Calvin Buss, president of Buss Marketing, says today’s empty nesters, if they retire at all, want to continue enjoying their lifestyle. This sentiment has changed the approach to downsizing. Wil Andruschak / For CREB®Now

In search of vibrancy

Downsizing baby boomers have different needs than previous generations

What’s the difference between the baby boomer generation of empty nesters and retirees, and previous generations?

According to Calvin Buss, president of Buss Marketing and a boomer himself, today’s empty nesters, if they retire at all, want to “do things” instead of retiring “to die.”

And that new view of aging has also changed their approach to downsizing, says Buss, who has marketed and sold large condo projects in Calgary for almost three decades.

Buss, now leading sales on the seven-storey, 64-unit luxury AVLI on Atlantic project in Inglewood, says the shift has been all about lifestyle – a shift he has made himself.

“We (boomers) lived in the suburbs where it was about bricks and mortar. You had a garage, a backyard. You drove home from work, parked the car in the garage, put the kids to bed and didn’t come out of the house until the next morning,” he said. “Your lifestyle was in the house and it was a repetitive cycle.”

Four years ago, Buss and his wife moved from an acreage to a condo by the Bow River. The couple now walks or bikes six kilometres four times a week along river and city pathways, stopping wherever they like in the city’s downtown core.

Beverly Sandalack, professor and associate dean (academic) landscape and planning in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design, says Buss’s move is in step with most of today’s empty nesters or retirees.

“This generation of downsizers likely grew up in what is now the middle ring of the city – those suburbs constructed between the 1950s and 1970s that were once on the emerging edge of the city,” she said.

That generation of Calgarians then moved further out to raise families, she says, a trend that played out in many North American cities.

“It makes sense (that now) they would want to move inward to either the kind of neighbourhood they grew up in – now almost inner city – or experience the urbanity, walkability and amenities that the true inner city offers.”

Sandalack, co-director of the University of Calgary’s Urban Lab, which researches community planning and urban development issues, says as boomers look to move closer to the core, there are an increasing number of opportunities in new neighbourhoods, such as the East Village, or inner-city neighbourhoods experiencing reinvigoration.

That includes those in that middle ring, such as Killarney, made more attractive by the City of Calgary’s Main Streets strategy of increased densification and urban design.

It makes sense (that now) they would want to move inward to either the kind of neighbourhood they grew up in – now almost inner city – or experience the urbanity, walkability and amenities that the true inner city offers.

Because boomers grew up in prosperous times and travelled widely to places of urban vibrancy, Sandalack says they seek luxury homes in neighbourhoods displaying that vibrancy.
She said the lesson for today’s community planners is clear.

“If you build mixed-use, mixed demographic neighbourhoods, you don’t get abandonment of those neighbourhoods when the kids grow up,” said Sandalack.

Buss says in his experience, downsizing criteria for past generations were a modest-sized and reasonably priced home, where the prime location qualifications were proximity to healthcare and transit.

Today’s downsizers, he says, make money selling their suburban homes and shed square footage – but that doesn’t mean they’ll settle for “small” spaces or reduced quality.

“They generally are looking at downsizing to 1,400 square feet and are not looking at price, so much as value for the dollar,” he said.

They also want luxury interiors. Buss cites boomer purchasers in other projects who spent $1.5 million on the unit and another $500,000 on upgrades and furnishings.

“This is probably the last time for furnishing a nest, so they stretch their wings,” he said.
Construction on the $36-million AVLI on Atlantic project just launched and 70 per cent of the units – ranging in price from $350,000 to $1.5 million – have already sold to a mixture of downsizers and young professionals who want to be closer to downtown.

The condos have custom-designed interiors, including gourmet kitchens and spa bathrooms. Condo fees will be low at 38 cents per square foot, Buss says, because there are not a lot of expensive communal areas, which would be wasted on boomer purchasers who are not there much of the time.

“They’ve cut the grass – they’re done with that,” he said. “They want to travel, go golfing or biking instead.”

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