realize it wasn't him, it was his son -- they have the same name," Liljedahl says. Although he has yet to contract with the son, he had immediate credibility with him, so much so that the remodeler suggested architects to work with the son on the complicated remodel. "I feel like I'll really have to stay on top of that, to make sure I follow up well, and that he's catered to properly," Liljedahl says. "I always try to do that, but when you're busy, you can't do everything for everyone. I'll put him on the top of the pile."
Such attentive service is what second-generation customers require, say remodelers, especially if you're to retain the trust of the golden referral.
These customers want the same quality of products and workmanship as their parents, but they want variety, says Ed Shanblott of Home Beautifier, Duluth, Minn. "They already think highly of you -- their parents had a beautiful job and it looks good -- so they're expecting the same quality mom and dad got, and you'd damn well better deliver it."
Moore says the second-generation customers he's serving are 35 to 45 years old, with two or three children, and "looking to follow in their parents lifestyle." They see property values rising and want to make the investment in good properties like their parents did. They've seen how their parents' remodeled homes have increased in value.
The sales process with these customers is almost nonexistent. "About 75% to 85% of the time, they don't have to be sold -- they ask 'How much?' and 'When can you get going?'" Moore says. The remaining 15% are customers who aren't comfortable with relative strangers but still are more easily sold than a "cold-call" customer.
"The nicest thing about it is when you get your foot in the door, they don't look at other contractors," Liljedahl says. "They want to look at price, but it takes competition right out of the equation."
Minuses: Few, if any
Moore finds second-generation customers are more "hands-on," and that his crews have to attend to all the details. They're not leaving design to interior designers, like their parents did, either because they can't afford it or because they prefer working with the design/build team. Second-generation customers are aware of high end products. They surf the Internet and know about such niceties as built-in outdoor grills, says Uriah Bontrager of Bontrager Homes of Indianapolis, Ind.
They're more in tune with the project and, if they're absentee clients, require regular digital photos to be e-mailed to update them on the latest project progress, Moore says. With their parents, in the past, Moore sent videos. Now, he has a password- protected area on his Web site so customers can go visit any time for regular updates.
Also, "they're more concerned about budget," Moore says. Still, he sees them buying homes from $400,000 to $1 million, some of them teardowns.
"They want a little more than they can spend," Bontrager says. "They want it, but sometimes their money restricts them from having what their parents got. But they want nice things. Nice kitchens and bathrooms are the main things."
The future: Handed down
"Remodelers need to be aware there is a second generation out there," Moore says. The second generation in these higher-end areas, he says, wasn't a viable prospect until the past four or five years, "but it's getting to where they can now afford it."
He thinks it may be more of a second home phenomenon. "It's a part of life," Moore says. "They're getting to the age where they can afford things, and it's part of the baby boomer perspective to be able to afford the same lifestyle as their parents," says the Florida remodeler.
Liljedahl says he doesn't think it's a market you can necessarily target. "We've had some jobs where we took good care of the kids, and they liked us. Sometimes we were almost babysitters to them. And those babies grow up and have a house. If you enjoyed having them around, and they enjoyed having you around, later it can open a door for you."
The biggest asset that can be handed down to contractors, he says, is the trust. "The kids know if you made the parents happy, you've got to be OK," he says. "The kids are trusting you. And you are trusting them to stand up like their parents did."