November 3, 2015 — Where do you stand on active adult communities – are you a person who can’t wait to move into one, or do they represent the type of place where you wouldn’t want to be caught dead? This article will talk about the advantages, disadvantages, and peculiarities of this type of retirement lifestyle. But mostly we hope you, our Members, will share your thoughts in the Comments section at the end of the article. Your insights will help the rest of us learn how different people feel about them, especially those who have actually resided in an active community.
The original active community was Sun City, located northwest of Phoenix, Arizona. Founded by Del Webb, it is still going strong, 55 years after it opened. The one that most people in the eastern part of the U.S. know about is The Villages, a community of over 100,000 with 33 golf courses and 3 town centers, and that sprawls over 3 counties in Central Florida. Active communities range from other ultra large communities like California’sLaguna Woods Village with its 230 clubs, to very small communities like the thousands listed in our Directory of Active Adult Communities.
What is an Active Adult Community
The common denominator is that the term “active adult communities” describes a very
modern phenomenon where adults (usually, but not necessarily over 55) live and have access to different athletic and recreational opportunities like golf, tennis, and hobbies. There is more often than not a clubhouse with a fitness and meeting room. An outdoor and sometimes an indoor swimming pool are popular amenities. Some active communities have themes; like those oriented to specific occupations like postal workers, religion, or ethnicity; or avocations such as aviation, boating, the arts, etc. The move to active communities reflects the changing view baby boomers have of themselves – what self respecting boomer wants tell their friends they are moving to an (old-sounding) retirement community, when they could be talking about their active adult community.
In addition to active adult communities there are other retirement options. So called 55+ communities are usually the same thing as an active adult community, but they might not have any amenities to keep you active. There are others which typically cater to older retirees: independent living, retirement communities, assisted living, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and nursing homes. Note that some active adult communities are age-restricted (usually 1 person has to be at least 55, or sometimes another age like 50), while others, even if not formally restricted, are in practice mostly 55 and over. Of course when your retire you don’t have to live in any of these community types – you could live in a co-housing community or in an urban condo. Or, just stay in a single family home in an all-ages community like the one you lived in before you retired.
If you are the kind of person that might enjoy living in an active adult community you might see these advantages:
– Plenty to do. Many have extensive amenities and even a Lifestyle Director. You can be busy from dawn to dusk if you want.
– Ready made social interactions. Your neighbors are in the same situation as you: just moved in, looking to meet new friends.
– Like minded people. There is a certain amount of self-selection – if the community has a great golf course, you’ll meet golfers. If there a lot of clubs or arts related activities, that’s the kind of person you will meet. Plus you will probably be with your economic peers, those who can also afford to live there.
– Walk, bike, or take a golf cart to your daily activities. Walk down the street (or take your bike or golf cart) to the fitness center, social hall, or swimming pool. No need to drive through the suburbs every morning.
– Freedom from pesky young people. Many people have had enough of loud stereos, oblivious teenagers, or pouting kids. They prefer the quiet and order from a mature neighborhood.
– A home suitable to your lifestyle and age. The homes in almost all communities are designed for baby boomers. Most have first floor masters, limited steps, and low maintenance.
– Strong zoning regulations. Active communities usually have a prescribed look. They don’t want junk cars in the yard, weird house colors, or jammed in accessory buildings.
Then again, if you are not the ideal candidate for an active adult community, these disadvantages might be what keep you from wanting to live in one:
– Lack of diversity. First there is age diversity, particularly if yours is 55+. You might not see many young people. Then there is economic and racial – you will be living amidst people who look an awful lot like yourself.
– Home owners associations and rules. If we see one red flag for many people, it is the HOA (or Community Association as they are often called). Many people have an aversion to rules – how many and what type of pets you can have, the color of your front door, where guests can park, what you can park, etc. If you hate rules, an active community is not for you!
– Fees. Some communities have very reasonable fees, others do not. Usually you get what you pay for. The fees cover a lot of common expenses, like roads, insurance, taxes, elevators, building maintenance, staff, amenities, etc. If you would rather have more control over where your money goes, don’t move in. Likewise, some boards are better run and more reasonable than others.
– You are not a joiner. There can be pressure in an active community to take part in social activities. If you want to go your own way and don’t enjoy other socially interested people, stay away.
– Life in a fishbowl. Homes in active communities are usually quite close together. People can’t help but know some of your business. Beware if that is a problem for you.
– Far from city center and need to drive (often, but not always). Most active communities are located far from any established town, a factor driven by the availability and price of land. While that keeps you far from crime and the hustle and bustle, it also means firing up the Oldsmobile to go into town for shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc. As you age, that will become more and more difficult.
As opposed to the traditional retirement community, there is normally a lot more going on day to day in an active adult community than elsewhere. The people in these communities like to stay busy.
Fearrington Village or The Villages have an adjunct that provides a transition to a higher level of care (CCRC, assisted living, etc.) as you age. The advantage of communities like those is that you do not have to move and find all new friends and doctors as you go into your later retirement years.
Some communities have very high fees and some have much more modest ones. That can be a function of what amenities are offered and who pays for them. The expense structure might be a legacy from the original transfer of power from developer to Home Owner Association. Some communities have great boards managing them, others not so good. Research is important no matter what type of community you choose to live in – there are plenty of issues that can trip you up if you are not careful (see list of articles in Further Reading for more).
Do you think you could live in an active adult community? Or, if you have or do live in one, what are the advantages and disadvantages that you see? What type of person is the right kind of person for this type of community? We are hoping that this article is only the starting point of the discussion about “Is An Active Adult Community Right for You” – your always insightful comments will be even more interesting.
For further reading
10 Things Your Active Community Won’t Tell You
Are You Active Adult Community Material (2011)
Home Owners Associations – Friend or Foe (a series)
What One Couple Is Looking for in a Community