Baby boomers see advantages in new construction

A suburban couple in their late 60s decides to sell their large, four-bedroom home with three bathrooms. It's too large for them. Taxes are too high. Utilities are too costly. And cleaning and maintenance have become a burden.

Baby boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) often find themselves in this situation when their children have moved out and they've become empty-nesters.

But they experience a newfound freedom when they leave their two-story home behind and buy a right-sized home that fits their new way of living.

Kim Meier, owner of KLM Builders, often sees this firsthand. "We're seeing a lot of activity from baby boomers that have been in a two-story home for years, and now they want to right-size and simplify their lifestyle," he said.

Here's a look at the houses baby boomers are seeking when they purchase a new home.

Single-level living

There's been a big surge in the sale of single-story, ranch-style homes with open floor plans, Meier said. "We're doing higher ceilings and higher doors, which makes the home feel bigger and gives it a feeling of grandeur."

The builder recently sold a three-bedroom house to a boomer couple where the husband had a side business making gourmet popcorn. They added a room with a separate entrance so the smell didn't permeate throughout the house, just as they would add a guest bedroom - but it's a popcorn room.

"We're building a lot of homes for empty-nesters in northern Illinois," Meier said. "We'll build on our land or theirs. We're a design-build firm, so we do it all."

Plote Homes is developing the Lakes at Boulder Ridge, a golf-course community with luxury ranch duplexes and ranch single-family homes geared to baby boomers.

"There's not another place in the area that offers this product and this type of lifestyle," said Scott Ballard, director of homebuilding. "We have ten lots for duplexes and 17 single-family lots available."

Often there's no sense of urgency for people who visit the community. They don't have to sell their current house, but they'll look around and ponder a lifestyle change, and in two or three years they may come back and buy a home, Ballard said.

Efficient floor plans

Shodeen Homes sees many baby boomers right-sizing, where they don't necessarily go any smaller than their past home, but the floor plan works better for them, said Jeremy Lund, director of marketing.

"They like the more open concept rather than having specific rooms they may have never used. They also care about ease of the floor plan, its convenience and how it works for their life now," he said.

Christy Whelan, director of sales for Airhart Construction, agrees. "Although many boomers are downsizing, they aren't necessarily moving into a tiny house or a ranch," Whelan said. "Some boomers want to bring their furniture, art and such along with them, but they are looking for a more efficient floor plan.

"They're thinking about how they live and how they will use the space in their homes. They no longer use rooms in the traditional way of the past. A room labeled dining room may function as an office or a sunroom. Many boomers are still working, so they want two offices."

First-floor master bedrooms are another way builders reach out to boomers. Airhart Construction offers plans with first-floor masters that feature a loft on the second level for flex space and two bedrooms for guests, college kids or grandchildren.

At Springbrook Pointe in Bloomingdale, 25 percent of buyers are baby boomers. The community offers five two-story designs and a ranch plan with no stairs, first-floor laundry and almost a full basement, which is attractive to buyers in that age group looking to downsize into a single-level home, said Julie Pelock, owner of North Mark Homes.

The builder also offers two-story plans with in-law arrangements, which has been a popular feature for buyers.

That's not all. North Mark Homes is building Stony Creek, a new community with custom ranch homes for people 55 and older in South Elgin. Homes sit on fully wooded lots in a beautiful setting. A spec home is in progress now.

Upscale features

Many baby boomers will downsize square footage, but upsize features. They like to purchase new homes because of their open floor plans, smart home features and the more-modern interior designs. They also appreciate the opportunity to select cabinetry, appliances and flooring in sync with their tastes.

They like to entertain family and friends and especially like the open concept floor plans and large islands for ease of entertaining and setting out a buffet, builders say.

Some builders of active-adult communities also focus on adding features such as multilevel countertops, raised dishwashers and lower microwaves that make access easier for those with physical issues.

Plenty of storage is also important to this age group, Whelan said. Many new homes offer creative storage solutions that keep belongings out of sight.

They also like a front porch, patio and small private yard that are conducive to socializing with family and friends.


Many boomers are active and want to live near biking and walking trails and sport centers, Whelan said. Airhart Construction offers communities in a convenient downtown location near shopping and dining.

Springfield Pointe by North Mark Homes sits near a major mall with plenty of shopping and restaurants. The Bloomingdale community also sits near walking and biking paths and is close to Route 355 and the train station for those who want to head downtown, Pelock said.

Many also prefer to have easy access to recreation, the beach, water, parks and green space.

Buyers in this age group strongly desire low-maintenance exteriors and homes or communities with lawn maintenance and snow removal.


Not all retired baby boomers head to Florida or Arizona; many want to remain in the area where they now live.

Builders say they might move to a new house, but they want to stay near family and friends rather than having to rebuild an entire network of new friends, doctors and other professionals.

Younger boomers want to stay close to their jobs, especially if they plan to work for a while.

Most in this age group want to live in a place that fosters a sense of community. Some of their friends may have moved away, and they want to make new friends and connect with their neighbors.

The Oakfield model at Fisher Farm, a low-maintenance community in Winfield where lawn care and snow removal are included. Courtesy of Airhart Construction
Stylish kitchen in model home at Lakes of Boulder Ridge in Lake in the Hills. Duplex and single-family ranch homes in a maintenance-free community. Courtesy of Plote Homes
Sagebrook ranch design at Springfield Pointe in Bloomingdale by North Mark Homes. Features more than 1,900 square feet, two to three bedrooms and a long kitchen island. Courtesy of North Mark Homes
KLM Builders offers the Montana design at its Pioneer Oaks community in Ringwood. While baby boomers aren't necessarily downsizing, they want more modern features in their homes and single-level living. Courtesy of KLM Builders
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