Four Residential Design Essentials to Consider in the 55+ Market

In the realm of residential design, businesses often come to dominate a particular segment of an industry by pinpointing a “Blue Ocean” opportunity—a niche market with few competitors, allowing a company to differentiate itself from the competition by developing a novel offering that solves a pressing need. Several home builders have identified 55+ Housing as such an opportunity, given its specific consumer preferences, the prevalence of buyers who are less affected by economic ups and downs and a general lack of competition.

However, many builders approach it by recycling single-level home designs, adding landscaping maintenance to their HOA services, and implementing age restrictions, resulting in mixed results. Dominant builders in the 55+ segment understand the importance of starting fresh with a product line grounded in consumer research, tailored to the unique lifestyle and wellness needs of this demographic.

While it’s not feasible to discuss every consideration for finding traction in residential design with any demographic, let’s explore four of the top considerations in designing homes popular with 55+ buyer.

Single-Level Living

While straightforward and somewhat obvious on the surface, the concept of “single-level living” is more comprehensive than offering a home on one level. In fact, many of today’s 55+ buyers opt for finished lower levels and second-floor bonus suites, demonstrating how healthy and resilient many are.

However, they often have an eye to the future and want to ensure that, should they experience mobility concerns in the future, the main level of their home will accommodate them. Therefore, builders targeting this niche need to have their design efforts consider eliminating as many steps as possible, widening hallways and door openings as much as possible, and programming additional working space into kitchen areas. It’s not enough to put all the bedrooms and living spaces on one floor – that one level has to be functional for upcoming life stages and circumstances.

Low-Maintenance Private Outdoor Living

Prospective buyers in or nearing the 55+ stage typically have more free time and desire a home with easy access to private space outdoors to enjoy nature. However, majority of home builders configure outdoor living spaces where it has been placed for decades – along the rear of the home with limited privacy, often facing another home or a roadway frontage.

This type of approach does little in terms of differentiating a builder from any other builder or community. The challenge is finding a way to design outdoor living spaces that blur the line between the interior and exterior of a home design and provide a private outdoor sanctuary that does not require routine lawn care or other maintenance to stay functional and private. The popularity of our signature copyrighted side courtyard home designs demonstrates one way to provide privacy and outdoor living, regardless of the overall density of the community and the surrounding views outside of the homesite itself.

Abundant Natural Light

Biophilic Design is a trending topic in residential circles, with an intention to design homes that incorporate well with the outdoors and contain an abundance of natural light to support buyers’ Circadian Rhythms. A key component of this discipline is building opportunities for tall windows, large sliding doors, transom windows and skylights into home designs.

Most builders tend to fall into two categories when it comes to these practices. High-end custom builders tend to design an exterior home envelope comprised entirely of glass, and then add just enough structure to support the home and the roof. This is expensive and can cause issues from a functional standpoint, such as when it comes to furniture placement.

On the other hand, national builders tend to design an exterior home envelope comprised entirely of cost-effective solid walls and then add just enough glazing and openings to meet egress requirements. The challenge is to find the right balance, particularly when you are seeking to win over a demographic that may spend more time in their homes than others and, consequently, may want ample natural lighting and openness.

Disregard the minimum egress requirements in the building code and, instead, consider taller windows, optional skylights in kitchen and bath areas, and find opportunities for transom windows in places that are typically dark such as showers, laundry rooms and mud rooms. Take the additional step of doing furniture placements on your home designs to identify the most logical locations for additional sliding glass doors, opportunities for oversized windows, and to root out any areas where you may have gone overboard from a functional standpoint.

Trial and Error

Any builder that has designed new product can understand the uncertainty that comes with it. Will this new design be a home run or a dud? How quickly can I expect to receive usable feedback from buyers to adjust the design during the prototype review process? Pair all of that with the fact that a builder can expect to invest tens of thousands of dollars – or more – in developing one new design and building the corresponding marketing assets, and it is no surprise that many builders attempt to “shoe-horn” what has worked in the past into their next venture.

It is imperative that any builder introduce a new design with the understanding that the first draft will most likely not be the final draft. What is popular with today’s 55+ buyer could change next year, so any design portfolio must evolve on a regular basis. Builders that repeatedly see traction in this demographic take the time and effort to invest in an internal design team and conduct market research on a consistent cadence to stay ahead of the other players.

Solutions Through Strength in Numbers

National builders have the benefit of operating in dozens of markets to obtain high levels of feedback to inform their design efforts and spread investment costs across high levels of volume. Local or regional builders are often left on their own in terms of designing product, experimenting with it in the field and then investing unsustainable levels of hours and dollars in getting it right. Many private builders find efficiencies in collaborating in their design efforts with builders in non-competitive markets by joining a franchise network or participating in an industry peer group.

A franchise network that is laser-focused on its own “Blue Ocean” strategy, such as Epcon Franchising, allows builders to rely on the R&D investments of the franchisor serving as the “test kitchen” to design, prototype and refine home designs that are proven popular with active adults before being presented to the franchise builders.

Catch the Growing Wave

If you are interested in catching the growing wave present in the 55+ opportunity without dealing with the expenses and headaches surrounding the all-important process of developing home designs on your own, reach out to our business development team. We will answer any questions about how you can break through the uncertainty and potentially limitless expenses around product development to take your home building business to the next level.

About Epcon

Headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, Epcon is a leading 55+ home building franchise in the United States. For more than 35 years, Epcon has integrated smart, innovative new home designs with the most desirable modern amenities popular with 55+ home buyers. A growing home building business or real estate development company can leverage Epcon Franchising’s proven home designs, technology, marketing and sales resources. Epcon Franchise Builders are given a competitive advantage to build smarter and scale faster in the 55+ home building market. Epcon is ranked on Builder 100 and Pro Builder Housing Giants as a top U.S. home builder and the Franchise Times Top 400 list, has ranked on Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 and has won multiple product and design awards from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Learn more about what we offer.