As more independent living and assisted living providers and investors are moving into active adult housing for the first time, one of the largest and most well-established brands in the space is expanding and adapting for an evolving consumer base.
Del Webb is planning to open 10 new communities in the next 18 months, in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.
A pioneer in active adult, Del Webb launched the first Sun City in 1960, and became famous for the massive developments featuring 1,000 or more homes. Today, the Sun City model continues to be successful, but the company is pivoting to serve a new generation, Jay Mason, vice president of market intelligence for PulteGroup (NYSE: PHM), told Senior Housing News. Del Webb is a national brand of Atlanta-based Pulte, one of the largest U.S. homebuilders.
Specifically, Del Webb is starting to create 55-and-older communities on smaller footprints in locations that are closer to city centers. The company is also rolling out new floorplans, starting with its forthcoming eTown development in Jacksonville, Florida.
“It’s an exciting new formula for Del Webb,” Mason said.
Meeting new demands
Older adults increasingly are drawn to intergenerational living in walkable locations that are close to a variety of amenities. This is a trend that assisted living and other senior housing providers are starting to capitalize on; it holds true for the active adult space as well, driving Del Webb’s strategy.
The eTown community is a good example, Mason said. It is going up in the heart of suburban Jacksonville, close to traditional single-family housing, retail and other amenities. Homes in eTown start in the mid-$200,000 range.
The rising generation of older adults is drawn to locations like eTown in part because they are not pursuing full-time retirement.
“Many residents are still working in some capacity today and want to be closer to the things that allow them to work,” Mason said.
A recent survey found that an estimated 25% of Del Webb residents are still working in some capacity, and nearly 10% said they are working full time.
In addition, although many members of the 55-and-older cohort still plan to relocate to a warm climate, Del Webb is also making an effort to serve those who wish to remain in the cities where they have long resided and where their children are living. The coming communities in Westborough, Massachusetts and Corcoran, Minnesota are examples of locations where Del Webb anticipates serving this type of resident, Mason noted.
And Del Webb does not just want to appeal to those who want to stay close to their children, but to people who want to stay close to their aging parents.
As Generation X starts to turn 55, they are thinking about creating multi-generational households with their baby boomer parents. About 30% of those in the so-called “sandwich generation” — simultaneously supporting aging parents and children — anticipate that their next home will need to accommodate their parents, the Del Webb survey found. The company can accommodate these needs through separate apartments, or “in-law suites,” in its homes.
In addition to targeting more urban and suburban locales, Del Webb is introducing new floorplans. The new plans emphasize spaces for entertaining, a free flow from indoors to outdoors, and kitchen upgrades, among other changes. Integration of smart home technologies is another priority.
But while pursuing these changes, Del Webb has not abandoned its tried-and-true model.
Even in its smaller communities, Del Webb will still employ full-time lifestyle coordinators to plan events and functions. And there is still a healthy demand for larger, resort-style developments in the vein of Sun City, with the planned Nocatee community in Ponte Vedra, Florida, being one example, Mason said.
A more competitive environment
Del Webb is bringing its new formula to market at a time when the active adult space is heating up.
For one, an increasing number of independent and assisted living developers and providers are making moves into active adult. For them, active adult presents an opportunity to avoid a glut of assisted living and memory care supply in some parts of the country, and capture a younger consumer.
While they are far from the scale of a Del Webb development, these new active adult projects do bear certain similarities, including targeting suburban and urban markets and emphasizing a lifestyle coordination component.
There are some new brands that are taking on Del Webb more directly as well. Minto Communities and Margaritaville Holdings have partnered to launch Latitude Margaritaville, with three large communities already announced and others in the works. Latitude Margaritaville President William Bullock name-checked Del Webb as an inspiration, in a recent Changemakers interview with Senior Housing News.
The active adult market is undoubtedly heating up, but PulteGroup’s leadership did not express any concerns about Del Webb’s market position in the most recent quarterly earnings call.
Del Webb is currently the strongest part of Pulte’s business in terms of pricing power, given that it is offering a differentiated product to its consumer base, which has more accumulated wealth compared to other buyer segments, PulteGroup CEO Ryan Marshall said during the call. And he credited Del Webb’s new formula specifically for the strength of this part of the business.
“The brand has continued to evolve to keep up with how that buyer has evolved,” he said.
Mason echoed these sentiments, confirming to SHN that the space is more competitive but that Del Webb believes its “core suburban executions” are a competitive advantage, and that the company’s long history and expertise in the space also give it an edge.
“We distinguish ourselves with the genuine article,” he said.