You may not know it, but, as the Denver Post detailed in a recent article, the “Silver Tsunami” has reached the United States, including Colorado. While the impact thus far has been gentle, when its full magnitude arrives, “[e]verything will be impacted,” including real estate.
The “Silver Tsunami” is the moniker demographic experts have given the aging baby boomer population, which is expected to double by 2030. Some numbers on the tsunami. Between 2000 and 2010, the growth of the over-65 crowd outpaced the growth of the state’s population 32% to 17%. This had never happened before in Colorado. And this trend is not reversing course. Far from it: between 2010 and 2040, Colorado’s population of baby boomers is expected to increase 160%, from 549,625 to 1.4 million. By contrast, during the same time period the state’s population will increase 57%, from 5 million to 7.9 million. Every day across the country from now until 2030, about 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65—the age most associate with retirement.
What does this have to do with real estate? A lot.
Research suggests this population wants to age in place, and “place” is predominantly in suburbia. This means providing housing, neighborhoods, and public and private services that allow them to do so. In terms of housing, this manifests itself in three-foot-wide doorways and ample space in bathrooms and kitchens in case a wheelchair becomes necessary, as well as other “age in place” designs. Affordable senior housing will also see a sharp increase in demand. Indeed, by the beginning of 2013, senior housing was one of the top property sectors in terms of demand and investment. Neighborhoods will need continuous systems of sidewalks at least five feet wide so older adults, including those using ambulatory aids, can go where they please. Public transportation will need to be conveniently accessible. To those points, transportation and affordable housing for aging populations have already been identified as the services most lacking. The Silver Tsunami is also adding further momentum to the “retrofitting suburbia” movement, which likewise emphasizes a reduced dependence on cars, lower maintenance and cost of living, and increased social interaction. We should also expect an increased demand for health care and assistive facilities. Zoning codes may also need to be revisited to accommodate and cultivate the above.
Local governments likely cannot address the Silver Tsunami alone. They are “struggling with the immensity of the issue, how broad and deep the challenges are. The topic is so big, they don’t know where to start.” This is compounded by the fact that per-capita tax revenues to Colorado and many local governments are also expected to decline as the baby boomers move out of their peak earning years and into retirement. This presents an opportunity for private development and investment. For those who may be skeptical of any opportunity, one need only look just outside Denver, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. There, in 2012, two retail centers built in the 1950’s and 1960’s were razed and replaced with a new 88-unit senior affordable housing development that opened with a 600-person waiting list.