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Baby boomers are the Philly region’s next wave of renters, report says

Empty nesters are opting to rent versus buy as they downsize

Canvas is a new apartment development catered toward the growing population of renters ages 55 and older.
Courtesy of Bozzuto

In Philly, there’s a lot of talk about millennials. According to reports, these young adults are moving to the region in droves, which is one of the main reasons why apartment construction has boomed here over the past couple of years.

And yet, new research shows that it’s not just millennials that this city should be banking on when it comes to its developing apartment market—baby boomers are on track to be the next big wave of renters in Philly and across the country.

Real estate website Rent Cafe reports that across the U.S., there has been a dramatic changes in terms of demographics among renters: Between 2009 and 2015, the number of renters aged 55 and older increased by 28 percent, according to U.S. Census data. That number dropped to 3 percent among renters 34 and younger.

The same trend was discovered in the Philadelphia region. This area has seen just 8 percent of millennials joining the rental market, but an impressive 22 percent increase in the number of renters aged 55 and older.

There are a few reasons for this boom in senior renters, perhaps most notably that many of them are recent empty nesters who want to downsize from their big suburban homes, all while staying close to their kids. Furthermore, the study also found that among these senior renters, both families with children and families without children prefer to stay in the suburbs.

Specifically, families with no children saw a 22 percent increase and families with children jumped by 16 percent in suburban areas. Meanwhile, Philly proper saw a 13 percent increase in families without kids and a 4 percent uptick in the number of families with children.

This trend isn’t news to developer Bozzuto, who had been closely monitoring this growing population of new renters for the past five years. “We identified this as a spot where we thought there was a significant need, but not a lot of great product out there for this demographic,” says Pete Sikora, Bozzuto development manager.

After spending years figuring out what this demographic of potential renters wanted in terms of amenities, Bozzuto came up with Canvas Valley Forge, an amenity-driven mixed-use development right next to the King of Prussia Town Center. When it opens in late November, it will be the first apartment community of its kind for renters ages 55 and up.

Like most new apartment buildings in Philly and the surrounding region, Canvas comes with a long list of amenities, including an inner courtyard with a pool, a grilling station, as well as a gourmet kitchen and a game room. But some other features offered to the senior renters take the development to another level, says Michelle Kearney, Bozzuto’s regional portfolio manager.

There’s an on-site activities director, for example, who is responsible for cultivating a social community type of atmosphere designed especially for this demographic, through daily activities or trips. There are also daily continental breakfast, brunches, happy hours, and wine tastings.

The gourmet kitchen and open lounge areas at Canvas. Renters can reserve the space if they want to host their families for bigger events.

The apartments are designed to mimic single-family homes, too. Sikora says, “Our units have been designed to integrate single-family home features into them to make the transition a little easier.” There are entrance foyers in each apartment, master suites with dressing rooms, and extra storage. “A lot of folks are going to be downsizing, but still want to keep a lot of the stuff they already have.”

New developments in Philly proper, meanwhile, have attracted empty nesters, as well, though less so in the rental market than the high-end condo market. New towers like One Riverside and 500 Walnut, which both fetch top-dollar price tags, have advertised themselves as prime spots for empty nesters also looking to downsize from their Main Line mansions.

But while these new condo owners may have the option of designing their own luxurious pads, Sikora says renting is attractive to other senior renters who aren’t quite ready to commit to their next forever home.

“It’s not whereas you buy a condo you could get stuck with it—renting an apartment is a one-year or 15-month lease and you can leave after that,” Sikora figures. “So it gives these folks an option to do what they want and not feel they have to fully commit and put a large down payment down.”

That’s also why Canvas is experimenting with a commitment-free option for potential renters, explains Sarah McMeekin, property manager at Canvas. “If after 60 days they decide the renting lifestyle isn’t for them, they can end their lease with no penalties.” Rents, meanwhile, are market-rate and start at $2,100.

“We think our concept is going to be effective because it provides flexibility,” says Sikora. “As the baby boomers have gotten older and the challenges of up-keeping a house have gotten harder and harder, they’ve started to decide, ‘Hey, I’d rather spend my time doing the things I want to do and not worrying about maintenance and upkeep of my house.”