Turn a blind eye to retiring clients' penchant for their next new home-and it's an opportunity lost.

    No matter how bad the real estate market looks right now, some of your clients will want to a) sell their home; b) buy another home; c) buy a vacation or retirement home; d) all of the above.

The question you should be asking yourself is: How important is it for you to become involved in client real estate transactions?  According to a growing body of research regarding seniors and their real estate, it is the largest asset most own-accounting for some 30% of seniors' nest eggs. And smart advisors know that making themselves available before seniors make decisions can often mean money left over to invest.

"I've seen clients who sold their homes, bought their retirement homes and still had significant assets left over," says Alexander Armstrong, president of Armstrong, Fleming & Moore Inc. in Washington, D.C. "They came to me and said, "So what should we do with the rest of the money?'"

While most advisors are letting clients drive the conversation about their next home purchase-if they ever mention the subject at all-a few smart ones are getting out in front of the curve. Dan Taylor would be one of the latter. A boomer himself, Taylor and his partners have put 9,700 acres under contract in North Carolina, all of it earmarked for upscale boomer developments. The downturn doesn't change demographics or pent-up demand for boomer housing, Taylor says.

The first development, Derbyshire, will feature an equestrian theme, stables, 100 miles of equestrian trails and a 40-acre unobstructed lake with a full range of age-in-place care and medical assistance, if and when a resident desires it. This fall, Taylor is also launching The Ivy in the tony Charlotte neighborhood of South Park, the first of what he hopes will be a chain of executive-style adult day care facilities.

"I think if advisors aren't thinking about these things now-where and how their clients plan to live and what services they need now and in the future-someone else is going to do it for them," says Taylor, 57, who says he plans to buy a lake-view home in Derbyshire himself. "I want to be in a community where I can be as active as I want to be and know this is the place I can call home for the next 25 or 30 years.

For Taylor and others who are willing to walk the walk, it's a simple matter of demographics. Of baby boomers who are retiring, 59% of those age 55 and older say they intend to buy into a planned or active adult community in the next five years. And those 55 and older are likely to have parents 75 and older.

"There is a tremendous surge in demand and in building," says market researcher Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of ProMatura, the Oxford, Miss., firm specializing in boomer trends. "We've seen demand from boomers for these types of developments double since 2000 alone," Wylde says.     "And the fact is, many people aren't downsizing. They want to move up to a home that reflects who they are now. They want their dream home."

And that means more boomers than ever before are heading into retirement with mortgages, sometimes hefty ones. "It's a sea change from even ten years ago, but we just don't see people with 100% equity in their homes anymore. When they trade up, they're financing," says Wylde. "Before, it was customary for people retiring to have a paid-off home. Now 25% of adults age 65 and older have mortgages, and that number is growing."
Bigger homes and sizeable mortgages mean most boomers either must work into retirement-a trend that we're hearing a tremendous amount of chatter about-or they need a retirement portfolio that throws off enough money every year to cover their cash flow needs. That's a nice way of saying that they need their advisor-you-to deliver greater investment returns. I would think that's hard to plan for if you don't know whether they're going to take every last penny of equity out of their house, sink it into a new place and double their mortgage.

The truth is, when I ask advisors what they're doing to help facilitate their clients' next big real estate move, I hear something like this: "It's an individual thing, depending on the client. We pretty much let clients drive the discussion." When I ask if the advisors are ever surprised by clients' sudden and unplanned real estate moves, I hear: "We're surprised all the time. We have clients who walk in and say, 'Guess what we did today?'" All too often, the surprise involves the sale or purchase of a home, or both.

If you have clients asking you to guess what they did today, it's probably time to rethink the real estate questions you're asking during client meetings and in the client surveys and questionnaires you use.

Without this knowledge, I am hard-pressed to believe you can do anything approximating wealth and life planning. Can you really help someone plan the next 30 years of their financial life if you don't know that they just bought blueprints to build a $1.2 million lakefront home?

The sheer numbers of boomers hitting their critical decision-making years should be driving you to analyze all aspects of your practice, with a particular eye toward areas such as real estate where you can really shore up your service offerings. After all, the 55-plus population is 67 million strong already and will hit the 85 million mark by 2014. This group is more highly educated and demanding than any preceding generation. It's not exactly a leap in logic that if you can't fully meet their needs, including critically important real estate and mortgage analysis, someone else will.

It's also an arena rife with abuses-which screams for your attention, especially with your elder clients. Real estate and mortgage finance are barely regulated. There may be pounds of paperwork, but few zealous overseers. The Securities and Exchange Commission just brought a case against scam artists peddling fraudulent Cancun timeshares to seniors, who were bilked out of $428 million-at least $126 million money pulled from individual retirement accounts-but such cases are random.

