Forget Plastics. The Future is Now Baby Boomer Home Retrofitting

Forget Plastics. The Future is Now Baby Boomer Home Retrofitting

Anyone who has seen "The Graduate" invariably remembers this line of dialogue from a family friend named Mr. McGuire counseling college graduate Benjamin Braddock on a hot business opportunity.

"I just want to say one word to you. Just one word...Plastics." It was a reference to the petro-plastic industry, which began blossoming in the 1960s when the movie was filmed.

College graduates looking for a great business opportunity today would be wise to consider retrofitting the homes owned by baby boomers. Consider these statistics from this superb June 22 article by Jenni Bergal for Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

This year, the oldest boomers started turning 70. The youngest will be 52. By 2035, there will be 77 million Americans aged 65 and over, up from about 48 million in 2015.
Nearly two-thirds of boomers in metropolitan areas lived in the suburbs in 2014, and most want to age there, according to national surveys.

Demographers agree that as people age, they tend to stay where they are. "Older people don't move that much," said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

Suburban sub-division tracts built post WW2 tended to be multistory homes, with the master bedroom and bath upstairs. And therein lies the business opportunity. Notes Bergal:

Retirees who want to stay in the suburbs will have to cover the rising costs of property taxes and utilities, and they may have to shell out big sums to retrofit their homes if they become frail or disabled. One study found that it can cost $800 to $1,200 to widen a doorway to accommodate a wheelchair, $1,600 to $3,200 for a ramp, and up to $12,000 for a stair lift. Major remodeling, such as adding first-floor bedrooms or bathrooms, can cost much more.

Bergal, in an accompanying story, documents another critical issue that's looming: intergenerational warfare.

Intergenerational political warfare could erupt more frequently in coming decades, as vast numbers of baby boomers grow old in their suburban homes, changing the demographics of their communities. Their decision to stay put may result in fewer suburban homes occupied by young families. That, in turn, could mean schools will be less full. And it could pit families with children against retired boomers in a fight for limited tax dollars.

"Their kids are graduated. Their interests are not taking care of the next generation of kids," said John McIlwain, author of Housing in America and a former senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a research center that focuses on real estate and land use. "The people who show up at local government meetings are going to be the boomers. The pressure will come from the boomers and, as one mayor told me, they push for what they want."

Bergal's articles are among the best I've ever read examining aging in America. Kudos to her and Stateline for devoting the times and resources to publish the series.