How to Find the Right Active Community for Your Retirement – A Checklist

Category: Active adult communities

July 4, 2015 — It’s out there somewhere, the perfect place for you to retire. A community with the right combination of activities, ambience, neighbors, type of homes, etc. that matches exactly to what you are looking for. The reality is there might be dozens, even hundreds of places that where you can retire happy, if you can identify and analyze them. This quiz will take you through the major issues that will help you understand and rate the communities that are a good match for you.

About this checklist/rating sheet
For each question there might be several answers that describe you and your preferences, so choose as many as fit. Once you complete this form you will have a better idea about your overall preferences. Then, by rating different communities against these questions the right retirement choice will start to emerge. At that point you can use the Advanced Search feature at Topretirements to help you identify communities that match your criteria in the state and/or regions you are interested in.

One way to use this tool is to print out the pdf version (see end of article). Mark items in the first column with a Y (Yes) if that attribute is important to you (some items ask for a rating). In the second and third columns put the name of the community(s) you are evaluating, and then rate on a 1 to 10 scale how well it measures on that attribute.

1. What type of community are you looking for:
Active adult
Independent living
All ages
New Urban
Land lease

2. What type of housing matches your lifestyle:
Single family
Duplex/town home
Patio home
Single floor living
Manufactured Home

3. What is your ideal location:
Pacific Northwest
List states you are most interested in here

4. Geography and climate
Minimum winter temperature
Maximum summer temperature
Small town
Close to town
Shops, restaurants or professional services within the community

5. Are you looking for a particular theme to the community that you are looking for?
Past employment (military, arts, postal)
RV/Mobile Homes

6. What are your cost constraints (indicate your minimum expectation and maximum allowable):
Home cost
Monthly rental
HOA fees/dues
Yearly maintenance, insurance, and taxes
Annual assessments

Note: Fees for different communities can be very different. But you do have to consider all the factors – including value received (resale value, level and variety of amenities, taxes, etc.)

7. What are you looking for in neighbors, and how well does the community measure up:(indicate: high, medium, low for each item. Then rate the prospective community against your preference)
People have to be like yourself
Welcoming and friendly
Prefer to keep to yourself
Actively want social interaction
Socio-economic status

8. What types and level of activities do you want:
Activity level you desire (little, medium, much)
Social director
Places/opportunities to meet other people (informal or formal)
Sports you must/want to have
Activities you must/want to have
Leagues to participate in
What it is like for people who don’t participate

9. What does your ideal slate of amenities include:
Pickle ball
Arts and crafts studio?Theatre or ballroom
Continuing education
Fitness Center
Swimming pools (what type – indoor, outdoor, lap, children’s, etc.)

Note: A community might have many or few amenities. The question you have to answer is, will you use them or are you paying for something you won’t use.

10. What are the rules that might apply to you:
Are you in general very rule abiding, neutral, or a rule breaker
Will your pets fit under the rules
Will you have visitors such as an adult child, much younger spouse, or grandchild living with you
Do you want to do decorating or landscaping that might nor be permitted
Parking – how many cars and types of vehicles (RV, boat, trailer)

11. Does the Home Owners Association (HOA, or Community Association) deserve to have you: (In most cases the answers should all be Yes. But it is important is to rate the HOA against the criteria)
Are minutes from a recent meeting available
Have you met anyone on the board
Is the HOA run by the residents or the developer
Do board members have staggered terms
How long has the community been in existence
Who owns the facilities
What kinds of assessments are there/have there been
What is the level of financial reserves on hand?
What is the delinquency rate on community dues

These questions should give you a start for how to evaluate different active communities against your preferences. But undoubtedly you will want to refine and add your own considerations too. With this Communities-checklist-TR2015 you can print out the checklist to compare and contrast different communities.

