As Gen X-ers Inch Toward Retirement, They’re Considering Where to Live

When they were raising their four children, Billy and Erin Shipley had space for their family to grow: a two-story, five-bedroom house in Sugar Land, Texas, with a large yard and a pool. But as the children became adults and moved out, the second floor was deserted and maintaining the lawn and pool became a burden.

Like many members of Generation X facing an empty nest, the Shipleys decided to look for a home better suited to their needs where they could eventually live in retirement. They chose a three-bedroom, single-story house in Bridgeland, a planned community about 35 miles away. “I did not look at it as a temporary exercise,” Mrs. Shipley, 46, said. “We could live here forever.”

Mr. Shipley, 54, added that the single story was a draw. “It’s going to be great not having to walk up stairs later,” he said.

Gen X is typically defined as those born between 1965 and 1980. Its oldest members are several years away from retirement, but they are already starting to think about where they will live in their 70s, 80s and even 90s.

The desire to grow older in one’s own home — rather than having to move in with family or to a retirement home — is common among many generations. In 2021, 88 percent of older adults, defined as people at least 65 years old, lived in their own home, according to a report from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“Overall demand is for maintaining quality of life as you age,” said Joanna Frank, chief executive and president of the Center for Active Design, a nonprofit organization that developed the Fitwel standard used by architects, designers and developers to foster wellness at home and in the workplace.

But home builders say they are starting to see rising demand among Gen X-ers for homes they can age into.

“We are at the cusp,” said David O’Reilly, the chief executive of Howard Hughes Holdings, which builds planned communities, including Bridgeland in Texas. Many Gen X-ers still have children at home, he said, but they will soon be empty nesters. “That’s normally the tipping point,” he added.

Those who can afford it are willing to pay for extra space in case they need to take care of other family members, like grandchildren, adult children and aging parents — and in many cases, they already are. In new developments, they are seeking access to health and wellness amenities, like hiking trails and tennis courts, as well as opting for home features like showers instead of bathtubs, for instance, and asking for the latest gadgets to help them as they age.

“They have more market power than younger buyers,” said Jennifer Molinsky, director of the Housing an Aging Society Program at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. “They have a lot of wealth and are ready to make changes.”

With a median income of $126,900, members of Gen X are still amassing wealth, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, a trade group. “They are in their peak earning years” said Jessica Lautz, the group’s deputy chief economist and vice president of research.

They are also sitting on a pile of home equity. Homeownership among Gen X-ers was 72 percent in 2023, which was significantly higher than for millennials, at 55 percent, according to a report from Redfin, a real estate services company.

Another factor prompting Gen X to consider moving sooner to purchase a home for their retirement years is the crunch in the housing market, which was stuck in a deep freeze for most of 2023 as high interest rates kept many buyers and sellers on the sidelines. Home prices rose 6 percent in January from the same month a year ago, according to the Case-Shiller home price index, and many potential buyers worry that prices will continue to soar, hampering their ability to afford a home later.

“If they are shopping for homes, given the tightness of the market and remote work, I do believe you see more Gen X-ers seeing a home purchase as a home for the rest of their lives,” said Cristian deRitis, deputy chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

They are not necessarily trading down in terms of space or quality, he added. In fact, some may be looking to trade up, especially if they are buying what will be their last home. “‘This is my 30-year home, not my five-year home,’” he said.

Many members of Gen X find themselves in the sandwich generation, or simultaneously supporting children (some of whom are adults themselves) and parents. To manage caregiving, some home buyers are choosing three- and four-bedroom homes to accommodate their multigenerational households.

“It’s a stubborn trend; it’s not a flash in the pan,” said Dr. Lautz, the economist at NAR, which found that 19 percent of Gen X-ers who bought a home in 2023 purchased a multigenerational home. “Gen X-ers seem to be caring for parents and having younger adults boomeranging back into their homes.”

Now that their children are grown and have moved out, the Shipleys in Texas have to care only for their labradoodle, Clyde, but having three bedrooms means they can accommodate family if necessary. “We want our kids to come back and have a place to sleep when they visit,” said Mr. Shipley, who added that he and his wife have room for their parents, who are in their 70s and may have to live with them someday.

GL Homes, a developer in Sunrise, Fla., with a dozen planned communities in the state, has noticed a shift in demand, the company’s president, Misha Ezratti, said.

“People are moving to their forever home a little earlier,” he said. “You would think they would downsize, but after the pandemic, they still need the space.”

GL Homes has responded by designing floor plans that cater to Gen X-ers, including Melissa Radin, a career coach in Livingston, N.J., who owns several rental properties in Florida. When she found out recently that her real estate investments had doubled in value, she and her husband, Michael, decided to buy their retirement home now.

“I wasn’t going to buy a house this early, but I know I would have to pay more, so I jumped,” said Ms. Radin, 57. She scooped up a three-bedroom house in a community developed by GL Homes in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Thinking ahead to a time when their bodies might not work as well, Gen X-ers are asking for features like raised electrical outlets and toilets with higher seats.

“I requested custom pullouts because I don’t want to bend to open a cabinet,” Ms. Radin said. She wanted a shower in the primary bathroom, but made a concession for younger family members. “I’m going to have grandchildren, and I need a bathtub in the house,” she said.

Part of the customization also includes incorporating technology to help people as they age, like sensors in floorboards that can tell if someone has fallen and even send alerts for help, said Ms. Frank of the Center for Active Design. “Developers are aware that this generation is health conscious and much more tech savvy,” she said.

Frank C. Parker III, a certified financial planner for Wells Fargo Advisors in Cincinnati, said he and his wife, Mika, sought a state-of-the-art setup for their retirement home in Boca Raton, Fla., to help them regulate lights, music and a security alarm.

“We wanted a smart home that we could control from phones and apps and the wall,” Mr. Parker, 49, said.

He added that the Florida lifestyle was also a draw. “We are tennis players,” he said. “We like the beach, the ocean and the pool.”

Others say they want to stay healthy as they approach retirement. Mr. Shipley said he and his wife liked to stay fit, and Bridgeland had amenities like pools, biking trails and fitness classes within walking distance.

GL Homes is adding more amenities for active adults, including a cold plunge tub and pickleball courts.

“We did not expect fitness to be such a big thing,” Mr. Ezratti said.

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