Retirement isn't the start of old age. "It's the beginning of the second half of your life," retirement economist Gene Warren says.
And how will the tidal wave of boomers approaching retirement spend that second half? Probably differently from their parents, Warren told real estate editors gathered in Dallas in May for their annual conference.
"Boomers have been more likely to move in their previous lives" for work or personal reasons, he said, "so they'll be less fearful to move in retirement."
And when they do move, he said, it won't necessarily be to a warm climate.
"They'll be amenity migrants, not sun migrants," said Warren, whose Phoenix-based company Thomas, Warren + Associates, tracks the economics of retirement.
What they'll be looking for, he said, isn't the house or the retirement community ("active-adult housing all looks alike"). It's the area at large and its amenities: sports, shopping, recreation, educational and cultural offerings, medical care.
"They realize they're not going to live in their active-adult community alone."
Boomers also have this mind-set: They may not live longer than their parents, but because of better health care, they feel younger.
"Retirement isn't an endgame," agreed Deborah Blake, vice president of marketing for the Southwest for Pulte Homes and its Del Webb active-adult communities.
"Many people can't afford to retire," she said. "Others see this as a time to live a purposeful life. It's not just a time to relax, play golf and 'hang out for 10 years before I die.' It's an opportunity to take advantage of what's next."
Residents of her company's active-adult communities say this is a time for self-expression and personal growth, "time to do what they've always wanted," a time of lifelong learning and social networking.
Senior adults "are the fastest-growing users of technology." You'll find no paper newsletters in these communities, she said: Everything is on community intranets.
Fifty percent of her communities' residents "are still working," she said, and that drives the home designs, with home offices and computers in the kitchen.
The new retirees "want to leave a legacy," Blake added, and that often means using their expertise and experience as volunteers. But they don't want to stuff envelopes or rock babies at the hospital maternity ward.
"They want to write business plans for startups and nonprofits. They want to write the urban renewal plan for the city. They are a very professional bunch" who want to draw on the professional skills they spent decades developing.
When retirees move to a new area, they leave behind a network — friends, family, personal and health care services — and they need to rebuild that network for their own health and wellness, Blake said.
"These years need to be the highest quality of life: We need to look at nutrition, fitness, medical care. Mind and body need to hit the finish line at the same time."
Meanwhile, Florida shouldn't get too complacent about its spot as the No. 1 retirement destination, ahead of No. 2 Texas, said James P. Gaines, a research economist at Texas A&M.
Over the next decade, or sooner, "Texas will overshadow Florida," and the reason is housing affordability: You'll be able to buy a home for less than $200,000 in Texas, he predicted, but not in Florida.
Judy Stark can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8446.