Note: This is an updated version of a 2008 article from our Tips and Picks section.
In our experience most baby boomers have an opinion about active adult or 55+ communities – they are either for ’em or agin ’em – but less frequently neutral. We recommend that you suspend your opinions for a few moments, then form them again after reading this. Just maybe, you might change your mind one way or another. To try to be realistic and objective, we have used actual people’s words from various Retirement community Discussion Forums (See links to other Forums at end of article)….
The reaction to this question produced a mini-avalanche of incredibly thoughtful comments covering all possible sides of the argument. The balance of pro to con was fairly even, although tilted slightly to the positive side. Positive comments were varied, but activities and social life topped the pluses. A lot of the original negatives centered on rules and HOA’s. Since we wrote this original article more negatives about the financial side have emerged, mostly concerning the problems that foreclosures and dues defaults have caused in many active communities.
Accent on the Positive
Here were comments on some of the issues commented about positively:
Single floor living and low maintenance
“I would consider an adult community if it offered 1 story ranch houses. I don’t want a townhouse or anything where we would have to climb stairs. The reason for my change of thought is when I started thinking ahead to when I wouldn’t be able to mow the lawn or shovel snow and also when we get older it might be more comforting to live in close proximity to people.”
No noisy kids and teenagers
“We lived two doors down from a kid who all but lived in the Evil Mustang with the Subwoofer. We don’t want to be surrounded by teenagers anymore; been there, done that, and we don’t want to have to experience the teens years for a third time.”
The Active Lifestyle
“Luckily we chose a very active place and we have a varied and interesting life.”
“There will be the Camp like schedule of daily events- much like a TV schedule- but just as with a TV…you can change channels at will or simply not watch the thing and do whatever the heck you want. We like the idea of being able to explore new hobbies, and easily meet like minded folks, which we think amenity rich adult Communities provide for.”
“There are so many things to do that we have problems working them all in. It is not all shuffleboard and dominoes. I play slow pitch softball 3 days a week, tennis 3 times a week, hit the best gym 2-3 times a week, and still take classes at the Arizona State University learning center here on campus. You can be as active as you like or as sedentary as you like. We are adjacent to Phoenix with all the things a major city offers yet safe and secure with great neighbors in a 2000 sq ft single level home.”
“When I moved to The Villages I thought I would play a lot of golf like I do up north. Two years later, I hardly ever play because I am so busy with other sports and activiities. Pickleball is my new passion – perfect for aging baby boomers!”
There is a community for everyone
“The truth is there are communities like that out there but everyone seems to lump “retirement communities” into one general category. There are many different varieties of adult communities. The trick is to do your research and find ones that suit your lifestyle. If you don’t want to end up in a community with “seniors” you are best to avoid condo-like developments and instead focus more on “active” communities. …if you live in an adult community at least you have option to participate in all it has to offer. No one is going to beat down your door and force you to join the bridge club or golf league or whatever. But if you choose to live in a non-adult community you won’t even have that option and you may always wonder “what if.”
“I’m on the younger end of this set. I was not even “legal” for the first two months of our stay the first year, and my first impression was “everyone is so old!” However, I have grown to love it. There is a wonderful variety of folks, age-wise and experience-wise.”
“We’ve met so many great new people and we still have our group of long time friends. We’ve found so many things to do to entertain ourselves and that has been the best part.”
All inclusive community
“Each neighborhood has a pool and plentiful activities and amenities – pick and choose what you want to do. We have a couple of restaurants, a small grocery, a cleaners, hair salon, bank, etc. – so we can really stay “on campus” and not have to go anywhere by car if we want. As a golfing community, we take our golf carts everywhere – no DUIs for us! Our community includes homes ranging from apartments to million dollar mansions, and an “independent living” retirement building and an assisted living and an Alzheimer’s unit and we all interact equally without regard to what area we live in. Many people just transition from one type of housing to another as their needs dictate.”
There was no shortage of people who found something to complain about living in active communities. Some have lived in these types of communities and hated it, while others dismiss the idea – with prejudice. Here were the major negatives:
Tightfisted community members
“The profile here is people who have money – but who want to keep their money! So it isn’t always that they can’t afford the dollar or two increase (for improvements) – it is that they are WWII folks who are really frugal. Yet, many of them openly brag about their last trip to China, their great dinner at (an expensive restaurant), etc.”
