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Most boomers want to stay in their own homes as they get older

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The youngest baby boomers are turning 60 this year. It's the time of life when, traditionally, people might think about moving from their family home to someplace smaller, cheaper, easier to maintain. Many people have been counting on that so-called silver tsunami to help free up houses for younger families to move into, but a new survey casts doubt on that. It finds most baby boomers want to stay put as they get older. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Aileen Klein and her husband, Barry, moved into their house 32 years ago, when the development in Rockville, Md., was brand-new.

AILEEN KLEIN: I love my house. I love my neighborhood.

HORSLEY: Aileen is 76 now, and she has no plans to go anywhere else.

KLEIN: A lot of us boomers - we get attached to things, and we don't want to move. You're used to your house. You know how everything works, and you just don't want to get rid of half the things you own.

HORSLEY: Baby boomers are now in their 60s and 70s, and a lot of them feel the same way. A survey by mortgage giant Fannie Mae found 56% of homeowners age 60 and over never want to sell. The survey comes at a time when there's a severe shortage of homes on the market, and many would-be buyers are priced out of homeownership. Some forecasters had assumed that a large-scale relocation of boomers would help, but Fannie Mae's chief economist, Doug Duncan, says, don't hold your breath.

DOUGLAS DUNCAN: To the extent that people are expecting a large wave of existing homes suddenly to come on the market, I would say that's probably unrealistic, based on what they're saying and what we're seeing they're doing.

HORSLEY: Baby boomers are better off both physically and economically than earlier generations. Aileen's husband, Barry, goes to the gym twice a week. Still, he's about to turn 87, and Aileen worries when he has to climb up to change a light bulb in their three-story house.

KLEIN: I don't love him going on the ladder. He's not afraid of climbing up on a ladder, but it petrifies me to watch him do that. I'd much prefer if a younger person came over to do things like that.

HORSLEY: A lot of baby boomers told Fannie Mae they would welcome help with maintenance and home improvements. More people are also investing in projects to make their homes safer and more comfortable as they get older. It's now the fastest-growing part of the remodeling business. Vince Butler, who's a builder in Northern Virginia, says a lot of baby boomers learned that the hard way from their parents.

VINCE BUTLER: I've definitely seen not only an increase in people that are thinking about it but also in the acceptance. Those planners across the board will say to me, I want to have choices that I didn't have with my parents or my parents didn't have. I want it to be my choice if I stay in my home or if I move.

HORSLEY: Some of the most popular improvements for older homeowners are bathroom grab bars, wider doorways and showers you can get into without having to step over anything. Butler says those are beneficial for anybody - not just seniors - and building suppliers are catching on to this growing market.

BUTLER: We can get a grab bar that matches the towel bar, that matches the faucetry, not only in finish but in an actual decorative style. So there's really not a lot of objection, thinking that it's going to be a big, ugly, stainless-steel bar.

HORSLEY: Beyond the four walls of a house, Aileen Klein says communities can also make it easier for older homeowners to stay put.

KLEIN: I have a neighbor now that shovels my snow. I don't even call her anymore. She's just there.

HORSLEY: Some communities are going farther to expand that kind of help through what's called the village concept, which began in Boston more than two decades ago. Teresa Anderson runs a nonprofit village in Rockville, where volunteers offer rides and help with household chores to about 175 members.

TERESA ANDERSON: Many of the people here do have children close by. But the kids are working, and they're not always available during the day to take them to doctor's appointments and things like that. So I think there's a relief in the whole family that we have a robust support network.

HORSLEY: Anderson herself retired about nine years ago and said she looked forward to doing something to help her neighborhood. She thought the ride service would be popular, but it turns out that's not the most important part of what the village has to offer.

ANDERSON: Really, it's the social events and, I think, the opportunities to connect with people. So we have monthly book club, a movie club, luncheons, coffees, walking club. Those are the activities that really have drawn a lot of our members, and that's great.

HORSLEY: Building and maintaining those social ties gives baby boomers one more reason to stay put. Aileen Klein's part of a group working to set up a similar village structure in her part of Rockville. Organizers have tried to be sure it includes younger families as well. Perhaps a young neighbor will take Barry's place on that stepladder when a light bulb needs changing, and, Aileen says, it can be a two-way street.

KLEIN: My husband and I can babysit for a young couple if they have a couple of kids and they haven't been out to dinner alone together in over a year. Babysitters are expensive. We're your neighbors. You know where we live. You can count on us.

HORSLEY: Just don't count on seeing a for-sale sign in the yard. Most baby boomers say they are attached to their home and neighborhood, and they're not going anywhere.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMIE BLU SONG, "EVERYTHING ABOUT HER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.