Comments?What other questions can you come up with that would help you identify the optimum community? Which of these issues resonate the most with you? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading
10 Things Your Active Community Won’t Tell You
Home Owners Association: Friend or Foe
The Most Popular Active Adult Communities for 2014
10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy in An Active Community

Posted by Admin on July 4th, 2015


  1. Good framework for decision-making.

    As you say, it’s important to identify your “non-negotiables” and there will be many communities that will fit the bill. Research by behavioral economists have found that those who narrow their search to several communities that have their “non-negotiables” and then pick one will be happier in their choice than those who feel they have to investigate absolutely everything out there for every single quality. It’s called “satisficing” by psychologists, and “saisficers” are generally happier with their choice.

    If it’s a new home, be sure it has elements of universal design incorporated into it so you can age in place longer: such things as “comfort height” toilets, wider hallways, at least one entrance without steps, rocker-type switches and lever handles. Here is a handy list:

    Also, take a look at the larger community. Is there one-stop shopping for age-related services? “Complete” streets (ones that can be used for walking, biking, as well as driving)? Longer yellow lights/good lighting/larger signage? All these will become more important if you want to age in place.

    What about public transportation ? Proximity to good medical care and airports? Look at the community from a singles’ point of view. If you’re a woman, there’s an 80-90% chance you’ll be single at some point. If you’re not planning on ever moving again, is it still a good choice?

    These are just a few other items to consider for your “non-negotiable” list.

    Thanks, TopRetirements, for such a wonderful site.

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley)

    by Jan Cullinane — July 5, 2015

  2. Investigate the nearby area and town. You’ll likely be going there for shopping etc. and you’ll be governed by city/county laws and ordinances. This could affect your lifestyle.

    by John H — July 5, 2015

  3. to anyone who can help. for those of you who have followed me I am 75% for the Greenville SC
    area for relocating. have visited once, again in fall. I have been getting a lot of push back from
    my daughters about the distance from them which is NJ. they insist I can find a $200,000
    house in nice area in DE. I have researched DE and cannot compare to a $ 180,000 house
    in Greenville with $800 RE taxes. I did read an article recently that DE was rated # 1 state
    for retirement over all. I did not find such a price in DE. can anyone provide any info on DE,
    safe nice towns in that price range. am I wrong ? not familiar on DE. thank you.

    by john v — July 6, 2015

  4. Hi John V, I had posted this earlier but it never appeared on the blog. I have copied it and posted it under your question about DE. Also added my thoughts about Delaware.

    I had looked at Delaware before deciding on the Greenville area. I know that your money can stretch quite a bit further in SC than in Delaware. I looked in both northern and southern Delaware but lots were too small for us and housing + taxes = More $$. A plus to living there is no sales tax, but they get your $ one way or another, usually in property tax. Maybe you owe it to yourself to have a look, esp. since your daughters live in NJ.

    A friend recommended that we take a look at Greenville since her daughter was living in the area. Around the same time, it showed up on one of the lists (Forbes?) as a desirable retirement destination. I took one trip on my own and then we moved from Houston and rented for awhile in Greenville before buying our current home. We have an older home with 7 acres — I know, I know, we are a bit cuckoo but this is something we needed to do after living in a small house in Houston for 5 yrs! We are enjoying the peace and quiet, knowing full well that this will not be our last house. We are semi-retired in that hubby will go back to work in a contract position; I may also look for a part-time job once my SC license is approved. I forgot to mention that the area has 2 large health care systems within reasonable driving distance, although finding a PCP that accepts Medicare can be challenging. I’ll be happy to answer any more ?s that you may have – I usually check the site daily although I can’t always bring up all of the discussions.

    by Fionna — July 2, 2015

    by Fionna — July 7, 2015

  5. again, thank you Fionna for your help. I even have researched mid-PA ( harrisburgh ) area.
    I keep coming back to Greenville area for what they offer for less $$$ .
    I have noticed the brutal heat there this past week, but you also won’t have to worry about
    snow in 5 months. there is NO utopia. it’s a stressful decision for anyone my age or any age.

