RISMEDIA, March 6, 2007-(MCT)-Americans in the "G.I. Generation" were easy to please. Growing up during the Great Depression, they bought homes in the 1940s and '50s replete with one-car garages, Formica countertops and vinyl floors.
Baby Boomers? They're much pickier.
Armed with unprecedented wealth, Boomers demand 10-foot ceilings, high-end appliances, a clubhouse concierge and live theater performances from Joan Rivers. Companies that know how to deliver that lifestyle are enjoying brisk sales, even as the housing downturn lingers.
"Builders who offer that are doing very well," said Tim McCarthy, founder of Traditions of America, a Philadelphia-based builder of communities for home buyers 55 and older. "Others are falling behind, and they're not able to compete."
In 2005, the U.S. census estimated that there were 67 million people age 55 or older. The National Association of Home Builders projects that the 55-plus population will grow at more than 2% a year during the next decade and reach 85 million by 2014.
The NAHB also predicts that someone 55 or older will head 40% of all U.S. households by 2012.
Baby Boomers have a substantial share of the nation's wealth: $2.8 trillion or about 36 percent of total household income, said Paul Emrath, who conducts statistical and economic research for the builders trade group.
"They have income and wealth," Emrath said last month during a presentation at the International Builders Show in Orlando. "That makes them a target to go after."
Homes in these age-restricted communities typically start in the $400,000 range. Residents, some of whom still work full time, say they prefer the companionship of people their own age in a setting with plenty of services and activities.
These developments boast an array of things to do, including classes on ballroom dance and conversational Spanish. There are regular movies, parties, club meetings, card games, celebrity appearances, health fairs and financial lectures in vast clubhouses with fine finishes and flexible space to accommodate everyone.
"It's nonstop," said Marcie DePlaza, division president of GL Homes.
The Sunrise-based builder has catered to buyers 55 and older in South Florida for much of the past decade. It has built six age-restricted communities from Lake Worth to Delray Beach.
GL has sold more than 4,350 homes in its Valencia developments and still has about 350 for sale in its latest, Valencia Pointe in Boynton Beach.
In the past year, GL and other builders nationwide have seen tepid demand for family-style homes as investors pulled out of the market and helped end the five-year housing boom.
But 55-and-older buyers, many of whom made plenty of money after selling their first or second homes, are keeping the market for senior housing vibrant.
Luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. reported last month that 30% of customers canceled contracts in the first quarter. Builders of active adult housing are seeing cancellations of less than 2 percent, according to Traditions of America's McCarthy.
"All you have to do is come to one of our sales offices," DePlaza said. "There are hundreds of prospects a week."
In Broward County, Jan Zaifert and her husband, Richard, are preparing to move into the Palace at Weston, a 55-and-older villa and condominium community.
"I love my kids, but I want to be with people my own age," said Jan Zaifert, 58. "I say that this is a camp for grown-ups."
The 382-unit development has amenities such as a fitness center, concierge, an upscale restaurant, valet and business center. The developer, The Palace Group, said it assembled leading designers and architects to deliver a product worthy of its name.
"We have a discriminating customer," said Adam Rosenblum, vice president of sales and marketing.
In the past, The Palace Group has focused mostly on assisted-living and independent-living centers. This is its first foray into active adult housing, and Rosenblum said the developer would look at building more of these communities to satisfy demand.
"This is a segment of the market that's probably going to continue to grow the most," he said.
Minto Communities recently finished Buena Vida, a 449-home age-restricted development in Wellington. The Coconut Creek-based builder turned management over to the residents in January.
While Minto isn't currently building other 55-and-older projects, it expects to in the future, President Harry Posin said.
"What I like about it is that Buena Vida is located in Wellington, a young community itself," said Bob Schweitzer, 64, president of the homeowners' group and a former CEO of hospitals in New York who moved here three years ago. "This is not designed for older people. It's for young, active people."
While South Florida's demographics appear ripe for more active adult housing, a lack of land, particularly in Broward, could hamper growth, said Janis Ehlers, a Fort Lauderdale-based consultant to builders of 55-and-older communities.
GL's DePlaza agrees but says her company is positioned for the future. It owns tracts of land in Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties and expects to develop more 55-plus housing developments in the next 10 years.
"The market is very, very deep for that type of lifestyle," she said.
Copyright © 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.