Older adults lead push for city living

Retiring baby boomers and empty nesters are spearheading a trend in the housing market in the Traverse City area. According to developers, realtors, and industry consultants, the 50-plus age demographic is leading a push for city living.

“There is an increased demand for more urban locations,” says Michael Tarnow, president and principle of Northern Michigan Real Estate Consultants, a group of appraisers and consultants in Traverse City since 1975.

The proof is in the development. Take Midtown, for example. The mixed-use community along the Boardman River just south of downtown is a hit with this crowd.

Developer Tim Burden says empty nesters, people who are thinking of retiring or are newly-retired, are calling downtown home in a big way. Of the 41 units currently occupied, Burden says 80 percent of the residents are in the 50-plus age demographic.

“It’s a large audience for us,” he says, citing the many conveniences that are just a short walk away. “They are a big part of what has happened here.”

Tarnow sees a similar buying trend when he looks at the market on the whole.

“It’s a matter of location,” Tarnow says. “With some of the more suburban projects, sales seem to be slow,” he says, according to what he sees on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for the area. “People are trying to become urbanites with only one car and lower gasoline bills.”

Ted Lockwood, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Bayshore Properties in Traverse City, says mixed-use developments planned over the last two to four years have been heavily influenced by this demographic of homebuyers. There has been a lot of pressure, Lockwood says, for a two- or three-bedroom home (either stand alone or a duplex) that is a couple thousand square feet and in the $250,000 to $500,000 price range.

These older adults are also looking for low or maintenance-free living and don’t want to have to drive everywhere they need to go. As a result, many of the mixed-use developments that have sprung up over the last few years are in or within a couple miles of Traverse City, either near current or planned commercial development.

“More residential development is coming downtown,” Lockwood says.

One of the developments he represents, Incochee Woods, is just west of the city’s Slabtown neighborhood, next to the Hickory Hills recreation area, and within minutes of city amenities. All 70 lots on the 45-acre site are spoken for by a mix of families, retirees, and empty nesters.

“The reason sales are so good is its relationship to town,” Lockwood says. “It’s ease of access.”

Sherry Brehm, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in town, represents the new Premier Place Condominiums just off Woodmere Street and says she absolutely sees older adults interested in its proximity to the city.

“I certainly see the trend of ‘downtown’ living becoming more and more appealing over the past years,” Brehm says. She says her retired or second-home buyers want to be close to shopping and the beaches, and like the fact that the development is “in town,” but just outside the city limits and therefore has lower taxes. Residents can also ride their bike or walk into town using the adjacent TART trail, she adds.

“I would say that about 65 percent of buyers that walk in or call have been older adults,” Brehm says. “Most are looking to downsize and move out of their current home which may be too large or too much upkeep.”

In terms of the overall real estate market in the region, Tarnow of Northern Michigan Real Estate Consultants says things look solid.

“We have a reasonably swiftly-expanding residential market in terms of condominiums and other multi-family housing,” he says.

Single-family homes and building sites are also moving at a steady pace. Yet, while the residential market is expanding, prices don’t seem to be escalating exponentially.

“I do not see where there is any kind of significant bubble in our economy,” Tarnow says. “Any price increases have been modest over the last few years.”

He says as long as the economy remains on an even pace he doesn’t expect any remarkable escalations or reductions in housing prices.

“Prices are pretty stable,” he adds.

It appears “in town” living is a trend that is here to stay, given the millions of dollars being invested in mixed-use developments in and around downtown Traverse City over the last few years. Older adults seem to be one group that is enjoying all it has to offer. BN