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McClatchy-Tribune  06/15/2014 7:02 PM ET
Surprise: Baby Boomers aren't downsizing [The Palm Beach Post, Fla. :: ]

June 15--HOUSTON -- Baby Boomers aren't dashing to downsize, choosing instead to stay in largish single-family homes and defy popular perceptions that their retirement years will include shedding possessions and square feet.

A report released by federal mortgage backer Fannie Mae found that despite retirement and becoming empty-nesters, the proportion of Baby Boomers residing in a single-family home has remained stable and was at least as high in 2012 as at any time since the beginning of the recession.

The findings, released Thursday, were reinforced at a Houston conference last week of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where some housing experts said not only are new homes getting bigger in general, but that retirees want as much home as they had during their child-rearing years.

"They got used to large homes with amenities and aren't ready to give that up," said Brad Hunter, chief economist with the Palm Beach Gardens-based Metrostudy, who spoke at the conference. "They have a fair amount of equity in their homes and can leverage it."

In South Florida, where 55-plus communities are abundant, the lack of boomer downsizing is particularly significant for developers hoping to cash in on the growing market of retirees.

Valencia Cove, a 55-plus community in Boynton Beach, introduced three floor plans when it opened for sales in 2013 that all have more than 3,000 square feet under air conditioning. The homes may be equal to, or slightly smaller, in size to what boomers are leaving, but they're sure no retirement condo.

"The full time active adult usually opts for a larger home with many upgrades," said GL Homes Vice President Jill DiDonna. "(The new models) have been very well-received by the move-down, non-seasonal retiree who wants all of the luxury they are used to in a slightly smaller home."

The baby boom generation -- people born between roughly 1946 and 1964 -- includes more than 43 million households, according to the US Census Bureau. Of those, 32 million are homeowners.

An estimated 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age each day, Fannie Mae noted.

"People say they want a small home, but they want a small home with lots and lots of big rooms," said Will Holder, president of Texas-based Trendmaker Homes, who spoke at the real estate conference. "They are looking for four bedrooms, a study, a game room, a sunroom and three-car garages."

A census survey of new home construction has shown the size of houses increasing consistently since at least the 1960s when the average home built had 1,500 square feet.

By 2004, the average new home was 2,100 square feet. That grew to 2,598 by 2013.

In Palm Beach County, the average home size in 2007 was 3,128 square feet, according to data collected by Metrostudy. It fell to 2,698 square feet last year but appears to be on the uptick again. A sample of new Palm Beach County homes surveyed this year show an average of 4,188 square feet.

Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Seattle-based Zillow, said home sizes have grown as American's "privatized" their leisure time.

"Forty years ago, all our social life was outside of the house," Humphries said. "Now we want to be at home with the family, and we're seeing media rooms and other areas built for families to be together."

Humphries said despite a trend of aging homeowners wanting to stay in their houses long-term, he believes boomers will eventually be forced to downsize. Fannie Mae researchers agreed, saying age will at some point make it impossible to maintain a single-family home.

"Coming changes in the housing consumption of the Baby Boom generation have potentially far-reaching implications for the house market," Fannie's report noted. "The housing situation of boomers bears continued close monitoring."

 

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