Gilmartin is writing in place of Joseph M. Ventrone for this month’s forum.
What are the best options for the millions of single-family homes that may be left behind by Baby Boomers as they age, many of which are in suburban or exurban communities? Is it realistic to retrofit homes and neighborhoods to accommodate changing demand?
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It is true that Baby Boomers will leave millions of single family homes available for succeeding generations, most notably the Echo Boomers (or Millennials). Before contemplating how those homes might be adapted for these younger homeowners, we should consider how the homes and neighborhoods of Baby Boomers can evolve and be adapted as millions choose to remain in place as long as possible. Surveys indicate an overwhelming desire by aging Americans to remain in their homes and local communities. The phenomenon of naturally occurring retirement communities (NORC’s) is growing throughout the country. The benefits to individuals and families and to society are many and must be considered.
The National Association of REALTORS® has developed a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES®) designation program to equip REALTORS® in helping seniors in buying and selling or downsizing and transitioning as their needs change. Among the many topics covered in this training are the various options for aging in place, including the work of the Village movement. Originated in Boston in 2001, this movement calls for the establishment of independent locally based non-profit organizations to act as providers and coordinators of volunteer services, government-funded assistance programs, including transportation, home repairs, meals, health care.
Active now in 19 states and the District of Columbia, Village neighborhoods are helping thousands of seniors to stay in their homes and remain part of their communities. Each locality develops a different model based on locally identified needs. Other groups drawing attention nationwide in this space and providing models for action are Partners in Care and Community without Walls. An important aspect of many of these programs is improving accessibility in the housing stock as part of adapting for aging in place.
Let us remember that the a large majority of those over 50 years of age say they wish to remain in their homes and communities, and yet nearly 50 percent also indicate that their current homes and neighborhoods may not be suited for older residents. The Echo Boomer cohort, when combined with expected immigration trends, portends even greater demand for housing in the years ahead and indeed three-fourths of current renters in the range of 18 to 29 years old indicate they hope to buy a home someday.
These strategies will assure a happy and productive future for millions of seniors, while maintaining homes and communities for their successors. In a real sense the Baby Boomer neighborhoods of today can become transitional neighborhoods-serving the needs of aging Baby Boomers and improving accessibility and community support systems that will improve the very housing stock for all those who follow.
Through its training and education programs NAR remains committed to helping real estate professionals to serve the many and varying housing needs of seniors.
William J. Gilmartin is Senior Policy Advisor for the National Association of Realtors.
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