    by john v — July 8, 2015

  6. John, you can find $200K homes in Delaware. I have visited Heritage Shores in Bridgeville and it has nice amenities (fine golf course, too) and an active 55+ group of residents. I love Greenville, but famiy is family and there is always a price to be paid for what we want. Best of luck.

    by Larry — July 8, 2015

  7. John V,

    You are so right – the decision as to where to retire can be quite stressful. It has been hot here this past week, but one tries to get outside early to do any outdoor work. Last winter was colder than “normal” in Greenville, but no worry about snow; I have heard that Greenville has icy roads occasionally, but then no one ventures out. If one is retired it is not an issue. Regarding PA, we had considered that state also, but taxes seem to vary widely depending on where you live. All the best and let me know if I can provide any more info.


    by Fionna — July 8, 2015

  8. John, You mention your daughters want you to live close by. Do you want to live close to them? Perhaps the cost should come second to that consideration. Just thinking.

    by ella — July 8, 2015

  9. john v — I think another question is whether this is your daughters wanting you to live close to them so that they can easily see you when they want, or is is you wanting to be near them for your own reasons? Obviously family is important and obviously your preference would be to have easy access to them. But this is your life — and there is a limit to your lifetime. If that says that you must be near your children, then that gives your answer. However, your daughters have full lives ahead. If they want to be with you, they will make the effort to get there. Perhaps they might decide they want to move themselves.

    Also, what do you do when your children have the great opportunity to move somewhere else? That might never happen, but lives and careers develop. At that point you yourself might be stuck alone or with your children in separate places.

    I don’t live in Greenville — have barely visited there. But living in NC, we have many similarities. I encourage you to make a long-term visit there (or anywhere else in the area) to see if you can be happy there. By long-term, I mean at least a month. Since summer would likely be your major difference from NJ, that would be a good time. Other seasons will be very enjoyable in general. However, it is also the Southern culture and the lifestyle that you want to meet personally. I have lived all over the US and even in Europe. I love Southerners and the Southern lifestyle. Sure there are bigots — but I’ve found those people all over the country. Don’t make your lifestyle decisions based on television media.


    by Rich — July 8, 2015

  10. This Sioux Falls, SD lady is hoping to retire in the South Carolina Low Country (beachfront) in the next 5 years. Myrtle Beach has caught my eye in many lists and Google investigations. Originally from Dallas, I am longing for Southern Hospitality, grits and beaches. The decision is Condo or not? It appears that to live “on the beach” that the commercial lifestyle of beach front high-rise condos is the only option. I do not want the hassle of the yard. I hear pro and con on the condo lifestyle. My second question is Myrtle Beach in the midst of the resort town living or perhaps a slower pace at a nearby adjacent town (Surfside, Pawley’s Island, Murrells Inlet, etc) — Are any of the smaller towns more pleasing? I plan a trip to MBSC next Spring — and want to make the MOST of the trip and gain as much insight as possible. Anything I should not miss or not bother with? Thank you! Pamela

    by Pamela — July 8, 2015

  11. I can’t say enough to thank all of you ( Rich,Ella,Fionna and Larry ) for all your help and
    concern. I will absorb all your help and thoughts and hope to make the right decision.
    it is a scary time , cannot afford to make a mistake, I know you all understand that.
    and if I have any more questions I know I can call on you. God bless you all and thank you.

    by john v — July 9, 2015

  12. Pamela, the towns you are considering are what is known as the Grand Strand. My advice (re your second question) would be to plan your trip in the summer where you can see for yourself how crowded it gets. All of the towns you mentioned run together. Although they claim a difference, frankly I don’t see it. My wife and I retired to Charleston area (from Texas) because she wanted to be by the beach. BIG MISTAKE. Cannot wait to put in our five years (due to fact we bought a house) and get back to Texas’ wide open spaces. Even she agrees. There is so much traffic here that she refuses to drive the interstate to even get to the beach. That goes for either winter or summer. But, to each his own although even my brother-in-law, who lives in New Jersey, refuses to consider Myrtle Beach as a retirement destination because of the crowds.

