Active Adult Communities Embrace Smaller Housing Trend

by Jennifer Arndt on June 18, 2010

Spacious Great Rooms are Popular with Baby Boomers

A well-designed open floor plan, although smaller in square footage, can feel much larger thanks to fewer walls and more natural light.

The American dream of homeownership is alive and well, although smaller in square footage than years past. The U.S. Census recently found the average square footage of an American single-family home dropped from 2,541 square feet in 2007 to 2,343 square feet at the end of 2008. In addition, a January survey by the National Association of Home Builders found 88 percent of its members plan to build smaller homes this year.

The trend towards living in smaller spaces is surely no surprise to active adult community builders who know all about the importance of downsizing.  While some retirees do look for larger homes to fulfill their lifelong dreams, most retirees are in search of well thought out floor plans that maximize space, are low-maintenance and include energy efficient features.

Active adult communities across the country offer a wide variety of housing styles including the most popular among retirees, the one-story ranch home.  A prime example of an active adult community offering a collection of reasonably sized ranch homes is Sun City Huntley by Del Webb in Huntley, Illinois.  The new construction homes offered today at Sun City Huntley start at 1,216 square feet and go up to 2,559 square feet.  In years past, this Del Webb community offered many floor plans well over 3,000 square feet.  Their collection of floor plans today is better aligned with the trend towards smaller space living and all of them are one-story ranch.

The floor plans at the most successful active adult communities have evolved and improved from years of studying the needs and lifestyles of residents.  A well-designed home can actually have less square footage and still feel and live larger than one would imagine.  The open floor plan concept has become increasingly popular and is a perfect fit for a one-story home.  Active adult community homes typically feature a large kitchen open to a great room and dining space, and many even look out to a garden room or outdoor patio.  Forgoing walls and opening up the everyday living spaces maximizes the feeling of spaciousness.

According to the above mentioned U.S. Census survey, single-family homes completed in 2009 also had fewer bedrooms and bathrooms.  Empty-nesters no longer need all those extra bedrooms and are gladly willing to trade unnecessary bedrooms in favor of a larger master suite complete with a luxurious master bath and walk-in closet.  Active adult homeowners typically utilize secondary bedrooms for overnight guests or for a much loved hobby.  Those still in the work-force seek out floor plans featuring a den or may convert a secondary bedroom into a home office.

Another bonus of the more modern open floor plan design, aside from the spacious living spaces and luxurious master suites, is more natural light. Taking away unnecessary walls to create a more open floor plan also opens the space to more natural light.  A nice, bright living space naturally feels more spacious and much more inviting.

The numbers game of square footage really hinges on the overall design of the home.  Sometimes a number is just that, a number, and square footage is no different.  Just because a home claims to be larger in size on paper doesn’t necessarily mean it will live large as well.  Downsizing to well-designed home with an open floor plan may actually feel like an upsize.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Melton June 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Del Webb Orlando will be offering 2 smaller villa syle floor plans. One will be 1,429 sq. feet base price $159,990 and 1,392 square feet base price $154,900. So they are changing with the market as well. Great community.

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Bill Pearson June 19, 2010 at 11:50 am

How ironic, i’m sitting in the very first model home opened in Sun City Arizona on January 1, 1960 as i read this. Fascinating because it was at opening a mere 860 square feet, Two bedrooms, one bath, kitchen and living room. Today it is the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum.

The 5 model homes caused quite the buzz in 1960 and when you think of it, it changed the face of retirement as we know it. While the model homes were nicely appointed (but small), it was the concept of an active oriented community setting that brought people to buy into this “new way of life.”

Everything comes full circle. In the mid 60’s, the original Sun Cities was dieing, John Meeker was brought in by Webb to try and breath some life into the mix and one of the first things he did was talk to the current residents and see what they wanted. The loudest comment was to build bigger homes. Once he started moving towards the 2000 sq ft mark, home sales exploded.

The point of reliving the birth of the first active retirement community is simple: There is no one size fits all…there never has been. While often these retirement communities look like cookie cutter concepts, it is the individuals that make them unique and special. Webb understood that early on when he said “we’ll build the buildings but the people will make the community come to life.”

What is so fun to see in the original Sun City is how the predominantly boomer buyers are coming in and picking up 40 and 50 year old homes and remodeling them to fit their lifestyle. Outdoor living is the rage, especially in warm weather climates and some of the smaller model homes can add a third again as much living space with some very inexpensive changes.

The beauty of 55 Places.com is it reinforces the one thing any of us found when we were looking for the perfect place to retire: There is something for everyones taste and budget. Once you know what you want, then it’s a matter of finding it. Just don’t forget, the joy of retirement living is contained more within the quality and the content of the community than it is within the walls of your home.

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After55Atlanta June 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Bill, thanks for the history lesson on Del Webb, that was very interesting. It is fascinating to understand how the concept of Active Adult living has come to be and how it is growing and changing.

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Bill Pearson July 1, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for the kind words after55. Del Webb was a remarkable man and his story is one that should be told and retold. Perhaps his greateat strength was hiring good people and then allowing them to do their job.

Within the next month we should have our new Del Webb Sun Cities Museum website up and running. If all goes well, the genius of the man and the company will quickly shine through. His marketing folks were second to none and when you see their ads, you will quickly see how Webb/DEVCO changed an entire nations perspective on retirement as a new way of life. Simply fabulous stuff that should not be stored away in a closet somewhere.

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