Jennifer Williams says she often feels like the oldest person on her block. When the 52-year-old corporate communications executive sets off for work in a suit, carrying a briefcase, with her hair in a bun, she is usually surrounded by young people with tattoos and rainbow crocheted skull caps. “It’s like mom is coming in for a visit,” she says.
That doesn’t bother Ms. Williams. In fact, such diversity is exactly what she was looking for when she bought a condo in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn two years ago, after living in what she calls the “dead zone” of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “I find it endlessly fascinating and interesting. I wanted to be somewhere with energy and life.”
Hip urban neighborhoods are aging, as a growing chunk of adults in their 50s and 60s and older give up their longtime homes and head for trendy condos. The invasion of older, moneyed buyers has “created a gold rush” in some of these areas, says Dean Jones of Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty in Seattle. Mr. Jones’s firm sold 34 condominium penthouses and luxury town homes for more than $1 million in downtown Seattle neighborhoods between March and October of 2012—a large percentage to baby boomers. It was a 40% increase over the same period a year earlier.
Between 2000 and 2010, populations of baby boomers (those born between the years 1946 and 1964) declined at a far steeper rate in the areas 40 to 80 miles outside the city centers of the 50 largest U.S. cities than in the areas within 5 miles of these centers, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by online real-estate brokerage Redfin.
Moreover, according to the American Housing Survey, 9.6% of households 55 and older in central cities lived in condos in 2011, the past year for which figures are available, up from 7.3% in 2005. That is despite the negligible growth in the supply of condos and coops over that same period. “Baby boomers are tired of mowing the lawn. They’re looking for a more diverse environment,” says Chris Leinberger, chairman of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business.
In some cases, they’re also looking for more youthful surroundings. “I am getting older kicking and screaming,” says Terri Nussbaum. The executive assistant to a real estate developer who will only say she is in her mid-50s recently sold a 3,500-square foot-house 50 miles outside Denver, where she’s lived for 11 years, and paid $30,000 more for an 880-square-foot one-bedroom loft in LoDo (which stands for Lower Downtown)—an old neighborhood that has recently gentrified, with hip restaurants and higher prices. In doing so, Ms. Nussbaum replaced almost all her old furniture with more modern pieces. “You are as young as you feel.”