Gap between 'mature' buyers and builders

Older home owners and the builders of senior housing have a bit of a communication gap, according to a recent survey.

These potential buyers say they want non-slip floors but don't much care about lever doorknobs. Builders say they have those easy-to-open knobs covered but aren't so sure about the floors.

The builders are going green; the buyers say great -- but won't pay extra for it. A third of the consumers want lower kitchen cabinets, emergency call buttons and wood-burning fireplaces. Only about one in 10 providers routinely offer those amenities. Three-quarters of the suppliers build wider doorways; only half the consumers want them.

That supply-and-demand chasm for senior housing was unearthed by the survey, titled "55+ Housing: Builders, Buyers and Beyond".

WalletPop wondered how the results might change builders' plans. But the response of one of the survey's sponsors, MetLife, is, basically, that consumers don't know what's good for them.

"The 'gap' is partly due to the fact that, in general, builders 'get it' about the advantages of universal design -- sometimes called easy-living design -- and consumers are lagging a bit in comparison," said John Migliaccio, director of research for the MetLife Mature Market Institute, which partnered with the National Institute of Home Builders on the survey.

Migliaccio added a hopeful: "It is possible that the gap will lessen as more Boomers get into the marketplace."

And maybe not.

The builders and potential buyers did agree on many things: wireless internet was deemed essential by 83% of the 55-and-up respondents and those over 65 prefer single-story homes. Builders agreed.

But even at a fundamental conceptual level, the two camps seemed to be far apart.

For instance, while builders are going green, potential buyers reiterated their stance in other similar surveys, with just 12% saying they would be willing to pay an average of $6,732 more for an environment-friendly home if it would save $1,000 a year in utility costs.

The younger Boomers clearly asked "for home maintenance and repair for their next home as well as services usually connected to older householders, such as housekeeping, on-site healthcare and transportation," the survey summary reports. Builders were "just as clearly reluctant to move too far away from their primary business of construction rather than community services."

And, against the tide of "new urbanism" for aging boomers -- smaller homes, closer in -- the respondents favored homes slightly larger than the ones they now occupy and suburbia, albeit suburbia with shopping.

Migliaccio did not see this as a conflict, however.

" 'New Urbanism' can really take place anywhere -- urban/suburban/rural -- doesn't matter," he said. "The principle issue is the community design with a 'small town feel,' combination residential/commercial – i.e. 2nd floor apartments above street level retail, a "Main St." feel, walk ability between neighborhoods, resident-based security, design that brings residents to the front of their homes (i.e. porches, sidewalks, common recreational space, etc).

"In many cases, 'New Urbanism' can thrive in suburban settings because of its more efficient land use and broader housing options which can allow for better financial feasibility."

So there you have it.
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