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Boomers are downsizing, not booming

Published October 06. 2012 09:02AM

Boomers aren't booming. They're downsizing.

Pre-retirees and younger retirees are planning for their future years. And that trend is making for interesting market patterns.

MetLife did a survey and found that 11 percent of those aged 55 to 64 said they plan to buy a different house within the next three years. Many are looking for a smaller home.

Ranch houses of the 1950s are hot items as boomers develop arthritis and other symptoms of aging.

Research suggests boomers are tired of climbing stairs and mowing lawns and are seeking ranch-style homes along quieter blocks, with features that make life easier on achy backs, knees and joints.

As a result, houses with only one floor are highly desirable.

Boomers also want backyard living space - not necessarily swimming pools or outdoor kitchens, but large decks with fireplaces, hot tubs and wet bars. Boomers want space for entertaining.

Indoor space needs are changing dramatically and how we use that space is changing as well.

For instance, people would rather have large kitchens with center islands than a formal dining room.

And, wouldn't you know it, many boomers have inherited dining room furniture from their parents at a time when dining rooms are becoming obsolete. Formal, fancy dining rooms are becoming scarce in plans for new houses.

Existing dining rooms in older houses are being converted to exercise rooms or offices.

What this means is that boomers are flooding the market with dining room furniture, dropping the value of that kind of furniture tremendously. Prices of dining room furniture have dropped 40 to 80 percent.

I saw this sort of thing first hand recently when partially downsizing. It was an educational experience. I once co-owned an antiques shop and I'm amazed at how preferences have changed from 20 years ago.

Don't get me wrong. Rare items continue to command high prices. But the market has changed for certain antiques.

In fact, have you seen the newest reruns of 'Antiques Roadshow?' They're fascinating. The show now provides updated values of appraised items from earlier shows produced 10 years ago. In other words, they rerun those old episodes and then provide a current appraisal at today's market value. The price drop of most of the antiques is dramatic.

Take phonographs, for example. The market for antique phonographs has been down for several years. Supply currently exceeds demand.

The early Victrola models with an internal horn are selling in the $100 to $250 price range. Ten years ago, they were in the $400 to $600 range.

There are many reasons why this is happening. One is that the older generation of collectors is dying off and nobody is replacing them.

But probably the biggest factor in the price drop of antiques is disinterest by the younger generation. Put simply, they don't have a clue and they really don't care. They're not into antiques.

Some experts say it'll take 30 years for the antiques market to recycle. Personally, I wonder whether it'll recycle at all.

The housing market likely will rebound to a certain level. I hope antiques rebound, too. But I honestly don't know.

Maybe it's best to enjoy your antiques for their sentimental value. If they're family heirlooms, pass them down.

But if you're passing them down to the generation that doesn't care, good luck. Your treasure could be another's trash.

Ten years ago, Antiques Roadshow led people to believe that everything in the attic is worth big bucks. Today, those big bucks have evaporated. The attic junk is mostly junk. And so is the dining room, too. But be careful before you toss anything.

A Ty Cobb baseball card can still fetch $6,000.

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