June 10, 2011 — Note: This is Part I of a multi-part series from Sandy. Don’t miss “Part II: How Anyone Can Afford a Warm Winter Retirement“.
Sandy and Roger from Michigan have been living what a whole lot of retirees dream of doing. On and off for the past 8 years they’ve been out exploring dozens of active communities. Along the way they’ve honed their vision of the perfect community, and they are closer than ever to finding their ideal match from the ones they have visited. This article will share the icing of what they’ve learned … along the way. A future article will provide a more detailed list of the communities they’ve visited, along with their impressions for each. We are very grateful for them sharing their insights with their fellow Topretirements members.
Sandy and Roger
Sandy, with whom we conducted this interview, is a very full of life 68 year old. Until she retired a few years ago she ran the recruiting portion of the placement office at University of Michigan Business School. She and her husband Roger, a former contractor aged 71, are a perfect example of the best way to find a retirement community. From the beginning of their search they looked south, thanks to Sandy’s motto that she “didn’t want to be cold and old”. The couple currently live in Michigan and have spent most of the last 8 years snowbirding, mostly in Florida.
What they are looking for -like walking into a party
The couple has several tools to help them rate the various communities they have visited. They have a rating checklist for the homes that each one fills out separately (we will share that in a future article). One of their criteria is having doorways that are at least 36″, since with 2 artificial knees Sandy realizes some day she might be wheelchair-bound. Roger is an avid woodworker, so finding a community where he could pursue that passion was important. They have a bias against manufactured housing, but nevertheless have seen some very appealing communities with factory built homes. Their most powerful rating tool is intuitive. As Sandy says, visiting a community is like walking into a party – you can tell almost immediately if you are a good fit and will have a good time. It is mostly a question about being comfortable. Are people out on the streets and in the facilities doing things – or is it quiet with no interactions going on? Your first impressions are key. Another rule the pair has developed is that they will not buy in a community before they have lived in it for at least a year (a good one!)
At the beginning of their search the couple fell in love with Sun City Summerlin in Las Vegas. There was so much to do, everything they could think of, including the wonderful Vegas entertainment and every kind of urban resource. Even though they really liked it, the pair became concerned about the future cost of living and changed their focus to Florida. Of course in the last few years prices and costs have plummeted in Vegas.
Off to Florida
For much of the past 8 years the couple has wintered in Florida, where they prefer the west coast and central areas of the Sunshine State. They feel more comfortable north of the Sarasota area and away from the East coast. They have participated in at least 5 Stay & Play (Discover) packages, and believe they are a great way to get a feel for a community. They also keep their eyes open when traveling around the state. If they see a sign for a community, they’ll stop in for a visit. And, we’re proud to say, they use the list of communities in the Topretirements’ Florida Directory of Active Adult Communities. Here are some of the places they have visited, along with some shorthand impressions (we will publish a more detailed list in a future issue).
Legacy of Leesburg. Gorgeous houses, but it felt somewhat sterile. They did not see much mingling or people enjoying each other in the public places.
Lake Alfred: Cypress Green – stayed here – GREAT, senior golf community and mobile homes, best maintained of all the mobile home parks we visited.
Sun City FL. When Sandy saw Sun City she thought it would be the answer to all of her prayers. But then she realized everything was too old for her taste – the houses were a bit creaky with dated plumbing and electrical systems. Even the people were too old – 15-20 years older than they were. Along the nearby highway there were closed strip malls and stores, which was depressing. When they went to mass all the altar servers were old. That bothered Sandy, who although she doesn’t want to live next door to kids, does want to be near a metro or city where you go can outside the community gates and interact with normal families and children.
Love at First Sight
Sandy and Roger fell in love with On Top of the World in Ocala this past winter. Surprising to both, they each immediate fell in love with the house they stayed in during their Discovery Visit. Everywhere in the community people were out doing things, and they were often invited in for coffee. The comfort level was “Phenomenal”. They loved all the activities, including a huge woodworking shop which would mean Gary would not have to move his machinery down from Michigan. There were indoor and 2 outdoor pools, golf courses, and resident garden plots (a big plus for Sandy). But perhaps the icing on the Top of the World cake for the couple were the golf cart paths extending all over the development’s 12,000 acres. The paths even ran to some nearby shopping areas, which meant not having to drive the car! The villas were very well maintained. Association fees are between $135-$330, depending on the size of the home, and that includes all outside maintenance and insurance; plus trash, cable, clubs, and amenities. The prices of new homes were reasonable, ranging from $150k to $250k (plus upgrades). Quite a few resale homes are for sale at much lower prices, sometimes even well under $50,000 for well-maintained homes. More big pluses were the giant Live Oak trees that gave the community a green look that reminded Sandy of being back home in Michigan.
People have no idea of how cheap you can live in Florida
Sandy is bemused by people from the north who fret about the cost of retiring. She says that she is astonished at the low cost of living available throughout Florida. Livable condos are available for way less than $50,000 – even $15,000, and rents from $400 – 500 a month. She says that if you haven’t been down to see what it’s like for yourself you just have no idea of how nice and inexpensively you could live.
Part 2 coming, with a surprise community
Next time we will provide details about more communities the pair has visited. In Part II of this series they will share their ideas on how anyone can afford a warm winter retirement. But meanwhile they have already reserved a rent for next winter in Ocala – but surprisingly, in a community across the street from On TOP of the World, Oak Run. Their thinking is that that way they will get to explore another community, and be close enough to TOP to give it a thorough examination! As we concluded our interview Sandy threw out one more tantalizing tidbit – they have started exploring another community that is both cheap and in many ways nicer than TOP – but she can’t share its name with us yet. Stay tuned!
More Boomer Retirement Profiles:
Jane and Jack: Retired in Place, But Mighty Busy
The Snowbirding Innkeepers
The Seafaring Couple Start an International Literacy Non-Profit
Comments. Have you visited any of the places on Sandy and Roger’s list? What were your perceptions? Tell us about your explorations in the Comments section below.