Senior communities evolve to meet new demands as baby boomers swell retirement ranks.

Senior communities evolve to meet new demands as baby boomers swell retirement ranks.

Generational tendencies don't weaken with age-a tenet retirement communities and developers are learning firsthand as baby boomers become priority No. 1 to woo and reshape what it means to live post-employment.

Many aspects of senior living are changing, and one that is changing the most is housing. Communities and developers all over the city are working to fulfill the dwelling desires of more mature members of the community, which the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging's Education and Outreach Specialist Paula Taliaferro has seen firsthand.

"Housing is going to continue to dramatically change," Taliaferro says. "People want to stay in Worthington or Westerville or Grandview, but they want to live in a place that they can stay in for a while-so they don't want steps. You see this huge growth in condominiums, but not the condominiums that were being built in the 80s and 90s; a new kind of condominium."

Kathy Chiero, founder and CEO of DownSize Columbus, a bi-annual event with the goal of helping homeowners transition into smaller spaces, and realtor with Keller Williams Greater Columbus Realty's Kathy Chiero Group, has a wealth of experience about the residential desires of those approaching retirement. She also knows a lot about baby boomers because she is one.

"We-I am 57, so I am who I'm talking about-have grown up with an affluence that the generation before us didn't have and I'm not sure the generation after us will have," says Chiero. "We have grown up with a certain expectation of how we want to live, and that doesn't change just because you turn 55. You still want to move into the same standard of living that you had all of those years. There is also rather a sense of having earned it."

Taliaferro has drawn a similar conclusion.

"Baby boomers have a real tendency to think more about ease and comfort. I'm not saying baby boomers don't save, but we are definitely seeingmore of a willingness to enjoy money or buy ease and comfort than the population of people in their 80s and 90s who have saved their whole lives for a rainy day," she says.

Armed with that understanding, Chiero and other central Ohio retirement-community leaders and developers are focusing attention on this densely populated and prosperous group as they begin retiring.

"This group's voice is being heard simply because there are so many of us-Wall Street answers, Madison Avenue answers; where there's money to be spent, somebody is going to respond, and that's what we're seeing," she says.

And a new favorite for retirees-free-standing retirement dwellings-aren't cheap. According to her, it is nearly impossible to find one for under $350,000-a price tag beefed up by the amenities baby boomers desire in a home. They want smaller, not lesser, says Chiero. Among some favorites for those looking to live in a smaller free-standing space are high-end lighting, a clubhouse, walking paths and two-car garages.

For those who can afford it, options abound. Builders like Epcon Communities have filled this niche nicely and are erecting communities to meet the demand. Currently, there are maintenance-free, ranch-style Epcon communities under construction in Grove City, Powell, Lewis Center and Westerville.

Another housing route, continuing care communities, extends beyond the free-standing ranch-style home and offers unprecedented all-inclusivity with a wide variety of options for dwelling, eating and leisure.

"Some older adults with resources want the ease of a retirement community. People want the element of choice. You find a fair amount of communities being built in central Ohio that are marketing in this direction. For example, they want to be able to have choice in terms of food. Now you've got a chef, you can personally order food to your room," says Taliaferro.

One such community, Ohio Living Westminster-Thurber, located in Columbus' Victorian Village, got the memo.

"(Residents) can use credit at any one of our four different dining venues. You have to have different kinds of dining venues. It's not just a restaurant or a dining room, it's now restaurants," says Director of Marketing Joel Wrobbel.

This desire for dining choices is part of a greater attitude that Wrobbel thinks is a defining feature of today's retiree. "They aren't looking for a package of things, per se, they want to have more of an a la carte opportunity."

He also recognizes that people are planning life's third act before it is upon them, rather than well after it begins.

"Once you retire from work life, you don't retire from living. I see people here in central Ohio being planners more than their parents or grandparents did. We're seeing people who see the value and the lifestyle choices they could have and are getting on a waiting list much younger," he says.

As for the future of central Ohio senior living, Chiero expects baby boomers to continue shaping the industry with generational preferences.

"The demand for this group is enormous, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of meeting the needs and defining who they are."

Chloe Teasley is editorial assistant.