Older owners will often crave newer homes

SMART MOVES

April 19, 1992|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

There's a surprising truism in real estate: The older you get, the more likely you are to want a new home.

"People equate getting older with getting set in your ways. But when it comes to housing, it's one last fling to buy a new home," says Daryl Jesperson, senior vice president for the RE/MAX Realty chain.

Buyers over age 45 bought nearly half of the new, trade-up homes sold in the U.S. last year, notes Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research for the National Association of Home Builders, based in Washington.

"Basically it's a lifestyle thing. People are looking for more comfort and convenience as they get older," Mr. Ahluwalia says.

Some say the baby-boom generation, now entering its 40s, is particularly resistant to the ordeals of home care. As people age, many become irked by the kitchen faucet that won't stop leaking or the threadbare carpet demanding replacement.

"There's a saying that baby boomers don't even know how to change a light bulb -- or at least they don't have time to do it," jokes Mr. Ahluwalia, who contends that the prevalence of two-career households makes it harder for people to maintain a home.

"Whether they're downsizing or upsizing, a lot of older people want easier living. They want something new so they can maintain it properly in their later years," Mr. Jesperson says.

Sometimes, older people even buy a larger or more luxurious home than they need, he says. How else can you explain a pair of empty nesters picking up a place with four bedrooms, a three-car garage or a third bathroom?

You might think people would move into an up-to-date home when their children are young.

But most people don't earn their peak income until later in life, so they have to compromise on housing choices. Only after the children are grown and educated can some people afford the new home they've always wanted.

A new home also can be a status symbol or a reward for years of hard work and sacrifice, says Betty Hegner, a RE/MAX executive. "I think it's ego -- wanting to buy a new house with all the bells and whistles," she says.

If your aspirations are like those of others currently shopping the home market, you'll probably place a high priority on fancier kitchens and bathrooms than are available in most resale homes.

Whether it's a showplace you desire or simply a 7/8 lower-maintenance environment, buying a new home requires some forethought.

Realty specialists offer these pointers:

* Don't opt for prevailing new-home features unless they match your own preferences:

One hot button for new home buyers these days is oversized bathrooms with double sinks, separate showers, lots of closet space and Jacuzzi baths. Most buyers want a spacious country-sized kitchen with room for family meals, and place little emphasis on a formal dining room. Many also prefer a small yard.

"We're seeing a trend away from people wanting big yards -- but they still want big houses," says Pamela Shaw, a sales associate for Coldwell Banker in Columbia.

Still, if you picture yourself as a weekend farmer tending an elaborate garden or if you thrive on formal dining, it could be unwise to compromise just to fit into a cookie-cutter new house. A custom-built new home or a slightly older resale property might be better.

As people age, their lifestyle preferences become more defined and predictable. If you're over 40, you're probably quite realistic about whether you'd use a backyard barbecue or would rather play golf all weekend.

* Remember that a new home will have its own problems, too.

Like a new car, a new home should give you a number of years of worry-free use -- but only after the kinks are out. Most new homes don't present serious problems. Even so, it can take several weeks or months to get the builder to fix the little goofs that inevitably occur during construction. Pursuing your builder for these fixes can be an annoying, time-consuming process.

Consider this as you decide whether it's wise to buy a new home.

* Don't purchase a new home based on the model.

Builders often spend tens of thousands of dollars furnishing a model home to impress prospects looking at their subdivisions.

"Remember that when you're buying the new house," Mr. Jesperson of RE/MAX says, "you're buying the steak and not the sizzle."

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