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Baby Boomer Bait: Luxury Condo, Westin Hotel Services 

By Susan E. White, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 20, 2006 - VIRGINIA BEACH -- The panoramic views from the 24th floor thrilled Janet Whitbeck Aiken and her husband, Jeff. So did the 9-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. But what really sold the couple on their new Virginia Beach home were the services.

"When you think about assisted living, you think about room service and laundry service," Whitbeck Aiken said. " We'll already have all the services -- everything -- right there."

The Westin Hotel and Residences at Town Center is hardly a retirement home. But the multimillion-dollar project is drawing empty nesters such as the Aikens who view the hotel-like pampering -- including housekeeping and in-room catering -- as comfortable amenities for their golden years.

"It's much smarter today to plan way ahead," said Whitbeck Aiken, 57, a commercial real estate agent in Virginia Beach. "We think The Westin is a great investment, but we were also thinking long term about retirement. This way, we don't have to spend money to go into a retirement home."

Instead, in late 2007, they'll move into a luxury condominium with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a study. It's one of 119 condos, priced from about $350,000 to about $4 million, being built in a 38-story tower at Independence Boulevard and Columbus Street. The tower also will feature a four-star hotel with 236 rooms.

Many of the amenities offered to hotel guests, including room service, will be standard fare for residents.

Eighty-seven condos already have been sold, and nearly 40 percent of the buyers are 55 and older, said Wendy Halman, a sales executive with Rose & Womble Realty, which is marketing the homes.

The luxury homes also have attracted couples, business owners and others in their 30s and 40s, she said. Some are buying second or third homes, Halman said.

The Aikens, for example, also own a house on Hatte ras Island, where Jeff lives full time; a condo at Pembroke Station, where Janet lives during the work week, and other property in North Carolina.

Van Rose, president of Rose & Womble's new homes division, isn't surprised that The Westin is attracting affluent baby boomers. "These people have traveled around and have been to nice hotels and resorts where you're waited on hand and foot," he said, " and here is a way to live like that every day."

Rose sees a trend in similar upscale living, especially as the region ages. "Now, do I think we ought to do three or four more of these?" he said. "Nope. But right now, we have the perfect building at the right time."

Rip Montague, president of Source Inc. of Virginia, which tracks development in the region, agrees.

Nationally, most older adults are trading one suburban home for another, he said. But there is also a market for luxury, higher-priced projects such as The Westin and similar developments, including Norfolk's Granby Tower and The Spectrum at Willoughby Point. Each reflects "the affluence of older buyers and the lifestyle they seek," Montague said.

For Roy and Ann Crawford of Falls Church, that means living near their favorite restaurants, shops and entertainment. The burgeoning Town Center enticed the active couple, 74 and 71 respectively, to buy at The Westin. They also own a home at Sandbridge.

"This offers everything at our door," said Ann Crawford, who operates a small publishing company with her husband. "As you get older, you want to be where everything is convenient."

Neither Whitbeck Aiken nor the Crawfords would say how much they paid for their new homes. S tarting Jan. 1, prices on the remaining condos are being raised 10 percent, Rose said.

For $2.8 million, a buyer can still get a penthouse with three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, a study and views of the Chesapeake Bay and the Oceanfront.

-- Reach Susan E. White at (757) 222-5114 or susan.white@pilotonline.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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