Active adult communities may not register on most remodelers' radar screens, but they should. Boasting fitness centers, open floor plans, and other amenities that appeal to affluent, socially active homeowners, these age-restricted communities are proliferating in traditional Sunbelt retirement meccas as well as the Midwest, Northeast, and other regions where older consumers can be near their children, jobs, or alma maters. No wonder they're attracting homeowners as young as 55 — prospective clients who might once have hired remodelers to help them “age in place” in their longtime residences.
That's the bad news. The good news is that remodelers can take a few tips from active adult communities by flipping their marketing strategies to emphasize lifestyle instead of accessibility. Jane Marie O'Connor, president of 55-Plus Marketing, says remodelers should “use the power of suggestion to help older prospects see how remodeling changes will make their lives easier.” For instance:
Bathrooms. Just because walk-in, curbless showers are easy to roll in and out of doesn't mean remodelers should market them by “talking about wheelchairs,” O'Connor says. “We're talking about not tripping.” Suggest these showers in first-floor baths to satisfy demand for one-level living options.
Upper floors. First-floor master suites are big with older homeowners. But rather than writing off the upper floors altogether, O'Connor suggests adapting them as guest retreats or “bonus spaces”: offices, craft rooms, workshops, and the like.
Kitchens. Raised dishwashers are easier to load and unload. Set microwaves so that “you're not going to have to bend over or lift above your head to get things out. This is good design for everybody,” but particularly for older clients.
General. No thresholds between doorways. Lever handles. Wider hallways. Increased lighting. Shallow risers on stairs, and wider stairways.
Remodelers would be challenged to match active adult communities' maintenance-free exteriors, with services such as snow removal and landscaping. But you can install siding and windows that never require repainting, O'Connor suggests. It's all about understanding older clients' “needs, desires, and wish lists,” tapping into them without exploiting the fear factor, and following through with great customer service.