While a significant percentage of Baby Boomers are in downsizing mode, neither they nor the rest of the population have lost their infatuation with features associated with big homes, according to a survey released today by the homebuilder PulteGroup Inc. To keep up with preferences among consumers of all ages, the builder says, it’s adding a number of such features to its newest homes, including more open space and more storage.
Pulte’s moves are worth watching because it’s one of the biggest builders of new homes in the country, and its design choices can be a bellwether for other, smaller builders.PulteGroup, Inc.
According to the Pulte survey, 28% of Americans ages 55 to 59 say they want a smaller home. That is roughly consistent with the findings of a survey by the Demand Institute (a venture jointly operated by the Conference Board and Nielsen Co.) that I wrote about in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the challenges of downsizing. In the earlier survey, prospective downsizers in the 50-to-64 age group exceeded would-be “upsizers” by nearly 3 to 1.
Indeed, the era of the McMansion—with its many formal rooms—is over, says Deborah Wahl Meyer, chief marketing officer at PulteGroup. “People don’t want rooms they use only two times a year,” Meyer says. “It’s expensive to heat them, cool them, and furnish them.” Instead, in recent years builders have been designing homes that feature large kitchens that open onto family rooms. The newest alternative from Pulte: Floor-to-ceiling glass doors that, when open, create a sense of continuity between the indoors and outdoors, says Meyer. (See the photo above for an example.)
For homes in the 55+ “active retirement” market, Pulte is adding a number of new features. Men in that group “rank having a study in their top five must-have features,” the builder said in a recent news release. As a result, Pulte is adding separate offices to its floor plans and installing work stations in kitchens. (They’re doing something similar in homes oriented toward families with kids, but calling it a “planning center”; see below.)PulteGroup, Inc.
In the bathrooms, Pulte is borrowing features from spas that are friendly to aging bodies, including “easy entry” showers and long vanities with lots of counter space. In the kitchen, it is raising dishwashers and lowering microwaves.
The company is also adding storage lofts and expanding garages. “In our homes for active adults ages 55+, we often add a half-garage space for storage or a golf cart,” says Meyer. “There is huge demand for that now because those who are downsizing don’t want to part with everything.”
Not everybody wants a smaller home, of course. Among homeowners surveyed by Pulte who were ages 35 to 54, 37% want to upsize and 29% want more storage space. More than half of homeowners ages 18 to 34 also want to trade up to accommodate their growing families.