Click to view an interactive map of the U.S. showing the rapid rate at which the population is aging.
Click to view an interactive map of the U.S. showing the rapid rate at which the population is aging.

The nation’s housing inventory is in no shape to accommodate the 70% increase in the number of Americans aged 50 and over that will occur between 2000 and 2030, the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University declared today.

JCHS’ study, “Housing America's Older Adults—Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population,” lays out the numbers that could give builders and remodelers insight into how and when to begin aging-in-place conversations with clients. Universal design and aging-in-place trends that have taken hold in the residential remodeling industry identify features such as no-threshold entries, widened doorways, and lever-style handles as essential. However, the report suggests that the current housing inventory doesn't offer those features in the numbers needed to accommodate growing demand.

"It is ultimately up to individuals and their families to plan for future housing needs,” JCHS acting managing director Chris Herbert says. And while the need for household improvements exists, issues of how to pay for aging-in-place may be a hurdle for remodelers to overcome.

Concerns Over Debt

Researchers note in the report that as people age, they are less likely to relocate, and that the "residential mobility rate drops sharply after age 50," and continues to decline among homeowners in their 60s and beyond until about age 85. This is good news for remodelers who want to help homeowners stay longer in their existing homes.

That said, remodelers may run into more price objections with potential aging-in-place clients. The JCHS report notes that more than 70% of homeowners aged 50 to 64 were still paying off their mortgages in 2010. At the same time, the average loan-to-value (LTV) ratio spiked to 56% amid a drop in housing values following the recession. A similar pattern appeared among homeowners aged 65 and over, with the share of owners with mortgages at 40%, and the average LTV ratio hitting 45%. Non-housing debt also rose in households aged 50 to 64, more than doubling to $17,100 from 1992 to 2010. In households aged 65 and over, debt rose from $4,300 in 1992 to $7,200 in 2010.

Knowing this, remodelers who want to ensure that they figure into the aging-in-place market may want to consider starting conversations with clients who are younger than those they're currently working with. If the trends of mortgage and non-housing debt continue, the report suggests that baby boomers may find themselves unable to cover the costs of appropriate housing or long-term care in their retirement years. For remodelers, this means helping homeowners find ways to budget for and make improvements to their homes while they're still employed, and long before the expense of in-home assistance or assisted living becomes a concern.

Living Situations & Housing Diversity

Housing America's Older Adults also identified trends among the living situations for older Americans. On one end of the spectrum, many adults will end up living alone, while those on the other end will become part of larger family groups.

After households have passed their child-rearing years, Harvard researchers said the "greatest shift in household types that occurs after the age of 50 is the steady increase in individuals living alone." Single-person households make up one-third of households age 60 and over, and the percentage climbs to 60% by age 80.

So, how many households will that be? "Over the next two decades, more than 27.7 million people will join the 50-and-over age group," the report states. "Most of the increase, however, will be among the population aged 65 and over, projected to surge 65% by 2030."

While the data suggests that many of those homeowners will be living alone, immigration in America has also fueled a diverse population, with many more instances of extended families living under one roof. The report states that by 2030, minorities will make up 30% of the population in the 65 to 79 age group, and 23% of those over age 80. Greater diversity among older age groups is noteworthy, the report states, because of living situations based on race and ethnicity. "For example, as Asians and Hispanics age, they are much more likely than whites or blacks to live in other family members' households. … Assuming current growth rates and cultural norms hold, multi-generational living arrangements will become increasingly common over the coming decades as minorities make up progressively larger shares of the older population."

With data in hand, remodelers have their work cut out for them. Continuing to discuss aging-in-place and universal design with all clients, and incorporating appropriate features whenever possible may be the key to helping homeowners and their families live well in their homes, well into their sunset years.