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WNC Business

Increasing retiree populations create challenges and opportunities for business

Oct 10, 2023 08:27AM ● By Randee Brown

Several factors contribute to Western North Carolina’s popularity as a retirement destination, according to Senior Real Estate Specialist Jill Hart. Relatively mild weather conditions offer the best of the four seasons. There are plenty of activities for younger and active retirees including outdoor recreation and a thriving arts scene. A variety of healthcare offerings for the older aging population is also attractive.

There are many younger retirees moving to the area and bringing their money, according to Hart. Most are still relatively independent, and when considering the purchase of homes in Buncombe, Henderson, Polk, and Transylvania Counties, independent retirees with large budgets are driving housing prices up. This exacerbates the issue of affordable housing for those in the workforce, including those providing the services these same retirees may need in the future.

“It’s good for the economy that they are spending their money here,” Hart said, “but it’s pricing out the people that these same seniors will need for support later in life.”

During COVID, Hart noticed people panicking to move away from cities. Some people relocated to the places where they planned to retire while they were still working because they could work remotely. Working-age retirees contribute to the local economy as they are spending their money here, but they are not contributing to the local workforce.

“The work we need here is in the service industry, and those positions are typically not the highest-paid,” Hart said. “Certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, and people in foodservice are in high demand in general, and especially in senior communities. Businesses have to pay workers more, but then the cost of care goes up and seniors can’t always afford that.”

Despite increasing costs, many seniors are interested in downsizing from larger homes and yards and are considering moving to independent living communities. Popular communities in the region have long waiting lists for new residents, and Hart works to educate retirees to start considering this type of relocation two to five years in advance.

In addition to the popularity of retirement communities, demand for homes and condos closer to town has increased among retirees, according to Hart. Many want the sense of community that closer neighbors provide. She also hears clients say they like to be close to healthcare providers, religious centers, social clubs, and other activities. Some recognize other long-term concerns like driving windy roads at night.

“When people are thinking about retirement, they need to think about that as a whole package,” Hart said. “Finances, health, socialization, and housing all come into play. People have to look at what is offered with different types of housing communities and determine the best fit in advance. It’s very hard to wait until the last minute and get into the community you like most, and waiting until the last minute isn’t healthy for the individuals or their families.”

People’s level of health is a big consideration for retirees who are relocating. While communities may offer different levels of services, there are also aging-in-place specialists that help with modifications of homes outside of these communities. Hart sees modifications including walk-in or roll-in showers and chair lifts; however, these modifications should also be planned ahead of time due to supply chain issues and the extended workloads of good contractors.

Hart has noticed a trend among those moving into assisted living of wanting to sell their homes without performing updates. Newer retirees moving to the area also don’t want to undertake renovations, and there’s not enough younger people willing to do the updates with enough capital to purchase these homes. 

“Retirees moving from other areas are ready to move in,” Hart said. “Good contractors are booked for months because they are dealing with the labor shortage. There’s also been a decline in trades, as much of that workforce is retiring and not being replaced as quickly by younger people in trades. People interested in trades with a business mindset can kill it by creating this type of business. All the ones that are doing a good job have way more business than they can handle.”