Next stop for boomers

Times Staff Writer

Baby boomers are on the move. The self-absorbed flower-power generation is nearing retirement, and Leisure World is not necessarily its destination. Greater mobility, extra money and a desire to do things differently from their parents are propelling boomers into housing choices as varied as the colors in their old tie-dye T-shirts.

Most are buying bigger and better primary residences, and in increasing numbers, they’re purchasing out of state. Some are moving because they’ve left or lost jobs, others because they’ve found them. Some are heading for the desert, while others are resettling downtown. The range reflects their evolving lifestyles.

“Boomers are turning into yuppie seniors,” said Bill Frey, a demographer and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “They have intact families, both spouses have worked, and they’re interested in upscale moves. They’re the boomer professional class, and California has plenty of them.”


Perhaps not for long. About 42% of California home sellers over age 55 left the Golden State for a new pad elsewhere during the second quarter of this year, compared with 23% during the same period the year before, according to the California Assn. of Realtors’ annual Housing Market Survey. An additional 51% moved within California, a trend experts say reflects boomers’ desire to remain close to family and friends. Those who move in their 50s probably will retire in that home, according to demographers.

The oldest of the state’s boomers, who will be 60 in two years, are taking advantage of a king’s ransom of home equity they’ve accumulated and are flocking to Scottsdale, Ariz.; Las Vegas; and the mountain states, where the cost of living is lower, said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Assn. of Realtors.

Although flush with equity, many boomers are straddled with more debt than their parents’ Depression-era generation, who typically retired in their paid-off homes at age 65 and didn’t move again. Still, boomers are cashing out and buying cheaper in less expensive locales where they can make lower monthly mortgage payments.

By their sheer numbers -- 76 million nationwide, or 28% of the population -- boomers are getting attention from builders and agents. Regional Coldwell Banker President Betty Graham reports that many in the 55-and-older crowd are buying second homes in the desert, with an eye toward permanent residence there.

Developers in the Sun Belt are piling on the amenities -- fully equipped gyms, golf courses and tech-ready homes -- in “active adult” communities in Arizona and Nevada to attract boomers -- who say in a host of surveys that they want to work at least part time well into their golden years.

Surprisingly, boomers are not downsizing or taking the no-frills route. Bigger is better and granite counters top the amenities list. California builders are heeding the call. Townhouses starting at $750,000 in Centex Homes’ Ladera Ranch in south Orange County, for example, are selling to pampered boomers as briskly as the drug Celebrex. The villas, as they’re called, start at 2,000 square feet and feature first-floor master bedrooms, a plus for a generation that is beginning to feel the effects of swollen joints.


Taking boomer tastes into consideration, a concierge service is preparing to help residents arrange theater tickets when they’re traveling to New York and provide party planning.

Builders also are incorporating universal design elements, such as higher-than-average sinks and electrical outlets, and doorknobs with levers.

Mountain states’ pull

Affordable housing and lower taxes are drawing less-well-heeled boomers to the mountain states. Wyoming, for example, is on track to replace Florida as the state with the greatest portion of residents who are 65 and older -- about 22% -- by 2020, according to U.S. Census projections.

An early-retirement buyout offer from Verizon, steep home appreciation and the lure of rural life convinced empty-nesters Linda and Craig Brown, both 53, to sell their Murrieta home and move to a less expensive, larger home near St. George, Utah.

The couple never dreamed of retiring so young or of upsizing, but when the opportunity fell in their laps, they couldn’t resist. They recently sold their 1,900-square-foot Riverside County home in two hours for $435,000. The couple is moving to a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot house complete with granite countertops, formal dining room and a separate casita that they bought for $354,000 in Craig’s home state.

Although loath to leave their grown children and grandkids behind, the Browns say they are looking forward to beginning their new life early next year away from traffic and smog.


“We can see Zion National Park from our new house,” Linda Brown said. “There are so many things we want to do.”

Like most boomers, they may want to keep working, either in their current fields or at jobs they’ve always fantasized about.

George Masnick, a research demographer at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, commutes between his Montana home of 17 years and Boston.

“You used to be trained for one job, say in a factory or mine, and couldn’t change -- you worked there until you retired,” Masnick said. “My new neighbors in Montana are arriving here from out of state semi-retired and are writing books, opening a restaurant or boutique, working in businesses that give them pleasure.”

Pam Roberts bought the home she plans to retire in and brought her work with her. The 50-year-old real estate broker, who rents out her former house in Santa Cruz, moved to Del Webb’s Sun City Aliante in north Las Vegas a year ago, and works full time as a broker there. She had advised a friend about a purchase at the development and ended up buying one herself for $230,000. Lifestyle considerations -- good weather, a recreation center, a pool, a computer room and her new house overlooking a golf course -- were the draw.

“We boomers are more mobile,” Roberts said. “We’re riding motorcycles, traveling, seeing the world at a younger age. I want to mix it up -- pre-retire with a longer work life.”


Although economics and lifestyle are the driving motivators for most boomers buying out of town, a yearning to return home can draw even longtime California residents back to the future.

Paula Stewart, 57, left Toledo, Ohio, as a young adult and headed first to Los Angeles, then to the Bay Area. She bought an 1,800-square foot, four-bedroom home for $112,000 with her second husband, Elbert, now 59, in Union City two decades ago. They raised two children, a grandson and a goddaughter there, but after Elbert left his food industry job because of a disability, the couple decided to return to Ohio.

They’ve put a deposit on a four-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot home currently under construction just outside Toledo. The multiethnic neighborhood is chock-full of children, the “better to feel young,” Paula Stewart said. The couple expect to sell their East Bay home for about $650,000, which will more than cover the new home’s $320,000 price tag.

“I’m ready for a slower pace, and I want to be closer to my family again,” Paula Stewart, a hospital worker, said. “It’s where we want to be.”

Cities a draw for some

But the suburbs are not for everyone. A small wave of boomers is reversing direction and, lured by cultural offerings and younger, hipper neighbors, is leaving suburbia for city centers.

Bruce and Jeri Segler, 56 and 57, respectively, own a home near Big Bear but wanted to be closer to their jobs near downtown L.A. After renting a downtown apartment for two years, they purchased a two-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot loft near Staples Center for $355,000. They love the good restaurants and theaters nearby and tout the area’s diverse architecture.


“Everyone I talk to loves living downtown,” said Bruce Segler, a construction manager. “The perception of downtown is so different than the reality. When friends who haven’t made it down here for 30 years actually see it, they can’t believe it.”

About 10% of the Lee Group’s Flower Street loft buyers in downtown Los Angeles are 55 and older, said Jeff Lee, the company’s president.

Del Webb, the Sun Belt developer known for its “active adult” communities, is expanding into urban areas -- it already has a Sun City in Chicago and it’s adding communities outside Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“Today people have more eclectic interests, and retirement is not typecast,” said Nicolas Retsinas, the director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. “They think they’re young forever. They won’t want to be slotted to retirement homes.”