Like many baby boomers, Terry Baker and her husband, Dave Baker, wanted to downsize and stop worrying about maintaining their large single-family home in Illinois. At the same time, the couple had some features that they didn’t want to give up, such as a big kitchen, an open floor plan, and a basement.
“We moved from a 5,600-square-foot single-family home to a 2,800-square-foot townhouse,” says Terry Baker, who moved into Lexington Heritage, a townhouse community by Lexington Homes in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in July 2019. “We love being in a townhouse where the yard is taken care of, so we can lock the door and go to Florida for two months.”
Baby boomers range from empty-nesters with grandchildren to parents with young adults who live with them, and include retirees, full-time workers, and semi-retired people, but many share similar priorities when it comes to buying a new home, says Jeff Benach, principal of Lexington Homes.
Duplex, Triplex, Townhouse, or Single-Family Equally Appealing
The focuses for many baby boomer homebuyers, even if they are downsizing, include space to informally entertain friends and family, a dedicated guest room, a home office – and as little maintenance as possible. Whether the house is attached or detached seems to matter less.
“No one seems to be scared off by a shared wall and they find the lack of maintenance required very attractive,” says Brian Hoffman, owner of Red Seal Homes.
“Baby boomer buyers are willing to buy an attached product like a duplex, a triplex, or even a townhouse as long as it has a small yard or outdoor space,” says Brian Juedes, vice president of product design and optimization at Meritage Homes.
While they are flexible about the style of home they buy, choice and flexibility within the floor plan are still important to baby boomers, says John Hillman, vice president of sales and marketing for Crane Island, a custom home community near Amelia Island in Fla.
“On Crane Island, we have dramatically different options for space from 1,500 to 6,000 square feet and a wide price range from under $1 million to $5 million so that buyers can create a house that matches their vision,” says Hillman.
Nearly all baby boomer buyers want a first-floor master suite, says Hoffman, even if they’re in an attached duplex or townhouse. Some want a ranch-style house with everything on one level, while others like the separation of secondary bedrooms upstairs, he says.
“The ideal configuration is two bedrooms and a den, with a master suite on the first floor and at least one more bedroom with a private, full bathroom,” says Hoffman.
However, the mandatory first-floor master suite can be a challenge, says Benach.
“Baby boomers don’t want too large a house or a big yard, but they do want a lot on the first level, with a big kitchen, a big great room, and a master suite,” says Benach. “We’ve achieved that with different configurations that include two bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs.”
However, some buyers, including the Bakers, prefer a second-floor master suite, says Terry Baker, because they like the health benefits of climbing stairs.
Many baby boomer clients have families and friends visiting, so it’s a point of luxury for them to have a guest room with a private bathroom as well as a separate powder room, says Juedes.
“They often want the guest suite on the first floor so it’s separate from the master suite,” says Juedes.
While every generation seems to want an open kitchen and family room, baby boomers in particular prioritize a kitchen where friends and family can gather.
“We wanted lots of counter space, a double oven, a big pantry, and an eating area next to the family room,” says Terry Baker.
Baby boomers have abandoned the formal dining room and want an open floor plan for entertaining, says Hoffman.
“As long as there is space in the kitchen or great room for a table for six, they’re usually happy,” says Hoffman. “There’s a lack of formality in entertaining now, so if there’s someplace to add a folding table for extra guests at the holidays, it works.”
If there’s space, a second entertaining space upstairs or downstairs is desirable.
“The townhouse works well because we have a finished lower level with a bar, a game table, and a sitting area,” says Terry Baker. “There’s a full bathroom on that level so we could switch it to a guest space if we needed to or if a future buyer wants to.”
Flexible Space for Work or Play
Many younger boomers are still working, says Benach, so a den or office on the first floor is important to them.
“The preference is to have this be a flexible space between the kitchen and the front door so they can see the great room but also have the ability to close off the space when they need to,” says Benach. “We usually don’t put in a closet in this room because it’s meant to be a den or an office, not a bedroom.”
Five or 10 years ago, says Juedes, many new homes were built with a “pocket office,” a small space off the great room or hall to tuck a desk. Now, he says, more buyers want a full office.
“We usually call it a ‘flex space’ on the floor plan because it’s not always used for work, but buyers like a 10-by-10-foot room that can use for different functions,” says Juedes.
Today’s technology means homeowners can work with their laptop on the kitchen island, but many people want privacy while they work, says Hoffman.
“A den or office with double French doors off the entry foyer is popular with a lot of our buyers,” Hoffman says.
Buyers at Crane Island often choose a detached garage with secondary living space above for a studio or home office.
“Lots of our buyers are retirees who are embarking on an encore career, do consulting work or work for a nonprofit so they like some dedicated space for that,” says Hillman. “They often want space for creative pursuits, too, so a studio or office in either the carriage house or the main house or both works well.”
Downsizing baby boomers, like buyers in other generations, want plenty of storage even if they’re in a smaller house.
“A full basement can be a good solution even in a townhouse,” says Benach.
The Bakers requested additional storage to be created from their crawl space at their townhouse and hired Closets by Design to build custom cabinets in their garage to maximize the space.
Many of the homes at Crane Island have a “scullery” or back kitchen for extra storage, says Hillman.
“A scullery is similar to a butler’s pantry for extra storage that’s out of sight of the entertaining kitchen,” says Hillman.
In addition, Hillman says, insulating the attic for climate control can provide extra storage at the top of the house.
For the Bakers, a townhouse where their yard is taken care of by the homeowners’ association is ideal.
“We used to live on a half-acre lot with lots of landscaping, so we love it that everything is taken care of on the outside of our house,” says Terry Baker.
In some communities built by Red Seal Homes, the homeowner’s association has a reserve fund for future roof replacements and handles all exterior maintenance such as caulking, repainting the trim and landscaping.
“We build with a higher level of maintenance-free products, too, such as Trex decks that don’t need to be re-stained,” says Hoffman.
Homes for baby boomers can be designed with other materials that require less work such as metal roofs and cement board siding. Limiting the size of the yard and the amount of grass can also help.
“Landscaping with native plants is better for the environment and less of a burden on homeowners,” says Hillman.
The design choices that baby boomers want in their new homes are likely to appeal to future generations, too.
“Everyone is downsizing and looking for ways to reduce home maintenance chores,” says Juedes.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.