One of the most interesting challenges builders face today is designing and building for the active adult market. In order to thrive in this competitive space one must not only possess intensive knowledge of the buyer, but also employ great creativity to exceed their expectations.
When I was growing up I played a lot of baseball. I spent many summer afternoons in little league learning the ropes of fielding, hitting and base running. My approach to batting was simple: I would get to the plate, study the pitcher briefly and swing for the fences. As it turned out this was a solid strategy for me and somehow I achieved moderate success with that approach. Then, in my early twenties, I decided to try golf. I would go out to the tee, line up and swing for the fences.
Unlike baseball, I failed miserably. If I managed to connect with the ball it would take off in a myriad of directions. However, most often the treacherous little white ball would dribble off the tee and travel three to five feet. This humiliating scenario would play out the same the multiple times I graced the links. The analogy is simple… the building strategy for this market is not like baseball; instead it’s like golf—it takes finesse, and a lot of it. Builders who rush out and try to swing for the fences without fully understanding the subtleties of this game end up with the same results as my golf outings—just slightly beneath pathetic.
To finesse the active adult market you have to understand the rules of the game. Here is the playbook:
Home size: the homes typically range from a starting point of 1,500 to 2,200 square feet.
Lot size: a nice lot size for active adults is under a quarter acre with the ability to accommodate a 40 foot wide home. The 40 foot width allows for the garage, a nice foyer, and an adjacent comfortable room. It is also important here to take care to arrange the home in such a way to maximize privacy.
Garage: the garages tend to be two cars plus, a minimum of 22 foot wide and 22 foot deep.
Bedrooms: planning for three bedrooms with two baths is a good approach. One of the secondary bedrooms should be designed to act as a flex space. Most commonly this bedroom is used as an office/study for day-to-day living, and converts to a bedroom when the need arises. One level living: all the spaces should be designed for one level living, eliminating the need for stairs. One exception is for homes built in basement markets. If that’s the case then the stairs should open to the basement to create a sense of connectivity to the lower level.
Spatial planning: open kitchens with large islands are preferred. The kitchen should relate directly to the great room (no formal living room). Dining is a little tricky. Most active adults will give up the formal dining space if the informal dining is large enough and allows for a wall to place a hutch. Plan on wider hallways and allow for plenty of storage. Owner’s suite: the owner’s suite does not require a grand sitting area.
A place for a small chair and an ottoman works just fine. The owner’s bath can be simple, but separate vanities are preferred as well as a free standing tub. The owner’s closet is typically one larger closet as opposed to two separate (as much of a function of the square footage as anything else) and accessibility to the laundry room from this space is a plus. Indoor/outdoor living: this is one of the most important aspects of planning for active adults. There should always be a great transition from indoors to outdoors. Popular options are sun rooms, screened porches and covered lanais. Beyond that builders have had success creating outdoor rooms that creatively use hard and soft scape to create destination spaces.
Maintenance free: this one is self-explanatory. Use exterior elements that do not require continued upkeep.
Luxury: most times this market is downsizing. While they want a smaller/simpler home they still require a sense of luxury. Solid core doors, granite countertops and healthy trim package are a great start. Stay on the fairway and take a careful and thoughtful approach to the active adult market. With knowledge and creativity you will be picking up birdies and eagles in no time.
Todd Hallett is the president of TK Design & Associates, Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.