As a Beta Boomer I’m at the front edge of Baby Boomers entering retirement years. We’re a different kettle of sashimi from earlier generations and the type of accommodation we’re looking for as we age is very specific and practically non-existent. In metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Vancouver, the land and real estate prices work against us but that’s often exactly where we want to be so we’re close to hospitals, doctors, entertainment, friends and family. I tried living in cottage country for several years (in two different locations) and the novelty soon wore off as I found myself trekking up and down Highway 400 several times a week to meet friends in the city or take care of my urban urges.
Over the years I’ve made my home in pretty much every type of accommodation there is. I’ve lived in a girls’ residence, bed-sits, bachelor apartments, condo apartments, country homes, city homes and suburban townhomes. Now that I’m retired I’m nice and comfie in a two-storey suburban home with a small, beautiful yard. Our enclave of 11 detached homes is currently in the process of changing to a hybrid condo arrangement that pays a monthly fee to have our grass cut in summer and snow shoveled in winter. I could live here forever except for the fact that three guestrooms and three full bathrooms are an expensive real estate luxury that could be dispensed with. More importantly though, we’re reaching an age where it would be nice to have everything on one level.
As I review the retirement homes advertised in newspapers and magazines I’m consistently disappointed at the total lack of understanding of what Boomers want in retirement accommodation. Or perhaps builders do understand and simply chose to ignore us thinking they’ll make us adapt to what they are offering. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Here’s my wish list of Top Ten requirements of Baby Boomer retirement homes for the 15-or-so years before we go into Assisted Living:
- Single level. No tripping on stairs as we carry laundry and groceries.
- Huge closets. Boomer Broads have large wardrobes with dozens of pairs of shoes and purses. Our guys are the same,
minus the purses although they do have computer bags, golf bags, gym bags and sadly, too many pairs of baggy pants. Dinky two-sliding-door closets will never do. We want our closets to be the size of a small bedrooom so we can build in shelves, racks and drawers for everything. And stop trying to stick wire shelves at the end of a clothes closet and call it a linen closet. We want a separate linen closet for towels, sheets and our overflowing cosmetics and toiletry items. And put this closet where it’s logical—in the bathroom where we use most of the stuff.
- Kitchen pantries. We finally have the time to indulge ourselves in cooking and baking—time we rarely had during our working years. We want out-of-sight accessible storage shelves for all our staples and small appliances. This does not mean fewer kitchen cupboards. We want both pantry space and lots of cupboards with drawers not shelves on the bottom.
- Dining area. We don’t want a separate room but an alcove as part of the kitchen so we can have a few people over for dinner when the table is extended. We also like to spread the morning paper out at this table (still preferable to reading it on an iPad) so if it is next to a window that’s a bonus.
- His & Her space. We each have laptops and prefer our own “office” space which can be incorporated into the second bedroom, den or corner of the master bedroom or livingroom. His space must be able to accommodate a large flat-screenTVandLaZBoy.
- Open concept. We’ve tried it and we like it. Having the kitchen and living areas open to each other is conducive to conversation and socializing.
- Heated bathroom floors. This little luxury is not expensive and saves us littering the floor with scatter mats.
- Generous front hall closet. See item 1 above. We have a lot of jackets, shoes and boots.
- Parking for two vehicles. We’re used to each having our own wheels, at least while we’re still able. For one-vehicle couples, the extra space is always good for resale and for guest parking. This parking should be underground where our vehicles are safe and dry when we go away.
- Accessible location. When we want to take in the latest show at the ROM, AGO or downtown theatre we want to be able to easily access a bus, subway or GO-Train rather than fight downtown traffic.
Of course, we like all the usual finishes like granite countertops, high-end appliances (we’ve saved our money and can afford them), wireless communication, engineered hardwood floors, crown moldings, large windows for plenty of light, outdoor areas such as small gardens, terraces or balconies so we can still grow our herbs and annuals and sit outside in nice weather. Outdoor gas hookups for barbecues on our terraces would be appreciated too.
Obviously the 800 and 900 sq. ft. retirement homes being marketed and built now will never do. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1800-2000 sq. ft. would be lovely. Boomers are more active, more social and for better or worse more materialistic than our predecessors and we need the space to live comfortably and viably. This must also include some kind of property management to oversee maintenance issues and provide a level of home security while we travel.
In multi-unit buildings we prefer low-rise so we can get to know some of our neighbours and not have to ride into the stratosphere
or waste time waiting for elevators. Community rooms are nice but we don’t need gymnasiums and pools in the building. They’re too expensive to maintain and add proportionately too much to monthly maintenance fees. Those people who want to use such facilities can go to local community centres at much less cost. We may be comfortable financially but we’re not stupid about our money and we spend it carefully. A boutique-type building would suit us best in terms of multi-unit accommodation.
There are some wonderful retirement communities with adorable bungalows, condos and townhomes at affordable prices in small towns throughout Ontario but nothing in the Greater Toronto Area that is reasonably priced and meets my requirements. Despite years of keeping my eyes open for the kind of accommodation I would like to live in before I land in the assisted living facility, I don’t see it. At the risk of sounding sexist, men do not make good residential designers as they generally do not have to make the space work—women do. Function is more important than form when laying out kitchens, bathrooms and closets and most men just don’t get it.
I hope some developer who is also a Boomer with a wife who has a lot of shoes and purses will take up the challenge. If you build it the way I want, where I want, Mr. or Mrs. Developer, I guarantee my Boomer friends will come.