Q&A: Marketing to empty nesters & baby boomers

Barbara Ballinger
Barbara Ballinger | 7 min. read

Published on November 24, 2015

When it comes to marketing vacancies to the right demographics, Baby Boomers represent big numbers —76.4 million people at last count, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data.

The cohort, representing people born between 1946 and 1964, are often eager to downsize their homes once their children have moved away. And, because the boomers themselves may be retired, they’re no longer interested in tending to their yards and maintaining large homes. And in some cases, they don’t want to be stuck in the suburbs with a long car or train ride to a vibrant downtown. Of the boomers that already live in urban areas, many don’t want to maintain bigger condominiums or town homes for similar reasons—they’re ready to enjoy life!

We talked with Julie Chase, head of Chase Communications, whose clients are real estate owners, property managers, and developers (such as PN Hoffman, MRP Realty, Grosvenor Americas, TMG Partners and Federal Realty Investment Trust) that rely on her company’s professional expertise to help market their rental properties to the boomer segment, along with other niches. Here’s what she said:

Question: Many baby boomers are downsizing and not always interested in another home or condo. What makes a rental most attractive—location or price? And what specifically about the location or price?

Answer: Boomers have been weighed down with mortgages, landscaping, and general maintenance chores and expenses, such as roofing and ongoing interior/exterior upkeep. Many have paid off their mortgages. They may not be interested in putting their capital back into a lateral or more expensive property, particularly as cost-per-square-foot has typically gone up dramatically since their last purchase. Many now want a luxury apartment, and one that has good closet and storage space, large rooms, and updated kitchen and bathrooms. Entertaining at home has become less popular. Being located near restaurants, entertainment, and friends is a premium, especially if the location represents a reasonable walk. Being near transportation access and in cities with major airports is a plus, too, as this rental might become a second home with a “vacation home” purchased in a desirable climate taking on greater importance.

Q: Many boomers are accustomed to—and expect—lots of services, even if they have to pay extra for them. What do they want when they rent—mail delivery, having a super on staff to fix stuff quickly, social events to meet other boomers, or something else?

A: You’re right; they want services, from requesting replacement of a light bulb to supporting care of their pet;s and services such as a place to drop off or pick up dry cleaning, and another for groceries to be delivered and kept safe and fresh by an on-site concierge in their absence. They want a social component in-house, whether it’s an organized wine tasting,  simple gathering about books or bridge, or an organized trip to local galleries, museums, and theater run by staff.

Q: What about amenities like a rooftop deck or a courtyard garden? Do these matter in the building, or are tenants content with them in the neighborhood?

A: The closer the amenity, the better, and the more used it will be. With lease rates high, the preference is not to “double-pay” for health club access, a pool, or even some pet services. Boomers differ from their parents who sought out homes for retirement in Florida or the Southwest. They want to live the vacation lifestyle 365 days a year. Moreover, they feel an inherent pride of ownership when able to live in a “fully loaded” property.

Q: Do they want a full-time doorman or is a good key system with lock sufficient?

A: A doorman brings to his or her job a smiling face and a regular hello. He’s a person a resident can call when something needs to be done quickly versus waiting for an electronic response. For older people, especially those who may live alone, a doorman represents an important, reassuring presence. Smaller buildings may not be able to afford this amenity, however.

Q: Is a nice lobby essential, and how nice?

A: A nice lobby sets the tone for a nice return each night. It’s also a message to tenants’ guests. There’s a big difference in the lobby a boomer desires versus what a millennial thinks is great. The difference is reflected in the choice of music, art, furnishings, mood, and how casual or elegant the space is. In other words, it can be the difference between a hip boutique hotel and a luxurious resort.

Q: How small are they willing to go if they have grown kids and grand kids who might visit? What size units work best?

A: Boomers want at least two bedrooms, if not two bedrooms plus a den. They may not be entertaining as much at home and many opt to gather a larger family at a nearby hotel or restaurant or a vacation property, but they still want space. Some properties now also offer the option for tenants to rent a party room on an hourly or daily basis for big groups. Some also have an extra apartment that they can rent if they can’t house family or friends overnight, for free or an additional fee. Storage is still a significant consideration. So are larger-scale rooms with high ceilings and an open-plan design.

Q: Are boomers interested in meeting other neighbors through parties  on- or off-site, or are they content with their social set?

A: I think it’s a combination. Having moved from their neighborhoods, they may experience a change in social circles. Some of the older neighbors may not be able to visit. New relationships develop, often through interactions in common areas from hallways to a gym, elevator, and on-site lounges. Additionally, at the time of their “downsizing,” boomers may have cut back in their professional pursuits and have more time to devote to socializing. In these cases, they’re interested in expanding their social groups.

Q: Do they tend to renew if they find a rental they like or have you seen a lot of mobility?

A: I think once many boomers get a taste of the ease of renting, they are open to refining or improving the experience to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle. In some cases, they may move to an apartment and not realize the space they gave up so they might seek a little more room. Inversely, they may think they want a larger apartment initially and then decide to reduce square footage so they can travel more and spend time away from this home.

Q: How do you best reach them through marketing—TV or radio ads, newspapers, Facebook, or Twitter—since this group isn’t always tech-savvy, though many members are?

A: Multi-pronged marketing is key, as is word of mouth, and third party endorsements. Coverage in newspapers and city magazines helps significantly. Recently, we had a brief profile of a building in a major newspaper’s weekend real estate section and more than 100 potential renters toured that weekend, even though the property had been open for months. Social media should also be considered. Boomers are a dominant audience on Facebook, especially through their children. They use other channels, too, which they often hear about through their children who use a variety of social media. These other channels include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and lifestyle or hyper-local community blogs.

Q: So they expect tech services such as Wi-Fi throughout the building and cable?

A: Absolutely.

Q: What else can you share about this demographic that’s helpful to property managers in targeting boomers?

A: For buildings that attract all age groups, management needs to be a bit more solicitous of, or preferential to, the older generation in terms of services offered, professionalism, and managing the general behavior of the entire resident population. That means having children behave appropriately in elevators, around swimming pools, and in public spaces. For buildings going through a makeover, management needs to communicate aggressively what updates are happening, how long changes will take, and offer ways to compensate for the disruption.

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Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate, design, and family business; her website is barbaraballinger.com. Her most recently published book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing).

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