Homebuilder Jim Chapman knows what many older buyers want most. They desire amenity-laden housing developments in close proximity to adult children and younger grandchildren. And these retirees are looking for specific features.
“First, I believe the number one thing they’re still buying is lifestyle,” he says. “Part of that is a sense of community, and that’s created through the amenities.”
Most of Chapman’s developments have houses with very small yards that are maintained through homeowners associations. They also boast gathering spaces like pools and clubhouses. Walking trails rank at the top of buyers’ must-have lists. And one feature Chapman has added has been a surprising success.
“I had no idea it would be so popular, but where I’ve added community gardens, people love them,” he says. “I design and build a potting shed where they can store rakes and shovels, and I bring a water source. The raised beds are usually 6-by-6 timbers stacked to chair height, so people can sit on them and lean over to work on the beds. In some places, people are almost fighting to get them.”
The National Association of Home Builders named Chapman 2018 Builder of the Year in the age 55 and over housing market. The award honored his single-story, maintenance-free designs, often in gated communities, that provide security as well as hassle-free living.
Chapman’s current projects include The Overlook at Old Atlanta near Johns Creek, Nestledown Farm in Cumming, Boxwood at Vinings, Sweet Briar Farms in Woodstock and the Homestead at Ridgewood Heights in northwest Atlanta.
On the drawing board are new communities near Gainesville, Dawsonville and Horseshoe Bend in Roswell. His choice of neighborhood is often influenced by knowing where the buyers want to be.
“There are a lot of grandkids in good schools around these areas,” he says. “They’re also about two miles to amenities like a public boat ramp or shopping. These aren’t buyers who need to head to Atlanta, unless they’re going to the airport or a Braves game.”
Wherever possible, Chapman’s homes sit behind gated entrances that are closed from dusk until dawn. “That’s a big comfort factor,” he says.
Chapman is also careful to select locations close to commercial districts, so residents don’t have to go far for shopping, entertainment and health care. “Ideally, everything they need is within a few miles,” he says.
In the home plans, low-maintenance is primary, which is why exteriors include easy-care elements such as siding and stone. Inside, each design is created in accordance with the initiatives of A Liveable Lifestyle (ALL), a program that promotes aging in place. At least one entrance is stepless, doorways on the main level are wider, and at least one bath has reinforced walls strong enough to hold grab bars.
A master on the main floor is a must, though many of Chapman’s plans incorporate a bedroom, bath and loft space on a second level.
But despite the interest in the lifestyle of an adult community, many buyers still face hurdles in finding what may be their last home. One of the biggest challenges, Chapman says, is affordability.
“I’m finding it’s a common misconception that all the Boomers are extremely wealthy. They’re not,” he says. “The two communities I’m developing near Gainesville and another in Dawson County off Ga. 400 are priced from $214,900 and $229,900 for three bedrooms, two baths and one garage.
“Buyers can still add upgrades with hardwood floors and screened porches, but primarily, I’m trying to address a hole in the market. A lot of people can’t afford a $400,000 house. I’m trying to bring to market what I’m an expert at, but at [an attractive] price point that is often overlooked.”
Downsizing can be an uncomfortable process for buyers moving from a house where they raised a family to a smaller home. Experts suggest starting by assessing what must stay, such as important documents and priceless possessions, and what can be pared down by giving them to younger family members.
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