Boomer retirement housing preferences shifting

(MoneyWatch) The classic image of new retirees making a bee-line to Florida or the Sun Belt to live out their lives is sun-drenched comfort is increasingly a thing of the past.

Among U.S. workers age 55 and older, almost two-thirds -- 62 percent -- think that when they retire they will continue to live in their current state of residence, according to a survey by the Pulte Group, parent of Del Webb, a builder of adult retirement communities. That's up 20 percent from a similar survey taken just two years ago. 

One important reason for this shift is the redefinition of retirement, as more and more Americans move away from the traditional definition of "all play and no work" during their retirement years to start second careers or continuing to work in some manner. In fact, 50 percent of the respondents to Del Webb's survey report that they work part-time or are starting new businesses or careers. As a result, the builder is establishing more communities outside the Sun Belt states and close to metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Detroit, and parts of the Northeast.

The survey also shows that 43 percent of respondents plan to retire and stay in the same city where they currently live; only 35 percent plan to retire and move to a different state. Just 32 percent want to live within 20 miles of their children or grandchildren upon retirement, again underlining many retirees' interest in continuing to work.

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"In looking at our previous studies, we found that there's a group who do not want to leave their family, friends, and all the familiar surroundings," says Deborah Meyer, senior vice president of Pulte Group.

When you visualize a new Del Webb community, forget about the image of people golfing and playing tennis in Arizona. Instead, think of retirees taking classes on such diverse topics as computers or yoga, and enjoying healthy living habits, travel, and group activities with friends.

All of this makes sense to me. My wife and I now live in a townhouse community that's located one county north of Los Angeles, although it doesn't specifically target the age 55-plus crowd. The cost of living is less thanmetropolitan L.A., due to reduced property and sales taxes, lower car and homeowner insurance costs, and the reduced cost of goods and services. We're still close to family, friends, and our professional connections in the cities where we lived and worked for many years, but now we have a lap pool and a gym, along with participating in a neighborhood emergency preparedness group, a book club, and many other social activities. When we travel, we just lock the doors and drive away. (And as I write this, I can hear somebody else mowing the lawn outside my house!)

The one concern I have with this type of community is what happens when we all get a lot older. Our community -- and the Del Webb communities -- target the active adult crowd. But once we get into our 80s and 90s, we may not be able to fully use and appreciate the recreational facilities; in fact, my wife and I have noticed that neighbors tend to move away when they reach these older ages. And will there be enough younger active adults who are willing to buy our homes when we want to move?

This concern isn't holding us back from enjoying ourselves now, but it's something I'll keep my eyes on in the years to come.

Since housing is often the largest budget item for seniors, it's well worth your time to consider your alternatives for where you'll live in retirement. Even if you decide to stay right where you are, you'll be content knowing that you've done your research and made the best possible decision for you.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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