In the early 2000s, retirees were flocking to America’s sunbelt to build their dream homes. Fueled by the easy credit of the real estate bubble, many baby boomers dumped millions of dollars into elaborate, sprawling properties where they could live out their days in comfort and luxury.
Now, 15 years later, boomers are discovering that these high-maintenance, five or six-bedroom houses aren’t so convenient as they grow older, and worse yet, younger people aren’t buying them.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, both tastes and access to credit have changed a lot in the past decade and a half. These days, buyers prefer smaller homes within walking distance to retail, making unloading the suburban mini-mansions of the past exceptionally difficult, and leading many boomers to endure deep price cuts in order to sell.
Dowell Myers, co-author of a 2018 Fannie Mae report, “The Coming Exodus of Older Homeowners,” told the WSJ that the problem is only expected to worsen in the 2020s, as more boomers enter their 70s and 80s, the age group where people typically exit homeownership from poor health or death.
Take Ben and Valentina Bethell, for example. The couple spent about $3.5 million in 2009 to build their post-retirement dream home outside Asheville, North Carolina: a roughly 7,500-square-foot house with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Though they love it, the Bethells told the WSJ that the home now feels too big. Mr. Bethell, 78, added that chores like pulling the garbage cans up the steep, 100-yard-long driveway have become problematic. “It’s a lot to do,” he said.
“You had this wave of homes built that now just don’t make sense for a lot of the people who bought them,” Rick Palacios, Jr. of John Burns Real Estate Consulting told the WSJ.
George and Diana Hambleton told the WSJ that they’re selling their house on South Carolina’s Wadmalaw Island only four years after they finished building it because they want “somewhere smaller where someone’s taking care of everything.”
Meanwhile, the Bethells, who listed their home for $4.495 million in 2015 and have since reduced the price to $3.995 million, have their sights set on a new, smaller house nearby.