The Age of the Baby Boomers has spread to the housing boom.

According to Stage of Life (stageoflife.com), 36 percent of boomers will move when they become empty nesters. That number rises to 55 percent when they retire. Half of those who plan to move already know they want a smaller home that is more maintenance free. Of those who are unsure, another half think smaller and easier to maintain are high on their priority list.

In Northwest Indiana, those trends are translating into a large growth of smaller, ranch-style homes, townhomes, and paired cottages that are all designed with empty nesting and downsizing in mind.

Renee Egnatz is the property manager for Meyers Quality Homes, a division of Meyers Premier Properties. She works with many empty nesters who are determining the next stage of their home ownership.

Simplicity and Safety

“Empty nesters should look for simplified living in homes that are specific to their new needs and lifestyles,” Egnatz says. “For example, they should not have stairs to negotiate. Wider hallways and doors are also important.”

Even though empty nesters may be able to use stairs with no trouble today, that doesn’t mean they will be able to handle them in five or ten years, according to Pam Duke, sales associate with McFarland Homes.

“It’s important for empty nesters to think of tomorrow as well as today,” Duke says. “I try to help buyers think about their future, in relation to their home. Most do not want to move again in a few years, so planning for future needs is important.”

New home designs frequently include a step-in shower in one bathroom, and a standard bathtub in the other bathroom.

“A large walk-in shower is a must in the master bath as bathtubs become harder to get in and out of as you age,” Egnatz explains. “A bathtub in the second bath is a good idea for current use, or when the grandchildren visit. The tub should have grab bars to assist getting in and out.”

Maintenance-Free

Maintenance-free is a high priority. The term can mean different things in various subdivisions, so empty nesters need to ask questions and understand what’s included.

“Most of our older buyers do not want to cut grass or shovel snow,” Duke says. “They want to be done with those chores. So they look at subdivisions where those services are provided for by their homeowners association.”

But maintenance-free doesn’t mean the roof and gutters won’t need attention down the road.

“We always make sure our buyers understand what is included and what’s not,” Duke says. “A misunderstanding can lead to an unhappy situation, and we try hard to avoid that.”

“It is important for empty nesters to know what they are responsible for maintaining, and what their monthly homeowners association dues will be,” Egnatz adds. “They should keep in mind that they are homeowners. Although the outside maintenance is provided for them in their monthly dues, they will eventually have roofs to replace and other maintenance issues that are not covered by association fees.”

Outdoor Living

Most downsizing buyers want easy access to outdoors and a way to enjoy it, according to Egnatz.

“Patios or decks are important because they provide a nice space to sit outside and enjoy nature,” she says.

Duke adds that many of her buyers want a small space to garden and plant, even though they do not want to maintain grass.

“Flowers and small shrubs bring color and joy to many of our buyers,” she says. “There are many subdivisions where they can still tinker in the yard while being free of the larger, harder chores.”

Open Spaces

One of the biggest surprises waiting for boomers is the new open concept designs that are featured in most new homes.

“Older people are used to homes built 30 or even 50 years ago,” Duke say. “Those designs had rigid room separation. Today’s designs emphasize open concepts through the kitchen, dining area, and into the living room.”

Many models have a totally open concept, while others have a partial open concept. Sales associates can explain and show buyers the different designs to help them find the right balance for their tastes.

Open concepts usually include wider hallways and door frames than older designs. That becomes a very important feature if someone needs to use a walker or a wheelchair in the future. Main doors, such as the front and garage entrances, are always 36 inches or wider. Bedroom and bathroom doors can be anywhere from 28 to 36 inches, based on the buyer’s preferences.

‘A Good Feeling’

The key for new home buyers is knowing what they want and what they need, today and tomorrow.

Richard and Shirley Dykstra purchased their first home in St. John from Meyers 14 years ago. They recently sold it and downsized into a smaller home only a few hundred feet away.

“Our first home was 3,500 square feet and had a lot of stairs,” Richard explains. “This new one is about 1,700 square feet and no stairs. As we aged, the stairs became harder to manage. We were happy with the builder and the location, so we worked with them on the new house.”

Shirley comments on the added value of downsizing.

“We went through a lot of stuff, gave a lot to our children, and donated more,” she says. “It was a good feeling to save our kids from having to go through all of that stuff and figure out what to do with it.”

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