Net Savvy Seniors Defy Assumptions

An ERA study of the senior market yields some surprises, including widespread use of the Internet as a homebuying research tool.

February 1, 2004

Do you think that only boomers and Gen Xers use the Internet to find homes? A new survey by ERA Real Estate, conducted by Insight Express, may change your ideas about how seniors search for homes, and what kinds of properties they want.

More than 1,300 survey participants, age 55 and older, said that the Internet is an essential tool for researching properties. In fact, the Internet was the second-most-popular homebuying research method, just behind physically "touring potential neighborhoods."

Nearly 70 percent of seniors who might consider a home purchase within the next five years cited "photos and virtual tours" as the most important tools available when looking for real estate property online.

Although many seniors view Internet searches as a crucial first step, they still view a qualified real estate sales associate as "the most influential professional" during the entire homebuying process, according to the survey.

So much for seniors not liking technology.

And if you thought the majority of seniors want to relocate from their homes to townhouses, condominiums, or adult communities, you'd also be wrong.

According to ERA's survey, most seniors want single-family homes, choosing independence over communal living. They also don't want to move to distant "retirement meccas." Most prefer to live within 20 miles of their current residence.

"The survey results contradict some popular assumptions about the senior market," says Brenda W. Casserly, president and chief operating officer of ERA Franchise Systems Inc. "And, more than anything else, the survey reinforced our belief that seniors represent a unique market segment with particular needs. As a group, seniors clearly keep up with the latest technological research tools at their disposal, but are also savvy enough to recognize the value of a real estate sales associate in the home buying process."

If seniors don't want communal living, and want to live within 20 miles of where they live now, what kinds of homes are they seeking?

According to a similar study performed last year by the National Association of Home Builders and Countrywide, most homebuyers over the age of 50 want detached one-story homes for lower maintenance, but they also want more luxurious amenities than they currently have.

Seniors want to stay near the friends and family contacts they've built in their own community, but they also want a home that will be an attractive gathering place for their children and grandchildren, rather like a "mini-resort," as one expert put it.

They want their home to be fun, yet the home also must allow them to play out their remaining years with universal design benefits that allow them to "age in place." Features such as wide doorways that allow easy wheelchair access should look like an integral part of the home's sumptuous design.

Other amenities that seniors want that aren't so surprising, according to the NAHB, are proximity to shopping, houses of worship, and medical facilities.

And, as ERA found, seniors want access to high-speed Internet service and other smart-home technologies that promote communication, safety, and security.

(c) Copyright 2004 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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