Every day, more than 7,000 Americans turn 65.
It's a rich market for developers and communities eager to court aging baby boomers looking to relocate in their senior years - communities that includes Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee.
A survey released Wednesday by the National Home Builders Association indicates that about one of every eight persons over age 55 plans to move when he or she retires. Developers hope to recruit many of those relocating retirees to East Tennessee, which boasts relatively low taxes, a low cost of living and four moderate seasons.
"The retirement market is one that is going to help pull us out of this housing recession," Dave Robertson, president of RPI Media, told members of the American Association of Retirement Communities during the group's annual convention in Chattanooga.
Ramay Winchester, head of the state's three-year-old "Retire Tennessee" program, said seniors bring a lifetime of resources and talent and usually don't burden local schools, police and roads as much as most other residents.
"There's a tremendous economic benefit from retirees moving into our state," she said.
At Greenbriar Cove in Collegedale, seniors from nearly two dozen states have come to retire or be involved in one its health care facilities. Since its start in 2004, Greenbriar has grown to include $80 million in single family homes, apartments and assisted-living units. The Lantern Alzheimer's center also is located near the Greenbriar site.
Beverly Peters, who moved into one of Greenbriar's single-family homes from Angela Oaks, Calif., three years ago, said she was eager to get out of congested Southern California.
"We never thought we would move into a retirement community, but we have lots of room and friends here and we really love it," she said.
Greg Vital, co-founder of Independent Healthcare Properties LLC, developed Greenbriar as an outgrowth of an assisted-living center he opened in Collegedale in 2000.
"We realized we were outgrowing that facility and I was looking for a new site to build a new and bigger facility," Mr. Vital said. "In looking for a 5- to 10-acre site, I stumbled the 100-acre Monroe farm just outside of town."
To convince the Monroes to sell the family farm, Mr. Vital sketched out the vision of a full-service adult and retirement campus.
The success of Greenbriar - and development of a half-dozen lakefront and mountain communities around Chattanooga - spurred Chattanooga to mount its own effort to recruit retirees. Choose Chattanooga, headed by former City Council member Linda Bennett, was started three years ago.
"For once, I think Chattanooga has gotten in step with where we need to be in the future - not five years or 10 years behind - in this new form of economic development," said Mr. Vital, who began his career with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
The over-65 population in the United States is projected to more than double to 72 million by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Census.
But developers concede that sales in retirement communities have slowed during the 2007-2009 recession.
Dr. David Crowe, chief economist for the National Home Builders Association, said he doesn't expect U.S. home sales to return to "normal levels" until late 2012.
"The general market will continue to improve slowly and I think the market for housing for the 55-plus (age group) will follow that trend," he said Wednesday, following his presentation to the American Association of Retirement Communities.
"Those over 55 are the most affected by the loss of equity in their home and their retirement funds," Dr. Crowe said. "On the other hand, they also had more equity, so they will respond when they can sell their homes."
Last month, Erickson Retirement Communities LLC, a developer of 20 senior living campuses in nine states, filed for bankruptcy.
In East Tennessee, three major golf resort developments targeted for seniors - Rarity Bay and Sequatchie Pointe in Marion County and Rarity Rivers in Rhea and Meigs counties - stalled this year when developers ran out of money. Green Bank foreclosed on Rarity Bay and Rarity Rivers and J.J. Detweiler Enterprises Inc., the developer of Sequatchie Pointe, filed for bankruptcy.
Even long-time successful developments have seen sales slow in the past couple of years.
Alexian Brothers, which has operated a nursing home on Signal Mountain since 1936, has grown its facilities to include apartments, assisted-living and at-home health care. But Alexian's interim chief executive, Kevin Molhearn, said new financing options are being developed to adjust to the changing market so buyers can acquire Alexian properties.
"Retirement communities everywhere have had lower sales due to the difficulty of selling homes in many markets at a price that people feel is fair," Mr. Molhearn said. "Fortunately, in the past few months we're seeing some improvement and I think the market is starting to thaw."