No one wants to admit getting old, least of all the baby boomers. This generation, a third of the U.S. population, is seeking the fountain of youth in hair-coloring products - but it isn't about to buy a rocking chair.
Beginning in 2006, the first wave of boomers will turn 60. And, many are expected to shy away from retirement communities because that's where "all those old people live."
Homebuilders understand this.
Their solution is the increasing construction of communities that don't have the word seniors included in them. Instead, communities branded with names like "age targeted," "age restricted" and "active adult for 55 and over" are being built throughout the country.
"Boomers don't want to be thought of as old. We'll never accept that," said Don Jacobs, president of JBZ Architecture and Planning in Newport Beach, Calif.
Tom Bozzuto, chief executive officer of Bozzuto Group, a Greenbelt, Md., builder, agrees.
"A much less offensive term is simply empty-nesters," Bozzuto said. "I'm 56 and you don't want to be called a senior."
His company is building a portion of the Enclave at Ellicott Hills in Howard County, a development of condominiums and townhouse-like villas. Prices range from $192,000 to $350,000 in the community, which has amenities such as a clubhouse, workout rooms, a tennis court and pool, and gated security. At least one primary tenant must be 55 or older to buy.
Some buyers said they haven't worried much about the branding of such developments. They instead are looking at communities where they can travel and not have to worry about things such as lawn maintenance and security.
"We just want to get out of the big house," said Sam Begg, 64, who along with his wife, Sheila, 60, plans on moving to the Enclave at Ellicott Hills this month. "We want to travel. You can stop the mail and you can stop the paper, but someone can still throw something in the driveway."
Builders said the trend in housing for the older generation is a growing market for them.
According to Del Webb, one of the nation's largest builders of adult communities, the number of Americans 55 or older will increase to 74.7 million by 2010, and 45 percent of baby boomers are expected to move to another home in retirement.
"We've been directing our attention for two years on this market and it's a factor of the demographics," said Cindy McAuliffe, president of Grayson Homes in Ellicott City. "It's going to grow drastically. We'll be doing a majority of age-restricted or age-targeted communities in about two years. I see the trend going for another 20 years."
While age-targeted homes can be bought by anyone of any age, they are designed to appeal to older buyers.
Typically, they include first-floor master bedrooms, dens and added security. The same holds true for age-restricted housing but rules generally require that at least one of the primary residents be 55 or older.
"We are constructing age-targeted homes because it gives us a broader market of people to work with," said McAuliffe, whose company is building an age-targeted community called Hidden Bluff in Catonsville.
The development's attached homes, built in clusters, will be priced in the mid-$400,000s.
"It allows us to get our feet wet. And it's a good way for us to get into the active adult market," she said.
Price is another distinguishing feature. Because they are for older buyers with substantial cash from the sale of a previous residence, these developments are loaded with such amenities as crown moldings, tray ceilings, hardwood floors, granite countertops and more.
"This community is meant for somebody who may have a second home somewhere and they don't want to be tied down," said Richard Azrael, president of Chateau Builders in Columbia, which is building portions of the Enclave at Ellicott Hills.
"They want to be able to shut the door and go to the ocean. It's that kind of lifestyle. They don't want to have to shovel snow or cut the grass."
Another expense that older buyers are able and willing to pay is the monthly assessment for maintenance. This means no more lawn mowing, bush and tree trimming, snow shoveling or exterior maintenance. At the Enclave, for example, monthly costs range from $210 to $350.
In gated communities, security also is included. And, residents find it easier to lock and leave whenever they want to get away.
"We'll see more age-targeting in the future because it's following the demographics of the aging boomers who are in their mid- to upper 50s and thinking of moving down," said Steve Hovany, president of Strategy Planning Associates, a Schaumburg, Ill., firm that tracks housing sales.
"Boomers want to get rid of their big house. Plus, they want more convenient living," Hovany said.