    by Andy — July 9, 2015

  13. Andy – Have to agree with you. Pamela – I took a trip over to the coast of S.C. for retirement research a few weeks ago, and the traffic around Charleston was so bad that I couldn’t wait to get out of the area. There wasn’t a chance of finding parking in Charleston itself, but maybe I was there during one of the frequent festivals. I then drove up to Myrtle Beach, and quickly figured out it also wasn’t for me. The high-rises, tourist stuff and traffic is not what I want. I also went through the smaller areas like Pawleys Island, etc. too. I spoke to some residents in that area who complained about the Myrtle Beach creep, and that traffic and crowds are worse all the time. I also spoke to a man in Murrells Inlet who told me that their hospital was very small, so he had to go to Myrtle Beach to find a specialist when he needed cardiac care. Something to think about.

    Miserable traffic is one of my complaints about Charlotte on the other side of SC too. I’m still looking for that perfect place, but I doubt it will be really close to a beach because of the crowds. I still want to visit Wilmington, NC but one of my coworkers went there a few months ago. He said he’s dropped it from his own list after the visit because of the traffic. Seems to be a theme here.

    I was wondering why there is so little info on Virginia? Any feedback on it as a retirement state?

    by Ted — July 10, 2015

  14. Ted, I’m glad you mentioned Virginia. I drove thru the state recently from the North to the South, and then West to Tennessee. It is a beautiful state! I’m not interested in the DC area, but more the SW corner and maybe the Shenandoah Valley. I do wish there was a lot more information!

    by ella — July 10, 2015

  15. Pamela, please do not be deterred by Andy and Ted’s comments about the area south of Myrtle Beach. The traffic, tourism and population density is nothing like Myrtle. My wife and I have owned a vacation condo in Pawleys Island for 15 years; I have a long term view of the area from Murrells Inlet to Georgetown. The only thing crowded about the area is the number of supermarkets; #5 within four or five miles of our condo opened last year, which is incomprehensible given the few thousand yearround residents. (Not a lot of traffic in the supermarkets, that’s for sure.) In any case, there are a few weeks a year where restaurant reservations are a challenge (good group of eateries, by the way) and the beach parking lots (all beaches public) don’t yield parking spots easily. Andy and Ted make the common mistake that there actually is a perfect place for retirement. People who avoid traffic wind up in communities that are 45 minutes or more from “civilization.” That’s fine if your idea of a great schedule is to play a little golf and watch a lot of television. If you are allergic to traffic, you are going to wind up with very little to do where you live because there is an obvious reason for traffic (traffic=popularity in retirement areas). In short, the area from Pawleys Island up to Murrells Inlet is far from the maddening crowds; I encourage you to take a look. And, Ted, regarding Virginia, anywhere within about an hour of D.C. is going to have a lot of traffic. You might like the western mountains of VA, but you will get some snow there in winter. If the beach is your thing, Virginia’s beaches are going to be more crowded than the Carolinas’ beaches. I wish you well finding the perfect place.

    by Larry — July 10, 2015

  16. Less traffic in SC? Try Beaufort area on the coast, Aiken for mid- state. We looked in both areas and love their small and charming downtowns, many community choices depending on your personal preferences, and overall tax advantages of SC. Columbia is close to Aiken for city amenities, and Savannah and Charleston are close to Beaufort for the occasional city visit and major airports. Have also heard from friends in Greenville about how great that SC town is. We visited Myrtle Beach area years ago for a family vacation…other than lots af great golfing, it did not fit our wish list. Good luck!