Home Owner Associations (HOA’s)
“But, we were surrounded by some of the nastiest, busy-body seniors mostly from out-of-state. Here for winter months only. They volunteered for the board because they had all the time in the world – 5 Barney Fife’s. They ran up $20K summer water bills because they wanted the Sonora desert to look like Minnesota and Missouri.”
“I am seeing some communities (55+) where the folks concern about ‘increased’ HOA fee’s (which look pretty small to me) are having them reduced even smaller by eliminating amenities and activities- just the opposite of what I would prefer, but if enough ‘fixed income’ people have the vote, you can find yourself in a pretty bare bones environment. No matter what it was like before the homeowners get FULL control.
“If you have grandchildren this is something to consider. In FL, a couple had to take custody of their granddaughter and now they are being forced to sell their house because she lives with them. The HOA is threatening to take their house if they don’t get rid of the little girl.”
“Pets are a problem. The pet owners complain about rules because they think their pets are perfect. The non-owners complain because the pets bark and make messes.”
“I couldn’t see myself living in an adult community. I like the idea, but the reality seems to end up very different than the idea. Most of the adult communities I’ve seen have “cookie cutter” houses with very small lots which are often not fenced. The HOA’s seem high with strict mandates about how everyone can live. I didn’t live this long to have someone else tell me how to live!!”
I like it where I am
“We live in the same house we bought in our 20s in the same small town. And the neighbors do as well…. they were our friends them and are still now. I would never trade it. Anyway, the only 55+ communities in the area we live in are trailers.”
“Most of the 55+ places around here (New England) are out in the boondocks because there are few larger tracts of land anywhere near the core cities (all built out over the years). This makes people living there even more car-dependent than ever, which seems like a real downside in older age.” On the other side, some communities are planned so you can walk, bike, or take a golf cart for most essentials.
If You Haven’t Decided, Here is Some Advice from Other People
Many people in these retirement forums had great advice to help others who were wrestling with the “active adult community or not” question. To theirs we would add this advice: if you are even remotely interested in an active adult community (and we know lots of people who are very happy they are living in one), take advantage of a couple of the “Stay and Play/Discovery” packages that almost every community offers. Don’t rely on your pre-conceptions, see and decide for yourself. Besides, it’s a cheap and fun vacation!
“The point is – get involved, understand the “pulse” of the place you are considering buying into. Stop and talk to people who live there, talk to real estate professionals who work the area, etc. But don’t dismiss the idea of living in a planned community because you think that amenities will disappear down the road. Look at the profile of the community to predict what may happen.
The Right Fit
“Indeed, some people really do want a community with strict rules, others don’t. People simply need to ask themselves what they want if they are planning to check out the 55+ communities. The same could be said for any neighborhood. Some people want strict covenants and a strong homeowner association that won’t let anything slide; others want things more easy going. You need to ‘figure yourself out’ before making a commitment.”
“From my observations 55 plus communities do indeed offer a great deal–that is not to say they are for everyone–there are trade-offs. It seems that more particular–meticulous persons do a bit better in these environs–and those that take advantage of the multitude of activities–not the armchair quarterbacks —are usually more pleased.”
“One rule of thumb to be aware of is that the age of the community is generally correlated to the age of the residents. In other words an active adult community that started 20 years ago will have more residents in their eighties, while one that launched 2 years ago will still have the vast majority of its residents in their late 50s and early 60s.”
The recent real estate melt down has seriously effected many active adult and 55+ communities. Many people have been foreclosed on or about to be foreclosed. Some bought on spec and are stretched too far, and are not paying their association dues. As a result some communities are strapped for funds, and have had to postpone maintenance, borrow money, increase dues, or lay off employees. Meanwhile vacancies are hurting real estate prices. So before you buy in a community, get a solid idea of what foreclosures and dues defaults are like (in addition to the regular due diligence you would make).
Finally: “Don’t necessarily think an adult community is limiting – it is what YOU make it!”
Thanks to the many people who responded to this topic at Topretirements.com, City-Data.com, Eons.com
“10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy in an Active Adult Community”
See many helpful articles in Topretirements blog on “Active Communities”
What One Couple is Looking for in a Retirement Community (don’t miss the Comments!)
Forum: Various posts about The Villages – the largest Active Adult Community
So Many Great Retirement Towns, So Hard to Choose (great commentary on many active communities)
What Do You Think? Please share your opinions in the Comments section below.