MANAHAWKIN — When the housing market picked up again around 2012, a completely different buyer compared to years prior walked in the door of 55+ community Escapes Ocean Breeze.

Sales manager Deborah Cleary immediately realized today's future senior citizens — Baby Boomers — are nothing like the previous generation. They're still working at an older age, they grew up in a more affluent time, and they're less likely to just search for and move into a cookie-cutter unit. There's so many of them, they're bound to have a wide range of preferences.

"What we saw is that they came from beautiful homes with beautiful finishes, and just because they were downsizing didn't mean that they wanted to live in a house that looks like their grandmother's house," Cleary said.

So the beach-accessible Ocean County neighborhood made a big change — they completely gutted their model homes and started from scratch, implementing new options and finishes and all the "hot buttons" today's older buyers look for, Cleary said. Their clientele had made a 180-degree shift from the residents they first welcomed in 2008.

Beyond the standalone homes themselves, Escapes Ocean Breeze also offers residents a selection of amenities unlike those found in older 55+ communities — a state-of-the-art clubhouse, a movie theater and saunas, to name a few.

Cleary, part of the Boomer generation, describes the cohort as "forever young."

"The Baby Boomers have changed the face of active adult living," she said. "When they say retirement community, it really isn't. Most of them are still working or thinking about retiring in the next couple of years."

That changing face can be seen in several 55-and-up establishments throughout the Garden State. Buyers can choose which type of home — along with their personal touches — they'd like built, and months later, it's done.

Pat Thrasher, 57, and her husband checked out a few active adult communities before deciding on Regency at Monroe in Middlesex County. Beyond its key location near family, Regency offers more amenities and a more desirable clubhouse than the others they visited, she said.

"We love that there is an indoor and outdoor pool, many exercise classes, many card games, clubs to join, etcetera," Thrasher said.

The foundation and frame of their future home was in the ground, but they chose everything else.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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