She’s a high school teacher; he’s a petroleum engineer. Both are in their late 50s — near the front end of the baby boom generation. Their four kids are married and out of the house. But at a time when many boomers are downsizing, this couple is moving to a much larger, more luxurious property.
“They’re buying that ‘last hurrah’ house — a place with more breathing room and a better view. They also want vaulted ceilings, a gourmet kitchen, a master bedroom suite on the first floor and a three-car garage,” said Linda Steis, their real estate broker.
Steis, who specializes in helping senior buyers, allows that only a minority of boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964 — are upsizing. But, she said, an increasing number in this generation who can afford to live larger are now opting to do so.
“They want a house with all the features they’ve dreamed about for years. They’re looking at the unbelievably low mortgage rates available now and saying, ‘Let’s finally go for it,’” Steis said.
Despite rising property prices, Steis said, her clients — the teacher and engineer — found they could afford more house than expected. With a relatively small increase in monthly payments, they’re planning to move from a 3,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms to a 5,000-square-foot place with seven bedrooms.
“They’re very family-oriented. And although they don’t yet have grandchildren, they’ll have plenty of space for the kids when they do,” Steis said.
Debra Attman, an agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com), said some baby boomers wish to fulfill a “trophy house” fantasy.
She said many people who wouldn’t consider buying a big property during the depths of the latest recession are now going forward as the economy improves.
Attman estimates that more than 35 percent of upper-end homes — those in the top 20 percent of the price range — are purchased by boomers with no kids at home.
Though many boomers are still struggling to amass enough money to cover their basic needs in retirement, others are comfortable financially — due to savings, inherited money or both.
Given the size of the baby boom population, real estate agents are gearing up to serve the housing needs of both downsizers and upsizers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Americans more than 65 years old is expected to more than double in the coming decades.
Are you a boomer seeking a larger home? If so, these pointers could prove helpful:
Look for sellers who are highly motivated.
As with those selling property at any price point, the sellers of high-end homes vary in their level of motivation. Some are much more driven than others.
Some homeowners — called “discretionary sellers” — feel no urgency. They will hold out indefinitely until they get the price they want.
In contrast, motivated sellers have serious reasons for wanting or needing to move. Some are facing a financial setback or serious illness. Others are under contract to buy another home and can’t afford to carry two mortgages.
Yet another reason for strong seller motivation involves a divorce in which a property must be liquidated to meet a court requirement.
As a buyer, why should you care if the sellers of a property you like are motivated? Because those under pressure are much more likely to bargain in earnest.
It’s often quite easy to determine sellers’ level of motivation, particularly if they’re facing money problems.
“Sometimes there are flags to show that the owners can no longer afford to keep the house up. Maybe the floors are in poor condition, the kitchen cabinets are worn or some appliances aren’t working,” Attman said.
She recommends buyers not waste time trying to negotiate with unmotivated sellers. You’re much more likely to get a good deal from those who must move on.
Don’t rule out listings that have gone “stale.”
Some motivated sellers are nonetheless unrealistic about the market value of their property. This causes them to hang on to their inflated list price for a lengthy period, discounting it only after they’ve become desperate.
Sellers usually get a wake-up call that their price is too high only after a lengthy period with no showings or bids, indicating their property has developed a stigma. Buyers who are the first to bid after a major price reduction occurs sometimes can snag an exceptional deal, she said.
Try to make your offer as condition-free an offer as possible.
Are you seeking to buy in an upper-end neighborhood where the demand for available homes exceeds the supply? If so, Attman recommends you try to make your offer as free of contingencies as possible.
Though you shouldn’t waive your right to a professional home inspection, you could remove any clause that makes the purchase conditional on your sale of another property. Even stronger as a negotiating tool is a “cash contract” that doesn’t require you to get mortgage approval.
Older buyers, especially those who have amassed substantial savings or have inherited money, can sometimes buy a move-up property with cash. As Attman said, this is a powerful bargaining chip.
“Sellers love cash offers, because they’re usually quick to close and there’s no fear an appraisal will come in low,” she said.
Keep your eye on your ultimate goal.
Though most boomer buyers are empty nesters, Attman insists it’s not irrational for them to buy a big property that may prove their last major real-estate purchase. Perhaps they still want to fulfill their urge for a gourmet kitchen or a three-car garage to store classic cars, for example.
“They’re saying if not now, when will I buy my dream home?” My response is, “If you can really afford it and really want a big house, why not go for it? The big advantage of being older is that you finally know what you truly want,” Attman said.
Ellen James Martin, a former real estate editor at The Baltimore Sun, gives advice for anyone buying, selling or financing a home.