When Ken and Sharon Thomas, residents at Del Webb’s Sun City Peachtree in Griffin, Georgia, retired, the couple’s first move was to downsize from the house where they raised their six children. It didn’t take long for the couple to realize that upsizing would be the better choice.
“All 12 of our grandkids could fit here if we got them all to visit at the same time because we have a sunroom and a living room, plus a loft and more bedrooms upstairs,” says Sharon.
The Thomases aren’t outliers. A recent survey by Del Webb found that 65 percent of younger baby boomers and older Gen Xers, all between 50 and 60 years old, don’t plan to downsize. They prefer their next home be the same size (43 percent) or larger (22 percent) than their current home.
Why Some Baby Boomers Go Big
A Merrill Lynch Retirement Study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices, found that 30 percent of recent retirees had moved into a larger home and 19 percent moved into the same-size home. Among the reasons cited for upsizing were so that more family members could visit (33 percent), so that family members could move in (20 percent), to move to a more prestigious house or location (19 percent) and so that more friends could visit (16 percent).
“Many people in this age group still have teenagers living with them because they started having kids later in life than some previous generations,” says Mark Ash, national director of design for the Pulte Group, owner of the Del Webb brand. “They’re also thinking ahead to allocate space for aging parents.”
More people want a dedicated home office space, so they can work from home, says Ash. “And people like to entertain at home a lot, so they want the larger kitchen and usable indoor-outdoor square footage, too,” he says.
Spaces that Match Upsizing Priorities
When Ken and Sharon Thomas upsized, they wanted a bedroom and bathroom for Sharon’s mother, who lives with them, a sewing room, an office, and space for guests. They’re also happy to own a newly constructed home with less maintenance and to live in Sun City, where outdoor maintenance is provided by the homeowner association.
“There’s no such thing as having too much space,” says Ken.
One couple who purchased a home in Provenance, a planned community near Chicago built by Red Seal Homes, opted to customize their ranch-style home with a fully finished basement, which expanded the 3,600-square-foot floor plan to a total of 6,000 square feet. The couple wanted room to entertain family and to accommodate their grandchildren. They also were relieved they didn’t have to downsize their possessions.
“We see a fair amount of demand among Baby Boomers for homes with anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet,” says Brian Hoffman, a third-generation owner of Red Seal Homes in Chicago.
Besides space, he says, these buyers are looking for home customization with eight or nine feet of kitchen cabinets reaching the ceiling, special lighting packages, home automation, and oversized master bathrooms.
“When we started building at Provenance, we had a fairly traditional 3,600-square-foot ranch-style floor plan with two bedrooms, a formal dining room, an office and a kitchen with a butler’s pantry, plus a family room,” says Hoffman. “We quickly observed that buyers wanted a larger, more open ranch-style house with a third bedroom and no formal dining room. We opened up the kitchen to a great room so there’s now about 1,000 square feet of open entertaining space. That’s our best seller among all our models.”
For extra space, buyers often choose to finish the basement, which Hoffman says is dug extra deep to accommodate high ceilings. Baby Boomer buyers often personalize this space with a bar, a game room and a home theater for entertaining adults and kids at family gatherings, he says.
“The feedback we get from Baby Boomer buyers is that even if they want the same amount of space they already have, they want that square footage allocated in different ways,” says Ash. “They want a larger kitchen, a bigger laundry room with storage, a luxury master bathroom, and a home office because they’re retiring later and want the flexibility of working at home.”
In addition, Ash says, they often like the second-floor option with a loft, a bedroom, and a bathroom.
“The buyers want their privacy while their grandkids and kids are visiting, so it’s great to have the entire second floor space for guests,” says Ash.
All of the Del Webb floor plans include extra storage space as well. “All of our floor plans have a walk-in pantry, an ample linen closet, and storage off the garage entrance,” says Ash.
For the Thomas family and many other baby boomers, a larger house with storage, space for visitors and for hobbies and work makes more sense than skimping on size. “A lot of people want a new house, but they don’t want to get rid of all of their stuff,” says Ash.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.