Boomers Prefer Suburbs and Cul de Sacs

NAHB’s recently published Housing Preferences of the Boomer Generation shows that homebuyers in the Baby Boom Generation want a suburban neighborhood consisting of all single-family detached homes more often than any other community feature (of the 19 listed), and nearly 80 percent prefer a cul de sac over efficient traffic flow when given the choice.

These results are based on a survey conducted by NAHB in September 2015 that collected data from 4,326 recent and prospective homebuyers, stratified and weighted to be representative of the age, geography, income, and race and ethnicity of homeowners in the U.S.  Although the published study emphasizes housing preferences of Boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964), for comparison purposes the survey also captured buyers in other generations (including Millennials born in 1980 or later, Gen X’ers born 1965 to 1979, and Seniors born in 1945 or earlier).

Among other things, the survey asked buyers to rate 19 community features on the following four-tier scale:

  • Do not want – not likely to buy a home in a community with this feature.
  • Indifferent – wouldn’t influence decision.
  • Desirable – would be seriously influenced to purchase a home because this design or feature was included.
  • Essential/Must have – unlikely to purchase a home in a community unless it has this feature.

For home buyers in the Boomer generation, the most desired of these features is a “typically suburban” community (defined as consisting of all single-family detached homes) rated desirable or essential by 70 percent of Boomer respondents.  After that comes a group of three community features rated essential or desirable by 61 to 64 percent of Boomers: being near retail space, a park area and walking/jogging trails.

Boomer Pref Fig 01A

At the other end of the scale, tennis courts, high density (defined as smaller lots and attached/ or multifamily buildings), other mixed use (homes near office or other commercial buildings, to distinguish it from homes near retail space like grocery or drug stores), a golf course, baseball or soccer fields, and daycare center are relatively unpopular, each being rated essential or desirable by fewer than one-fifth of Boomers.

Compared to buyers in other generations there are many similarities in the way Boomers rank the top community features.  Seven community features (typically suburban, park area, near retail space, walking/jogging trails, a lake, swimming pool, and exercise room) make the top eight irrespective of the home buyer’s age.

Top 8 by Gen

The main generational differences in the rankings are 1) playgrounds are particularly important for buyers in the Millennial generation, but fall entirely out of the top eight for Boomers and Seniors; and 2) an outdoor maintenance service becomes relatively more important for older buyers, moving all the way up to number five on the list for Seniors.

 Another section of the NAHB survey asked home buyers about street design trade-offs, which can be useful in helping inform land planning decisions.  A number of advocacy groups (e.g., the National Complete Streets Coalition) recommend interconnected streets for efficent traffic flow, implying that designs like cul de sacs that seek to limit through traffic should be avoided.  But homebuyers in the Boomer generation have the opposite opinion: 78 percent prefer the cul de sac or other street design with limited traffic flow—more than triple the 22 percent who prefer the alternative of a home on a continuous street with more efficient traffic flow.

Boomer Pref Fig 02A

In addition to street design trade-offs and preferences for community features, the survey covered many other items, including preferences for general home size, price & layout, detail on dozens of specific home features, price/amenity trade-offs, attitudes about environmental impacts and technology.  Complete results are available in the full study.



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4 thoughts on “Boomers Prefer Suburbs and Cul de Sacs

  1. Did the survey here conduct data from individuals just in one state or area, or across the US? Some of this information contradicts what I’d thought would be true: that more and more people were favoring urban, downtown-area homes! Also, the Housing Preferences of the Boomer Generation is $55; about how many pages is it? In the ‘book details’ area it just says the ISBN!

    1. Thanks for your interest in our survey! When the above post says the sample is representative of the geography in the U.S., that means it’s spread proportionately across the nine Census divisions. The number of observations in each division is as follows:

      New England 207
      Middle Atlantic 643
      East North Central 706
      West North Central 325
      South Atlantic 895
      East South Central 198
      West South Central 340
      Mountain 374
      Pacific 638

      From cover to cover, Housing Preferences of the Boomer Generation is about 200 pages. The main section with a little over 100 pages of text and graphics is organized into 13 chapters:
      1. Home Type, Price & Size
      2. Room Layout & Design
      3. Most & Least Wanted Features
      4. Kitchen and Baths
      5. Windows, Doors, Flooring & Decorative Features
      6. Specialty Rooms & Features
      7. Outdoor & Accessibility Features
      8. Technology in the Home
      9. Trade-Offs Buyers are Willing to Make
      10. Impact on the Environment, Utility Costs, & Energy Efficiency
      11. Choosing a Community
      12. Factors Influencing Move to a New Home
      13. Survey Design, Respondents’ Profile, and Their Current Home

      The remainder consists mostly of 65 pages of detailed tables, an Executive Summary and a reproduction of the 12-page questionnaire.

  2. How can there not be a pickleball question or option?
    Our community has 30 plus people waiting to play pickleball on two courts every morning. This is a fast growing game and everyone should want a community with pickleball.

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