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Older Homeowners in Car-Dependent Suburbs Face Difficulty Downsizing

February 11th, 2021 by

suburbia house for sale Arthur Nelson at the University of Arizona recently released a study, “The Great Senior Short Sale,” describing the mismatch between retiring Baby Boomers seeking to sell their mostly single-family detached homes on large lots and younger homebuyers who are mostly looking for other housing options. The study predicts that “many baby boomers and members of Generation X will struggle to sell their homes as they become empty nesters and singles,” because young homebuyers don’t want what they are selling.

New Jersey Future has called attention to a similar predicament facing older residents in our 2014 report Creating Places To Age in New Jersey, which noted that there were hundreds of thousands of people “aging in place” in places that were designed for travel almost exclusively by automobile, creating a looming mobility problem for older people who may soon be looking to scale back their driving—or may be forced to give it up altogether. And we have noted (in our 2017 report Where Are We Going? Implications of Recent Demographic Trends in New Jersey) that Millennials are drawn to compact, walkable towns where they don’t need a car every time they leave home and are hence unlikely to represent a strong market of buyers for the Boomers’ suburban homes in car-dependent neighborhoods.

Seven years later, this problem has gotten more urgent. As of the 2018 five-year American Community Survey, there are about 700,000 New Jersey residents age 65 or older who are living in municipalities that score poorly on measures of compactness and walkability that New Jersey Future uses to identify aging-friendly towns. And the wave hasn’t crested yet, with the younger half of the Baby Boom generation still to hit retirement age. Many of these aging homeowners will face difficulty downsizing within their existing community, since the state’s more car-dependent places also tend to offer few options beyond single-family detached homes.

Read the full report for details, and for recommendations for what communities of different types can do to make themselves more aging-friendly.

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