For four decades, baby boomers have been remodelers' “bread and butter” as well as the appetizer, entree, and dessert. They've typically made up a minimum of 60% of a remodeler's business. Last year, however, the first group of baby boomers turned 60. When the pre-boomer generations hit their 60s and retired, they substantially cut remodeling dollars. Will 76 million boomers do the same?

Not a chance! Boomers broke all kinds of rules from the very beginning, and they're continuing to break them. “Boomers have unprecedented strength and willingness to spend money [on remodeling]. They aren't slowing down,” says Amal Bendimerad, a research analyst at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Indeed, new opportunities are appearing for remodelers as boomers near retirement. Hanley Wood, the company that publishes REMODELING, recently sponsored a survey of 2,000 boomers to discover what their dreams and desires are for their homes when they retire. Two seemingly opposite preferences ranked at the top of the list for the group: universal design and luxury.

For remodelers, taking advantage of these new opportunities and keeping boomer customers loyal for the next 10, 20, or even 30 years means understanding what boomers want in universal design and luxury, and how to market to and work with this clientele.

UNIVERSAL DESIGN Many people think that universal design, which incorporates aging-in-place, is for “others” — the elderly or handicapped. “Universal design is about access, flexibility, ease, and convenience for everyone,” says Mary Jo Peterson, designer, remodeler, and principal of Mary Jo Peterson Inc. in Brookfield, Conn. “For example, changing the height of an oven for a person using a wheelchair makes it easier for an able-bodied person [as well].”

Boomers — 59% of those surveyed — say they're more likely to buy products with universal-design features if they're beautiful. “Boomers want functionality with flair,” says Jane Marie O'Connor, president of the Hawley, Mass., consulting company 55 Plus. A remodeler who can combine function and beauty “would be adding real value as a consultant,” she says. “You'll delight clients, enhance value, and build a reputation as a qualified person who works with customers to give them what they want.”

Fully 66% of respondents in the Hanley Wood survey considered single-floor living either appealing or very appealing. This translates to an opportunity for remodelers. For example, a boomer customer of Atlanta-based SawHorse Design was diagnosed with a form of arthritis that could make climbing stairs difficult, yet she lived in a two-story house. SawHorse owner Jerome Quinn remodeled her home for ground-floor living, adding a master suite next to the kitchen, a guest bedroom for a caretaker, and wider doors for a wheelchair.

In contrast to Quinn's project, Raleigh, N.C.'s Quality Design and Construction had a customer who used a wheelchair and lived in a one-story house, but who wanted her attic finished and equipped so that she could enjoy the space.

The first step in the project was to install a chair-glide so the customer could see how the project was progressing and discuss it with the remodeler. The finished attic bathroom features a wall-mounted sink and tilt mirror above it, as well as a curbless shower with a transfer bench seat and grab bars. Cabinets in the attic breakfast kitchen sit at 32 inches off the floor, while the countertop is just 30 inches high. According to Peggy Mackowski, who co-owns the company with husband and president David Mackowski, the customer uses the attic extensively and says she'll probably never use the ground-floor shower again.

Making a home comfortable, energy-efficient, and easy to maintain is another aspect of universal design, and boomers want that, too. “Green,” environmentally friendly homes are desired by 61% of those surveyed, while 84% of respondents want energy-efficient homes. For Paul Winans, of Winans Construction in Oakland, Calif., satisfying this boomer need includes installing new heating systems, adding insulation, eliminating rot, fixing leaks, and more. “People want to get their houses fixed up so they don't have to do anything for the next 15 years,” he says.