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The Real Reason Baby Boomers’ Leave Their Dream Retirement Home

Sheila stopped unpacking her parents’ groceries for a moment to gather her thoughts. The conversation ahead wasn’t going to be easy.

Her mom had recently fallen over a curb at the local bank.  Luckily, a neighbor was at the ATM and could help her back up. But what about next time?  Sheila paused, considering her options. She was going to talk to her mom and dad about selling the Delaware home they purchased for their retirement to move into a Continuing Care Retirement Community. She wanted to make sure her parents would have all the support they needed now and into the uncertain future.

Sheila’s parents’ Delaware home was spacious, on a large plot of land, and close to the beach and golfing – all things they wanted when they decided to retire in their early sixties.  This was their dream retirement home where they thought they’d spend their remaining years. Instead, it would become their “first” retirement home.

While the upcoming discussion would have been impossible two years ago, Sheila’s dad had just had major back surgery and the recent fall opened a door to have the conversation.  The timing was right.

Sheila was afraid her parents would protest her suggestion to move to a small place in a retirement community, but they embraced the idea and within a few weeks picked a place near Sheila’s brother in upstate New York.

This decision was much different from their earlier decision when they purchased their “first” retirement home; This decision was driven more by need rather than aspiration because Sheila’s parents had known for some time that the place they had purchased was too difficult to keep up. To their credit, they were willing to make the necessary changes.

Reconsidering Their Choices

Sheila’s parents are just one example of the millions of 55+ homebuyers who will purchase a first retirement home and then reconsider their choice as their needs evolve and change. Boomers — the giant generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — own 32 million homes, 2 of every 5 in the country.

A study by Fannie Mae estimates that from 2016 to 2026, between 10.5 million and 11.9 million older owners will sell their homes and move. Between 2026 and 2036, another 13.1 million to 14.6 million will do the same.

This maturation of this group of homeowners has fueled a new segment of the housing market – age-targeted communities. However, many residents of age-targeted communities are not staying as long as they intended because, even though the homes include universal design elements like wider doorways and zero barrier showers, these communities really aren’t built to support older homeowners’ changing needs and core values as they age.

Instead, homeowners are increasingly finding themselves in circumstances like Sheila’s parents with some unanticipated desires taking precedence, such as having more frequent check-ins from family or seeing the grandchildren more often. 

What Needs to Change?

So what needs to change? Almost every builder and developer conducts market research before they even consider breaking ground. And most will tell you they pay great attention to their target audiences’ features and amenities preferences. The problem lies in how they are asking about these preferences and how the research is conducted.

It’s difficult for people to accurately predict what they will need, how their core values will change or what they will desire as they age, especially when considering the aspects of aging that may be difficult to discuss or consider now.

Everyone wants to be an optimist and believe they will live until 100 without any health issues, but we know that isn’t likely. If someone would have asked Sheila’s parents even a few years ago what their long-term housing plans were, they would have said to live out their lives in their home in Delaware. They could not have predicted how their needs, core values, or desires would change.

Yet, as marketers and researchers, this is exactly what we ask of Baby Boomers, to predict their future needs while underestimating the likelihood of more negative outcomes and how health, finances, location of family, interests, and hobbies, etc. might change. Asking Boomers about their future plans may not get to the heart of what Boomers need now and in the future.

A Different Approach

According to David Wolfe, in the book Ageless Marketing: Strategies for Reaching the Hearts and Minds of the New Customer Majority,

Believing that by querying customers we can learn almost everything necessary to understand them, the foundations of human behavior nestled in the breast of Nature get ignored. A profound understanding of customers depends on understanding the role of Nature in the origins of their behavior.”

David Wolfe’s thinking was informed in large part by developmental psychology. Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how and why human beings change over the course of their life. Originally concerned with infants and children, the field has expanded to include adolescence, adult development, aging, and the entire lifespan. Developmental psychology can provide a valuable new dimension to market research that helps us understand how motivations, values, and needs change throughout the lifespan.

Consumer research that is grounded in developmental psychology and David Wolfe’s ageless marketing approach can provide insights not just about what consumers want and need now, but how those needs will change and why. Ask yourself:

  • How does your research identify the deeper needs of your audience?
  • Does your research explore the relationship they want to have with the surrounding community?
  • Does it explore their motivations for involvement with faith communities?
  • Does it explore how to fulfill their desire for purpose and meaning?
  • Does your research just tell you what, but not why?

While traditional research tends to focus on what consumers say they want, multi-dimensional research, like what David Wolfe proposed, looks at the consumers’ underlying motivations, biological needs, developmental needs, core values, attitudes, and beliefs. If we are to create vital, sustainable communities that are homes for an entire season of life, not just the next three to five years, rethinking market research is a critical first step.

To learn more about how Ageless Marketing and developmental psychology principles can be used to complement your research, contact me at joe@immersionactive.com.

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