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Market Trends

Late Boomers: How Seniors are Affecting the Housing Market

By Alexandra Lee | September 5, 2018
Baby Boomers Report

The baby boomers are entering their golden years and are poised to become the largest generation of retirees in the country’s history. Through their sheer numbers, boomers have impacted the nation’s economic trends. Now, as more of them enter their retirement years, this generation’s housing preferences will help determine the housing options available to younger people entering the market.

Not only are baby boomers the largest generation, but they also have different lifestyle preferences than previous generations. Baby boomers are working longer and delaying the home downsizing many have been expecting. While some observers think baby boomers are contributing to the inventory crunch by staying in place, others believe boomers are holding on to their homes to time the market and that a massive sell-off is on the horizon.

To better understand this demographic group, Trulia took a close look at the housing situation of seniors 65 and over now and a decade ago, as well as how senior households stack up in different metros. Of course, not all boomers are seniors yet—we define baby boomers as individuals born between 1945 and 1964, making them between 54 and 73 this year. However, we focus on changes in senior housing preferences over the last decade to offer insight into how boomers, who are starting to become seniors en masse, differ in their housing choices compared to previous generations.

We found that:

  • Senior households are delaying downsizing. They’re working longer and their kids are living with them more often compared with seniors a decade ago.
  • Senior households with no younger generations living with them—which include empty nesters— on average have two more bedrooms than people in their homes. Households under 65 on average only have one extra bedroom.
  • Places where housing inventory is most needed—the most unaffordable metros in the nation—aren’t the places where seniors are holding onto inventory. Like the rest of the population, seniors rent in these places at much higher rates and also have younger generations living with them more often. Unless they kick out the kids, they won’t be able to downsize.
  • Metros that have the most senior households that could potentially downsize—that is, those households that own their single family home and have no younger generations living with them—are among the most affordable in the nation. That may be evidence that boomers holding onto their homes is not driving up prices.


Delayed Gratification


Aging boomers are staying in place longer. As households move into their retirement years, some of them are downsizing—moving from owning to renting and from single family to multifamily homes. But, on average, boomers are staying in place longer than previous generations. Some observers worry they are taking up valuable home inventory in high-demand markets that would otherwise be snapped up by younger homebuyers. Of senior households, 83.4% live by themselves, with no younger generations. On average, this group has two more bedrooms than people living in the house—perhaps representing empty nesters whose kids have since moved out. That compares with just one extra bedroom for households under 65.



Characteristics of Senior Households
% of Senior Households 2005 2016
In Labor Force 15.9% 19.3%
Living Alone 85.2% 83.4%
Living with Younger Generation(s) 14.4% 16.1%


Baby boomers are staying in place longer because the life events that might cause them to downsize are being delayed. Seniors in recent years have adopted significantly different lifestyles than seniors even a decade ago. For one, they’re working longer. The proportion of household heads 65 and over who are still in the labor force rose to 19.3% in 2016 from 15.9% in 2005. What’s more, the kids are moving out later. Senior households living alone represented 83.4% in 2016, ticking down from 85.2% in 2005. In 2016, 16.1% of senior households had younger generations living with them, up from 14.4% in 2005. These factors mean senior households aren’t considering downsized housing options until later in life. In 2005, more senior households were moving into multifamily than single family housing by age 75. In 2016, this inflection point had shifted to age 80.



Note: Ages are reported in 5 year increments, i.e. 70 represents the average moving rate for 70-75 year olds.



Senior Living by Metro


The areas where home supply is limited and affordability is low might appreciate an infusion of inventory from downsizing seniors. However, when looking at the nation’s top 100 metros, we don’t see evidence that boomers holding on to inventory is eroding affordability. Like the general population, seniors in expensive and unaffordable metros rent at much higher rates. Unaffordability also translates to higher levels of multigenerational living. The correlation between unaffordability and the percentage of senior households that could potentially downsize—those that live by themselves and own a single family home—is stark. The higher the income required to purchase the median home, the lower the proportion of senior households that could downsize (with a correlation coefficient of -0.73).



Note: We define senior households able to downsize as those who live alone and own a single family home. Affordability is based on 2018 Q2 inventory. 



The metros with the highest portion of senior households in a position to downsize are in more affordable metros, including Knoxville, Tenn., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Dayton, Ohio. However, even in these metros, inventory has fallen steadily for the past several years. In Knoxville, inventory decreased 12.4% year over year during the second quarter of 2018, rounding out 12 straight quarters of falling inventory. With this prolonged inventory drought across the nation, these metros may very well welcome an increase in boomers listing their homes.



Power in Numbers


Although seniors appear to be delaying downsizing until later in life, as a group, households 65 and over are still downsizing at roughly the same rate as in years past—which is to say not that often. In 2016, 5.5% of households 65 and over moved, pretty evenly split between moves to single family (2.7%) and multifamily (2.4%) homes. In 2005, these percentages were virtually the same, with 5.5% of senior households moving, including 2.5% into single family and 2.5% into multifamily homes.

Still, because the boomer generation is so much larger than previous generations, that 5.5% moving rate translates into very different raw numbers across the years. There were about 7 million more senior households in 2016 than 2005, meaning 386,000 more senior households moved in 2016.

Of course, the ability of senior households to downsize depends on the availability of homes to downsize into. The acute shortage in starter home inventory can make it difficult for retirees to move to smaller homes. Not only are seniors not responsible for making inventory-scarce metros unaffordable, they’re feeling the inventory pinch themselves. Gen X-ers and millennials, especially in expensive coastal metros, are going to need more than downsizing boomers to alleviate the inventory crunch they are facing.





We used 2005 and 2016 5-Year American Community Survey data for labor rates, household generation composition, moving rates, unit structure type, number of bedrooms, and tenure. Our analysis only looks at households that are not in “group quarters”, which would include retirement homes and nursing facilities. This means that our downsizing estimates are likely understated. Affordability is based on our inventory metrics from the second quarter of 2018, defined as the share of the median income needed to purchase the median priced home.