There are no steps leading into the house that Saddletree Homes is featuring at Flying Horse for the Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association’s Parade of Homes from Aug. 3 to 19.
“That’s by design,” said Saddletree president and CEO Lee Bolin. “That’s how we pour the foundation. It has to be planned that way.”
Today, he adds, more and more people are planning their homes that way.
As the country’s 77 million baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) begin to reach retirement age, builders are giving more thought to how they will design homes for move-up buyers who want to grow old in their houses.
National statistics suggest 26 million boomers will relocate when they retire, and they will do everything they can to maintain their independence and stay out of assisted-living facilities.
The boomer population in Colorado Springs swelled 40 percent, twice the rate of the rest of the population, between 2000 and 2010, according to a report from Innovations in Aging Collaborative.
“We’re doing more and more handicapped-accessible homes,” Bolin said. “But not handicapped in the truest form.”
He said the people who are thinking about “aging in place,” a term the AARP coined, want their home to be easy to get around if they need a wheelchair or walker one day, but they don’t want to think about needing those things and they don’t want their house to look like it’s designed for a wheelchair.
“We all think we’re going to live forever,” Bolin said. “But that’s only going to happen to me. So, everyone else who’s buying a house in their 50s or 60s should be thinking about it.”
The 4,441-square-foot home Bolin is featuring in the Parade of Homes, he designed with himself in mind.
“You have to pick someone you’re building for,” he said. “You have to have some imaginary buyer in mind.”
In this case, Bolin was his own imaginary buyer. He and his wife have no plan to move into the home, but it would be perfect for a couple like them, with an average age of 69, he said.
“I’m not saying which one of us is older,” he said, but his wife broke a hip and neither is excited about climbing stairs anymore.
The ranch home has a main-level master bedroom and an open floor plan with few hallways and wide doors. Of course, that’s not too different from most homes these days.
Many features that work for seniors are popular and part of the modern trend in home design, said Jason Weber, who owns Weber Construction and chairs the HBA’s Parade of Homes committee. He’s also a certified “aging in place professional” — a designation given by AARP.
He works with some buyers who are thinking about how their home will function when they’re older. For those buyers, he creates wider hallways, more open kitchens, more spacious bathrooms and wider doorways. Even if the wide doors aren’t installed when the owners move in, that makes modifications easier later. But most people don’t want to spend the extra $25 a door, he said.
“Most people are not thinking about aging in place. It’s just the design they like,” Weber said.
Toni Stanton, who owns Majestic Custom Homes with her husband John Smetzer, said their market has shifted away from two-story houses to ranch homes, like the 3,908-square-foot house they are featuring in Meridian Ranch for the parade.
Majestic started out building two-story homes in 1994. But everyone requests a ranch house these days, Stanton said. Some are empty-nest couples whose children have grown up and moved out. But the ranch plans are even popular with young families these days, Stanton said.
“I don’t think we’ve had a two-story go up for 10 years,” she said. “By the time people see our rancher and feel it, more often than not, it’s what they want.”
People like the open floor plans and the ease of movement, she said.
Mark Long, who owns Vanguard Homes, said he was surprised by the popularity of his ranch plans. He’s built almost 75 homes since he started the company in 2009 — and only two were two-story houses.
His homes range in price from $300,000 to more than $500,000.
“That’s a move-up market for sure,” he said. “And the demographic is a lot of empty-nesters and pre-retirees.”
But he said younger buyers are interested in the ranch plans or plans with a main-floor master bedroom, too, unless they have young children.
Weber said he’s noticed that a lot of custom builders, like Saddletree, Vanguard and Majestic, build ranch-style houses and homes with master bedrooms on the main level. But production builders who are constructing entry-level houses tend to build more two-story homes.
“To me it’s more of a stage-of-life question,” said Kyle Fisk, marketing manager for Challenger Homes.
Challenger has two houses in the Parade of Homes. Its Jackson model in Monument is a 4,500-square-foot ranch home with three bedrooms on the main floor and two others in the basement. It wasn’t designed with baby boomers in mind, Fisk said. But it was built for the market and to meet the needs of the demographic buying in that area, which tends to be a more mature set moving up into higher-priced real estate.
Challenger’s featured home in the Dublin North neighborhood along the Powers Boulevard corridor is 2,800 square feet with three bedrooms on a second floor. Fisk said that neighborhood caters more to first-time buyers and first-time, move-up buyers where families buy when they’re looking for a little more space.
While the Dublin North offerings are more traditional two-story homes, they also have great rooms instead of compartmentalized kitchens, living and dining rooms, Fisk said.
Skip Howes, a certified aging in place professional with Scott Homes, said features like that and other modifications that will ultimately make homes easier to live in as the population ages, have become popular across price points.
“People don’t want a lot of steps,” he said. “You don’t see the tri-levels that were popular in the 1970s and even the two-stories from the 1980s aren’t the same.”