Mortgages are no less fraught with pitfalls. There is no mortgage deal that you can't cherry-pick to save clients significant money. I have never looked at mortgage loan documents that haven't been glaringly padded with $500 to $1,500 in dubious or duplicative fees. And there are still odd terms, balloon payments and out-and-out bad variable rate deals out there you can help clients guard against. If you haven't already developed relationships with local real estate agents and mortgage brokers you can trust, it's a great time to start reaching out to these folks. They should be your source for second opinions, if nothing else. You want them to be resources for that significant percentage of your clients age 55 and older who plan to buy primary or secondary homes in the next five years.

Of course, this all starts with the discussions you need to have with clients themselves regarding their future real estate plans, and what you can do to assist them. You'll find, I think, that many of your clients are dreaming of, if not actively seeking out, their next home, whether it's on the 18th fairway, on the waterfront or in the mountains.

Despite reports to the contrary regarding the death of real estate, the fascination with project development for the 55-plus crowd is increasing and the results are "sexy, beautiful and amenity-filled developments all over the country," says ProMatura's Wylde. This area of development is taking off for many reasons, the researcher and consultant says. "Towns are initiating retiree attraction programs and partnering with real estate developers. They know that marketing to the 55-plus crowd is a clean industry. There's a lot of transfer income. These folks don't put kids in school or take up community resources or crowd the streets during rush hour. But they like to eat out, enjoy the arts and spend a lot of money."

While development for these communities was predominantly in the Sun Belt before, there is now a building surge in cities, towns and rural areas across the country, Wylde says. In some cities and towns real estate developers can get permits only for active adult or planned communities catering to the 50-plus crowd for these very reasons.

Do you know which developments have piqued your clients' interest? It's time to ask. How can you be knowledgeable and stay abreast of your clients' dreams if you don't know about their architectural plans for their mountain top retreat or their seaside villa? One way to keep in touch is to tap into the 50+ Housing Council, a sister organization of the National Home Builder's Association for builders who target boomers.

Like everything else they've touched, boomers are leaving an indelible mark on the real estate development that is catering to them. And they're putting builders and investors through their paces. "The denominator for successful communities seems to be highly desirable locations and lifestyle opportunities for self-expression and engagement," says Rebecca Stahr, president of LifeSpring Environs Inc., an Atlanta-based consulting firm that has studied 50-plus developments across the country. "Today's active adult buyers are a highly educated target market with high expectations and desires for socialization and a sense of community and family. The singular or one-stop golf communities won't meet their expectations going forward."

With this in mind, Taylor set out to create his vision of what "adult" life should look like. "I run marathons and triathlons," says Taylor, 57. "I wanted a place that would not only appeal to boomers, but allow them to continue the things they've enjoyed all their lives."

He expects all 80 of his lake-view lots in the Derbyshire development to be sold in a Saturday afternoon when Sotheby puts them on the market October 19. "The demand for this type of development is fantastic," says Taylor. The cost for the lots will run from $150,000 to $400,000.

As an added twist, Taylor has designed the development to offer age-in-place amenities, as well as smaller units for buyers' parents or buyers themselves to use in coming years. "Someone can spend the rest of their life here, and even bring his or her mom or dad in now. For those who'll need it, we'll have state of the art monitoring systems, the technology to broadcast your medical records to a triage center, drivers to get you to care and the hospital, full-service medical and nonmedical home care and an assisted living care center."

Taylor believes the fact that the property is modeled on an English village with an equestrian theme running throughout, all set in the North Carolina mountains just one hour and 20 minutes from Charlotte, will be a tremendous draw for the same market that will use his Charlotte adult day care facility for their parents. "Boomers are coping with aging parents at the same time they're worried about their own future. My goal is to give them options. If I had the choice of adult day care, my dad could have lived at home with us instead of going to a residential care facility," Taylor says.

Why aren't advisors offering a fuller spectrum of care to clients? "I think advisors are lazy," Taylor says. "They've been anesthetized by asset-under-management fees. But with continued compression of fees, I think you'll have about 80% of advisors working for banks or broker-dealers in about a decade. I think the model that will survive is one that combines asset management, but anticipates, plans for and delivers full-service care that clients need."

Whether you believe Taylor or not, it's hard to argue with his central premise: No one should have a better idea of what their clients want and need than advisors. And that needs-based advice should include real estate. 

Tracey Longo is the Washington editor of Financial Advisor magazine. She welcomes your questions and comments at [email protected]. Longo is the author of several personal finance books, including CliffsNotes: Investing for the First Time (IDG Books Worldwide). She teaches public relations at American University in Washington, D.C.