    by SandyZ — July 10, 2015

  17. To put my criticisms about traffic into context (and I’ve lived everyone from rural areas to NYC), I think traffic is bad when I have to spend more than an hour to drive 20 miles. I’d put Charlotte rush hour and some of the traffic I encountered in Charleston in that category. It’s like driving in NY, Boston, the NY metropolitan area, etc. Nothing compares to LA. Of course, as retirees we can pick & choose the hours that we drive, and if we’re only driving a few miles to a local grocery store and drugstore it probably isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, we should probably weigh how long it would take for an ambulance to get us to a decent hospital if we need urgent care, or if it takes an hour to get to a movie theatre.

    by Ted — July 11, 2015

  18. Ted, I like your example of the hour to a decent hospital. But you can live in an area free of almost any traffic and still be an hour from a “decent” hospital, even if the ambulance can drive 60 mph all the way. My prior note was a reaction to the implication that stop and go traffic in Myrtle Beach during peak season was the case south of Myrtle Beach, in the Pawleys Island area; that is just not accurate, as you can be at Georgetown Hospital in 12 minutes and at the Waccamaw Community Hospital in 15. My experience in Charlotte and Charleston is like yours, but I daresay that 25 minutes south of Charlotte, in the Tega Cay and Rock Hill areas of SC, the traffic is easier to maneuver — and when you need an urban fix, you can be in the city within a half hour. I think there are a few movie theaters along the way.

    by Larry — July 11, 2015

  19. Larry: I’m actually living in the Rock Hill area right now. It regularly takes me almost 1-1/2 hours to get to downtown Charlotte (making it in 50 minutes-hour is a good day, as long as there aren’t any fender benders along the way on 77 or 485). Thank heaven for XM Radio and books on tape. Seems like there are also huge apartment complexes and new home communities going up on every bare piece of land, so traffic is expected to get worse. The area South of Charlotte has boomed thanks to the Ballantyne office parks. North of Charlotte might be a little better, but Trilogy will be adding 3,000+ homes by Lake Norman soon. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in the NY Metropolitan area in this part of the state. I’ll be planning a visit to check out Raleigh-Durham.

    by Ted — July 11, 2015

  20. I would be interested in your perspective of the two hospitals you cited. A retiree I talked to at a Pawley’s Island restaurant warned me that both of them are small & only a step above urgent-care facilities. He said he had to go to Myrtle Beach for a good oncologist and cardiologist. Sounds like you’d disagree with him?

    by Ted — July 11, 2015

  21. Ted,
    In truth, my only experience with the Waccamaw and Georgetown hospitals was in their emergency rooms (Georgetown excellent on a few occasions, Waccamaw okay). But if I had cardiac or cancer issues, I would target an area with hospitals that specialize (and that would not be Myrtle Beach). I just spent three days in the Greenville, NC, metro and everyone there raves about the excellence of the heart center (Vidant medical system) that has lured a few renowned cardiac specialists and surgeons. They are building a world-class cancer center as well. And I did not find traffic too burdensome. As for traffic south of Charlotte, I defer to your experiences. My original intent was to defend the area south of Myrtle Beach whose roads are unclogged for all but the peak seasons (and even then I find them tolerable).

    by Larry — July 12, 2015

  22. Thanks Larry. No cancer or heart disease yet (knock wood), and I’m just weighing access to medical care as a factor for potential retirement areas. I gave myself a year for research. I think I should I have given myself more time.

    by Kate — July 13, 2015

  23. This comment came in from Alice and we moved it to this thread:

    Does anyone have any experience they would like to share regarding HOT SPRINGS VILLAGE (Hot Springs, AK) or SAVANNAH LAKES VILLAGE (McCormic, SC). Thanks!

    by Admin — August 13, 2015

  24. John,
    We recently visited Heritage Shores in Delaware, and the community has a lot of amenities. With that said, they have the highest HOA fees in the state and those fees DO NOT cover lawn maintenance or snow removal. We did not see anything there is the 200K range, more 300K +.

