When my parents' generation thought of retirement living, it was in Florida, probably on a golf course. If you lived in the Northeast, it was Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale or Miami. Midwesterners typically opted for Naples or Fort Myers.
But Baby Boomers -- always the individualists -- are breaking the mold. As the post-war generation begins hitting retirement age, they are bypassing the golf course communities, Sunshine State and other traditional retirement trappings of their parents. Instead, they're choosing smaller urban areas, in states such as North and South Carolina, and even downsizing on housing choices.
What's driving the changes? Aside from errant golf balls, you can blame it on the economy, says a report on Marketwatch.com. The economic recession has eroded savings and fundamentally altered the retirement plans of Americans 55 and older.
The Del Webb survey found that 72 percent of younger Baby Boomers plan to continue working even after retirement. Among young boomers, 14 percent fear they'll never retire.
Some of the retirement choices reflect a broader trend towards more pedestrian-friendly urban living. A study by the National Association of Home Builders, done in conjunction with the MetLife Mature Market Institute, found that when Baby Boomers start thinking about the attractions of a community as a place for retirement or a second home, proximity to shopping, walking and jogging trails, public transportation, doctors offices/hospitals, churches looms large.
What amenity did they rate dead last? Proximity to golf courses.
Larry Meyer and Anne Robertson exemplify the trend. The couple chose to buy a second home in a small village in the mountains of northern Virginia -- a choice they say was reinforced by a recent visit with friends who live in a grand home overlooking a championship golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The Virginia community has rural charm, organic farms and a friendly air. But it's also got a touch of sophistication -- Lorin Maazel, former New York Philharmonic director stages a summer music and arts festival -- and it's just 70 miles from Washington, D.C.
"We have no regrets that there are no golf courses, no clubhouses and no 19th hole," says Meyer.
Gail Meadows and Bill Robertson, long-time Miami residents who are recent retirees, bought a condo in a 1925 former department store that was converted into apartments in downtown Asheville, N.C. (pictured). The nearby cultural activities, the ability to walk to just about everything they want to do, and having some family in the area all factored into their choice. "We got a great apartment with high ceilings and very tall windows and we can look out onto this fabulous little streetscape," said Bill Robertson, a former journalist.
Those two couple bought existing homes. But, with many recent retirees opting for new ones, real estate developers and homebuilders are taking heed of their likes and wants. And no wonder: those aged 55 and up represent about a quarter of the population, figures the NAHB -- or 76.6 million people, up from 21 percent when the last U.S. Census was done in 2000. What's more, the 55 + demographic is expected to grow by around 26 percent, to 85.3 million, in 2014.
And what will senior citizen Boomers fill those new homes with? Desired amenities include bigger bathrooms, first-floor master bedrooms, washer/dryers inside the unit or house, storage space, wider doors and extra lighting, according to the homebuilder group's survey. And these are tech-savvy seniors. Their golden years will be digital, with high speed internet access, home security systems, lighting controls, and energy management systems.
And perhaps a Clapper or two.