For the active adults

Hot group in housing: over 55, active adults

Niche: A demographic group builders love is made up of people age 55 and older who have the money and desire to live in an age-restrictive, active-adults community.

May 19, 2002|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

In his lifetime, Steven S. Koren has managed or developed real estate projects that have served the needs of first-time homebuyers, move-up buyers and luxury buyers.

He has gone from the upscale Greenetree townhouses in Pikesville to the sprawling Piney Orchard development in Anne Arundel County to the development of the Greenspring quarry.

But this time, he is working the niche where he will be judged by his own generation.

"Not all projects can I relate to the buyers," Koren, 62, said, but "in this group, this is my peers."

For Koren, there's only enthusiasm as he describes the Villages of Woodholme in Owings Mills, which is Baltimore County's first age-restricted, 55-and-older, active-adult community.

"What we have to do is create in this community a lifestyle that really has not existed before in this area," said Koren, who is acting as project manager for Mullan Enterprises, which is developing the community.

No one would consider the Villages at Woodholme, where NV Homes and Ryan Homes are building 299 single-family detached and villa residences, to be a destination catering to an assisted-care audience, even though, coincidentally, it curves around the North Oaks Retirement Community off Mount Wilson Lane.

The Villages at Woodholme, instead, is another piece in one of the hottest demographic segments for builders -- active adults, those 55-and-older buyers whose kids are out of the house and who have a lot of energy and money to spend.

Age-restrictive, active-adult living is nothing new -- Heritage Harbor is one of the most sought after neighborhoods in Anne Arundel County -- it is just that the concept has been a little late coming to the Baltimore area. Arizona, Florida and New Jersey have been hotbeds for such communities for years.

But now that it is here, a number of builders in the region are adding age-targeted and age-restrictive products to their housing mix.

Among the projects are:

NV Home villa communities in South River Colony in Anne Arundel and Turf Valley in Howard County.

Water's Edge by Clark Turner Homes in Harford County.

Hickory Crest by Patriot Homes in Columbia and a similar condominium project on the drawing board for Bel Air.

Crofton Colony by Koch Homes in Crofton.

The Park at Ocean Pines by Centex.

The Village of Waugh Chapel by Sturbridge Homes in Anne Arundel County.

Hidden Bluff by Grayson Homes in Catonsville.

"It's my No. 1 housing type that I'm doing, and for a number of reasons," said Fritzi Hallock, president of MarketSmart, a Towson-based consulting firm used for market analysis by builders.

"One, it has the largest growth demographics. Two, as a developer, you bypass the whole issue of schools. Three, active adults will pay more per square foot for their housing.

"There tends to be a better product for the builder to build. [Active adults] are not price-sensitive. They are more about what are you going to give me as opposed to how much am I going to pay."

The Baltimore County Department of Planning says the 55-and-older age group made up 23.6 percent of the county's population in 2000 -- about the same as it was in 1990. But widen the parameters to 45-and-older and the percentage grows from 34.5 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2000, meaning that more baby boomers are on their way to what builders are planning for.

"The trend is just really beginning," said Cindy McAuliffe, president of Grayson Homes. "There are not huge numbers, but there will be in the next 10 to 20 years."

A 1999 survey of 1,022 builders by the National Association of Home Builders showed that 62 percent said they would increase their attention to senior housing in the next three to five years, and that 12 percent build in the active-adult market.

So why has it taken Baltimore-area builders so long to catch on to the trend? "It is an interesting phenomenon, and I think necessity is the mother of invention," said Bob Coursey, head of marketing and sales for Ryan Homes in Baltimore. "Here is a classic example of it.

"As long as you have all the traditional homebuilding opportunities that you need, ... builders are going to stick with what works for them. They are going to stick with the traditional single-family homes and townhomes. Even condominiums are considered exotic for some builders. Not every builder knows how or even wants to become involved with the complexities of building condominiums. If you are doing OK and are finding the ground to build traditional communities ... that's the safe way."

In the early 1990s, those 55 and older were generally referred to as "empty-nesters." It was expected that these older, childless couples wanted to downsize from the large four-bedroom Colonial on an acre into a smaller, maintenance-free kind of property, such as a small two-bedroom condominium or a simple townhouse with a first-floor master bedroom.

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