    by judy — August 14, 2015

  25. Hi All, I have been reading all posts for several years now and it is time to make a decision on where to find our retirement home. We are very lucky that we have a summer home at a great resort in NY. The costs are low and we have everything we need close. The problem is that this past winter was cold with tons of snow, then again we live at a Ski resort. We are looking hard in SC for our primary home. We have a budget of just under $200,000 and would like to live within a 10 minute drive to use our boat more than 4 months a year that we get in NY. We also would like to find a community that has golf that is not $100.00 per round. We want a pool that we can use yeas round to swim laps and a location to walk. Again, I think SC is a great state to find a retirement home but we are just not sure where to find a home that we can afford and still keep our summer home in NY. Thank you in advance for any help!

    by Bob & Barb — August 15, 2015

  26. Alice, We are looking hard at SAVANNAH LAKES VILLAGE. We are going for a visit in October on our way to FL. I would love to have any comments good or bad on if we should buy our retirement home at this location. The costs are low but it looks like they are in the middle of no where. Any information on this location would be great. Thanks.

    by Bob & Barb — August 15, 2015

  27. John, What was the HOA?

    by elaine — August 15, 2015

  28. Hello and thanks for your post on using a checklist to help locate communities that fit retirees needs and wants!

    This was one of the first things my husband and I did once we both retired last year. We wanted to move somewhere where we would be surrounded by others who were retired and had things in common with us, but we also wanted an active adult community in Delray Beach where we could continue to exercise both our minds and bodies.

    We have children and grandchildren in South Florida so a 55+ community in the Southeast was ideal for us. We decided a single floor plan would be best, so we wouldn’t have to worry about stairs. Using a checklist, we also found that we wanted to be close to the grocery store and a golf course for my husband.

    Thanks again for the great article and ideas for making a checklist. It definitely helped us in narrowing our search for a retirement community and we couldn’t be happier with our decision. I’m sure this will help many others in their hunt for the perfect home come retirement.

    by Debbie — September 29, 2015

  29. Any thoughts or insight on the Southport/Wilmington area. Wife and i are planning 4 days in early Nov to visit some locations with a 3-4 yr timetable to move. St James Plantation was recommended. Honestly, been a bit jaded by The Villages, as both sets of parents live down there, but we don’t want to go that far. l love golf but life wont revolve around just that

    by Mike — October 8, 2015

  30. We will be visiting the Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs Mississippi area the end of January, looking to see if this might be the retirement destination that we are looking for. Anything we should be aware of about this area?

    After a week there we will be spending a month in the Port Aransas area of Texas, near Corpus Christi. My brother and wife spent a month there last year and will be going for a much longer time soon. They have an RV and loved the place they were staying at in Fulton. It sounded as if there were alot of retirees there and lots of activities. I like the sound of activities! Is that general for the whole area or maybe just the specific RV place where they stayed?


    by Vicki — October 9, 2015

  31. After visiting Hilton Head, SC for many years, we knew we wanted to retire there someday. We looked at Sun City Hilton Head and really thought that would be where we would settle. We visited Hilton Head Lakes last month while on vacation in HHI. Loved it!!! We are in the process of buying a lot! We can buy the lot, and build in a few years when we are closer to moving. We are excited and wish we could build now.

    by Pauline — October 9, 2015

  32. Debbie, which active adult community did you decide on and why?

    by Maureen — October 10, 2015

  33. We are considering a Shea/Trilogy community in NC. Does anyone have experience with other Shea/Trilogy communities — quality of construction, management, etc.? Thanks.

    by rgifford20 — June 17, 2016

  34. You make a great point about how you should consider the type of retirement community you are looking for. It makes sense that you would want to choose someplace that matches your lifestyle. My parents are still pretty active, so I would think that they want to look for something that is more independent and allows them to participate in a lot of different activities.

    by Marie Watson — July 21, 2016

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