January 9, 2017 — When active baby boomers start investigating places to retire, sooner or later they are going to hear about The Villages (TV) in Central Florida. The big reason is that it is the largest 55+ community in the country. As of mid 2017 over 115,000 people lived in The Villages, most of them because they enjoy its mind-boggling array of amenities and non-stop active lifestyle. The population is growing fast – it was only 51,000 in the year 2000.
Clearly the lifestyle appeals to the people who live there. For folks who like to always have something to do, make instant friends, and drive their golf cart to sports, church, and shopping – The Villages is hard to beat.
Facilities and more facilities
The Villages has every kind of amenity. There are 36 executive golf courses, most of which are 9 hole courses and where residents can play at no charge. There are 10 Championship golf courses and country clubs (where owners are automatically members), plus an amazing array of other sports, amenities, crafts, and social clubs – from archery to pickle ball, polo, Tai Chi, and theatre groups. There are hundreds of clubs, including one for every state in the Union. There are 3 downtown squares (Sumter Village, Brownwood and Spanish Springs) that have restaurants, bars, and piped in music. There is a dazzling array of neighborhoods to live in,
and there seems to be no end to the expansion plans. The Villages has 32 neighborhood centers (pools for adults and other recreation), 17 village centers (pools for families and other activities like pickleball), and 8 regional centers with larger facilities including fitness centers.
Critics including the “Leisureville” book
Yet there are critics of The Villages lifestyle. One of the most famous “exposees” of The Villages came out in a book by Andrew Blechman called “Leisureville – Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias” (the book also profiles Sun City, Arizona). Blechman is a terrific writer and weaves together a fascinating story. If you are at all interested in living in The Villages (or Sun City) you should read the book. You will get a lot of background and insight into the ownership/management structure of the place, which can be a bit murky.
On the other hand you the book will also get a lot of opinions, most of them negative, about what it is like to live in this giant community 60 miles northwest of Orlando and south of Ocala. Knowing that Blechman is not yet of retirement age, and that he likes a good conspiracy, you won’t have to look too hard to find plenty of condescension plus a big dollop of smugness in his account. Bored at night, Blechman finds the latest-closing bar (at the bowling alley) and surprise, he finds the soft underbelly of The Villages. From here he gives you a vivid tour of a the more unusual sexual activities in the community – what life is like here for a transexual; the underground homosexual community; and particularly a Viagra-fueled, aging Adonis named Mr. Midnight. The character is highly amusing, that is for sure.
By now you have probably heard the titillating story that The Villages has the highest rate of STD’s in… (pick your place). We certainly hear it all the time. The truth is that this is just an unsubstantiated rumor, one that residents of The Villages get tired of hearing. Facts from FLHeathCharts.com bear that out, as you can see in the chart for Sumter County (where most of The Villages’ residents live), which shows that the County’s rates of STDs are far below the state averages. The orange bars are for Sumter County and the gray bars are for FL statewide.
One thing “Leisureville” will help you learn a lot about is the situation with the Villages Community Development Districts (CDDs) (run by the developer but which spend resident money on infrastructure) vs. the Home Owners and Property Owners Associations. The latter were set up by residents to try to protect their interests vs. the developer. The Villages’ CDDs have been in disputes with the IRS over the tax-exempt structure of those bonds.
Politically speaking, The Villages is very red (conservative), although we are sure that there are some blue folks too. Every national Republican candidate makes a point of stopping by during election time.
A much more straightforward and helpful resource for The Villages is a useful book by Ryan Erisman, the “Inside the Bubble: Unauthorized Guide to Florida’s Most Popular Community”. Ryan has also published the “Florida for Boomers- A Guide to Real Estate”. Erisman’s book should be required reading for anyone thinking about buying in TV. You will get a wealth of resources and facts about neighborhoods, costs, amenities, contracts, Home Owners Associations, and Commercial Development Districts. Ryan doesn’t have an axe to grind about The Villages. Instead he sets out to provide all the facts necessary to buy a home in The Villages – even down to the nitty gritty of Homeowners Insurance, Property Taxes, Real Estate Contracts, New Home Walkthrough Inspection, and Florida Real Estate Closings in The Villages. He also provides helpful links to everything about the place (full disclosure, Topretirements does receive a small commission on sales of this book).
Here at Topretirements we have a nice article that explains what it is like to live in The Villages, “Why The Villages Is the Best Place for Len and Ann to Retire“. The article explains how this Connecticut couple came to choose TV, buy a home there, and what daily life is like in TV for them.
Another essential resource for anyone considering moving to The Villages is Talk of the Villages (see link below). On this discussion forum you’ll get to eavesdrop on the concerns, joys, challenges, and gossip of every day life here. Spend an hour there online, it is fascinating.
For Further Reference:
Are There Alternatives to The Villages – You Bet (2 parts, East and West)
“Inside the Bubble: Unauthorized Guide to Florida’s Most Popular Community”
Wikipedia article about The Villages
Talk of the Villages Forum
Comments? Have you visited TV or did you actually retire there? Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.