Know What You Think You Know

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There is a line that every young journalist learns early in his or her career.

May 01, 1999

There is a line that every young journalist learns early in his or her career. "Think your mother loves you? Check it out!" I first heard it from a gruff but wise city editor at the South Bend Tribune as a 19-year-old summer intern. The way he delivered the line to me and seven other novices elicited a laugh, but even us rookies couldn’t miss its meaning. He was telling us that the cardinal rule for reporters is to take nothing for granted. Information is only as good as the facts that back it up-his other favorite saying. His advice has served me well.

I couldn’t help but remember those words as I reviewed the data reported in this month’s cover feature. Almost as soon as I started with PB, senior editor Sue Bady began talking about the need for this information. In her quiet, thorough way she explained to me the demographics of home buyers. She helped me understand the intense interest of builders and suppliers in developing product that meets their needs. What was intriguing to me in each of these conversations was Sue’s struggle for a word to define these people. Some builders called them active adults, but they weren’t really that, she said. Others labeled them empty-nesters, but that moniker didn’t fit either since many in the group still had children living at home. Others -- believe it or not -- were first-time home buyers. It is these differences that made this research so necessary, explained Sue.

One statistic about this group really stood out-four million. That is the number of baby boomers that turn 50 each year and now qualify for that dubious distinction of aging. (Don’t tell them however, few would believe it and certainly none want to hear it!) Some other numbers stood out as well:

  • Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, head 40% of American households.
  • By next year, the number of households headed by the 45-to-54 age group will increase 20%.

    These are some remarkable numbers and their implication for the home building industry is obvious. Baby boomers have cut a wide swatch through the American landscape at every phase of their development, and there’s no reason to believe that effect will change just because they’re getting old. As a group, they’ve been a economic tidal wave and that trend continues as boomers enter their fifties-their peak earning years --as the most educated bunch to ever reach that milestone.

    What will change is what these buyers want in a house. That much is obvious. Sue Bady’s report on page 50 explains their new home wants and desires well. Less obvious -- but equally important -- is the changing way this group approaches home buying. First, there is no urgency to their search. For months on end they are willing to walk your models-one after another after another. They’re present home is just fine; what they are looking for is their perfect home.

    This search for perfection becomes the real hurdle for you and your sales professionals. Few in this buyer group can define their perfect home, yet nearly all say they’ll know it when they see it. For some, this may be true. The right floorplan with the right combination of features, amenities and finishes may add up to the perfect house. However, for the larger group their search for perfection will stop when they meet the right sales professional. This is the individual that listens to the buyer, personalizes your product and presents it in such a way that it indeed becomes the perfect home.

    With an educated, patient buyer such as the aging baby boomers, it isn’t enough to have just the features. It will take an educated, informed sales professional to turn shoppers into buyers. Equip your sales staff with the skills they need and the facts they require to prove what know. Your newest buyers will demand nothing less.

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