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Boomers Want Easy Living, Won’t Pay More for Green

Thursday, September 17, 2009

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Americans 55 and older want energy-efficient, single-story suburban homes, but they aren’t willing to pay a premium for green features, a new survey says.

High-speed Internet access is a priority, but “universal” design is not, according to 55+ Housing: Builders, Buyers, and Beyond, a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

The survey asked owners and renters about their current homes and the types of homes, communities and features they prefer as they age.

It also questioned builders about specific features provided in new homes and how much customers are willing to pay for them, which revealed interesting contrasts.

While builders seem to be providing more universal design features (lever-handle/door knobs, wider doors and hallways, a full bath at the entry level), consumer preferences don’t reflect an equal appreciation of such items. Consumers indicate they want amenities such as non-slip floors, larger medicine cabinets, lower kitchen cabinets and emergency call buttons, but those features are not as widely included in new homes.

On other issues, builders and consumers are closer to agreement. Consumers clearly want to be close to community resources like shopping and medical services; builders and developers have responded by placing communities accordingly.

But builders are also providing more energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive features. And while many consumers note that they are conceptually supportive of these efforts, fewer indicate a willingness to pay significantly more for “green” homes.

“The data suggests that builders will have to be more tuned in to consumer needs, but potential buyers may be somewhat shortsighted as well,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

“The homes consumers say they want may present difficulties for the long term as they age in place. They prefer the suburbs and the country, but these areas generally lack public transportation. Universal design is not a strong preference, but they’ll need greater accessibility later on. Aside from recognizing that one-story homes will be best for their later years, customers may be somewhat unrealistic.”

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe pointed out that as the housing market returns to health, builders will need to be increasingly responsive to changes in the market for 55+ housing.

“These surveys were conducted as consumers were watching their savings shrink and as builders were seeing sales grind to a halt,” said Crowe. “So this study reflects the very latest in the changing perceptions of what is most important in housing for this age cohort.”

Among other survey findings:

• One-third of respondents would choose a close-in suburb, and nearly another third prefer an outlying suburb. About one-quarter would choose a rural community, and 9% prefer a center-city setting. Single-story homes are a clear first choice among respondents (79%) over two-story (15%) or split-levels (6%).

• While conventional wisdom dictates that older buyers would be looking to downsize, most consumers say they’d like their next home to be the same size as their current one.

• The five features rated most important by consumers were in-home washers and dryers, storage space, windows that open easily, main level master bedrooms and easy-to-use climate controls. Eighty-three percent of consumer respondents rated high-speed Internet as somewhat to very important.

• Twenty-seven percent of potential buyers say they are not concerned about the impact of home building on the environment. Twenty-three percent are concerned but say that will not be a consideration when they make a purchase, and 37% of consumers responded that want an “environment-friendly” home, but would not pay extra for it. Only 12% said they would be willing to pay more.

• Ninety-four percent of builders report that their buyers want more energy-efficient new homes; 55% said buyers specifically want EnergyStar-rated homes. Twenty-five percent of builders said buyers want homes with more recycled materials and less materials overall.

• Most builders (69%) indicated that some of their buyers are willing to pay extra for green amenities; 9% indicated that most were. The remaining 22% said none of their buyers were willing to pay extra for green amenities.

The research in 55+ Housing: Builders, Buyers, and Beyond is from the second part of a series, the first part of which was released in April. That first segment, Housing for the 55+ Market: Trends and Insights on Boomers and Beyond, included an in-depth profile of the 55+ market based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey from 2001 through 2007. The full research and accompanying data chart books are available at


Tagged categories: Market research; National Association of Home Builders

Comment from Phil Kabza, (9/18/2009, 6:34 AM)

I recently visited a large over 55 development and noticed that no effort was made to incorporate no-cost universal design features, such as level entries, screened porch at floor level, and oversized main level bathroom door. While consumers may be shortsighted, there's no reason savvy builders cannot incorporate these features. The statistics cited seem more supportive of green features than the commentary. The simplest, cheapest energy efficient items for builders to incorporate are: carefully sealed air barriers, sealed attics, and sealed ductwork. Researchers indicate these three items save 30 percent of residential heating and cooling energy. They're easily accomplished at little cost by builders who make a few hours extra effort. An increasing number are.

Comment from Tom, (9/29/2009, 9:11 AM)

My experience is that many builders can't even be bothered with simple, mandatory safety items as long as the inspector is unlikely to catch them. Something as simple as actually connecting the ground wire to a light fixture when it is being installed. Architects are often as bad, working purely on visuals instead of considering practicality and cost. The roof on my 1700sf home has 11 separate surfaces, not counting the small decorative "hips" thrown here and there. Huge amounts of waste when it was re-roofed. Walls which are 6-12" longer than standard building material sizes, necessitating more cutting and throwing away, etc.

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