Renters By Choice Lead Urban Return

Changing preferences for senior renters were discussed at the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Image by Tim Guow via

Once upon a time, apartments were the housing option of last choice for many people who couldn’t afford a home. Now, they have become the leading option for those owners who are tired of a big, empty house in the suburbs.

That’s the gist of a 30-minute presentation by architect James Hill, associate vice president of Houston-based Kirksey Architecture, who told a collection of real estate writers gathered in Las Vegas yesterday that older people are trading in quantity over quality, where living experience is concerned.

“After World War II, everything went out into the suburbs,” Hill said at the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference. “But after they went out about 30 miles or so, people started to question their decisions. Now, they’re moving back in again.”

The movement, said the firm’s associate vice president, who also is a certified planner, is powered by seniors. “Ten thousand people turn 65 years old everyday and will continue to do so for the next seven or eight years,” he said.

But the next oldest group—active adults age 55-65—are also fueling the resurgence back to the city, or at least to the inner suburbs. “They are basically empty nesters,” Hill said – renters by choice who are turning in their lawn mowers, tool boxes and paint brushes for targeted amenities and services.

Trends in development and demand

James Hill speaks at the National Association of Real Estate Editors Conference. Image by Lew Sichelman

All this has spawned what the architect described as “new housing typologies,” such as four or five-story wood-frame multi-family buildings with either wrap-around parking or below ground concrete garages. And oh yeah, they are loaded with amenities. Although many developers still prefer the classical apartment look, more often that not, today’s structures are more contemporary in design. “A little more edgy,” as Hill described them.

Still, no matter the architectural design, the buildings almost always follow a hospitality-focused blue print, with salons, theaters, co-working spaces, fitness centers, pet spas and the like. In one project that  Kirksey designed, three different dining choices were offered on the top floor.

External amenities are equally as important as opulence, Hill said, ticking off features such as pools, gardens, putting greens and outdoor fireplaces. But apartment interiors can’t be overlooked, either. Features as high ceilings, expansive views, balconies and kitchen islands make units more luxurious.

Hill also spoke about the 65-plus set, many of whom are turning over the suburban digs for assisted living arrangements. He said only 7 percent of all assisted living occupants are under 65, while 11 percent are between 65-78, 30 percent between 75-84 and a whopping 52 percent age 85 or older.

But many potential occupants turn thumbs down on living with a bunch of old people, mainly because they don’t see themselves as old as they really are. To combat that attitude, many assisted living operators are trying to make their places more attractive. But Hill said they may have to enlist these seniors’ eldest child for help.

If the child can feel good about moving a parent into a facility, and the parent can be assured that the the child will visit often, then can be a developer’s best salesperson, Hill said. In his case, the architect moved his own folks into an assisted living development, and “it turned out to be a tremendous relief for us,” he said.

Prior to moving, his parents had to drive everywhere and were completely isolated. “They were part of a very vulnerable population,” he said. “Now they are safe. But the biggest benefit is I don’t have to worry about them anymore.”

You May Also Like