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Social Activities, Single Floor Living, Walking Trails: 2020 Retirement Living Preference Results

Category: Active adult communities

August 18, 2020 — The results are in!

Many, many thanks to the generous 300+ Topretirements Members who took the the time to fill out our survey on retirement community preferences. Your input confirms much of our past research and offers fresh perspective on others. Once again your favorite amenity was walking trails. You also wrote in almost 200 illuminating comments – we just wish we had room to highlight every one – because they all offer a unique perspective.

Everyone has their own unique take on retirement, that much is obvious from these results. That is particularly true if you look at the 134 comments made to Question 10, “Please describe your ideal retirement community”. Here are some of the top takeaways from the survey:

-There were not many big changes in your attitudes toward active adult communities since we ran a similar survey in 2016, other than more of you are retired now.

– The vast majority of people who took this survey are much more interested in an active adult or 55+ community than a traditional neighborhood.
– Size of community is not a big factor in making a decision.
– The top desired amenities are walking trails, fitness centers, clubhouse/community center, and swimming pools. We were a bit surprised that pickleball had not moved up the list much since we last asked this question. That sport, along with golf, tennis, and shuffleboard were at the bottom of the list.
– One level living and single family homes are the runaway favorite type of retirement housing.
– Social interaction and amenities are top reasons for choosing a private community over a regular neighborhood.
– Fees and restrictions top the list of negatives for private communities
– About two-thirds of respondents have a neutral or positive view of Home Owners Associations (HOAs).

1. Retirement Status
A majority of our members and visitors are retired or partially retired – 60% retired vs. 29% not, and 11% partially retired.

2. How likely is it that you will live in an active adult, 55+, or private community in retirement?
The vast majority of respondents intend to retire to one of these communities (76% are somewhat or very likely). More than that, your minds are made up – only 6% are undecided.

Somewhat likely40%
Very likely36%
Somewhat unlikely10%
Very unlikely9%

3. Ideal size of community.
We asked about your ideal size if you intended to retire to one of these communities. It turns out size of community probably isn’t at the top of people’s minds. Some 54% seemed to think the ideal number is between 51 and 500 homes. But no one range seems ideal – quite a few folks thought less than 50 or over 1000 were OK too. As one respondent who chose “Other” said the last time we asked this question: “Size isn’t as important as the make-up of the community”.

101-250 homes20%
Less than 506%

Valencia Bay, a large 55+ community in Delray Beach, FL
Valencia Bay, a large 55+ community in Delray Beach, FL

4. Type of private communities
55+ and active adult communities are strongly preferred (65%) over all age communities. There was negligible interest for Other choices like Independent living, CCRCs, and Assisted Living facilities. Quite a few folks added comments to this question, which were interesting. Some are confused by the difference between 55+ and active adult communities, a fair question. Others are looking for communities that are close to healthcare and other infrastructure. A few would like to find a community that has a CCRC or assisted living component built in, so only one retirement move would be required. Some don’t want children around, others would prefer having them.

Write-in Comments: Here are a just of few of the interesting write-in comments to this question:

-Looking for a single family home on two levels. Must be all concrete construction (with concrete roof also) to be impervious to high winds, hurricanes, or tornadoes. Location must have natural gas available to operate permanently wired whole house generator. The home must be built much higher than street level to prevent flooding from entering the home.
I am interested in a safe home above all else.

-I want to be around young people because they keep me thinking and acting young. Being around people my age (70+) is limiting, and I want to be around people with fresh ideas and passions. 

-If available, it would also be a plus to have a CCRC component or a link to one

5. Ranking of amenities
We asked survey takers to rank 13 different amenities, plus “Other” The rankings of the top 6 are shown below. The highest ranked amenity was walking trails, closely followed by fitness center and clubhouse. The lowest ranked amenities were (in descending order): community garden, dog park, activities director, pickleball, golf course, tennis, and shuffleboard.

Walking trails1
Fitness Center2
Outdoor pool4
Indoor pool5

6. Preferred type of housing
Builders take notice: the runaway favorite type of retirement housing is one built on a single level. Traditional single family homes were in second place. Manufactured homes, apartments, and RV/Mobile Homes were ranked lowest.

Here is one interesting write-in comment:

-Single (main) floor living with Smart Space upper. Main floor having Master Bedroom, guest bedroom and study (Kitchen nook in lieu of full dining room).

Single level29%
Traditional single family25%
Tiny home2%
RV/Mobile home2%

7. Most important reason for choosing an active adult or 55+ community.
Not surprising, amenities and the social aspect of living were the highest rated reasons for choosing a private community. Particularly for people moving away from a neighborhood where they have lived a long time, having many things to do and easily meeting new friends seem like good reasons.

Write-in comments to this question tended to be looking for low maintenance, security, and access to medical and airport.

Not interested9%

8. Most important reason you would NOT be interested in a private community
The results show that the perceived negatives of living in a private community center around rules, fees, and home prices. From Comments posted here it appears many retirees don’t think that the benefits of living in a private community are worth the expense and extra restrictions, along with a loss of privacy and space.

Comments written in here concentrated on lack of privacy, space, and costs.

Home prices13%
No diversity10%

9. What is your attitude toward home owner associations (community associations)?
About 64% of respondents are neutral, favorable, or very favorable towards home owners associations. So about one third view them unfavorably, with fees and rules being the major objections.

Very unfavorable8%
No opinion4%
Very favorable3%

10. Do you think developers of private communities are producing the type of communities you want to live in during retirement? And, part 2s a and b, please describe your ideal community, has the coronavirus changed your retirement plans?
The vast majority of survey takers this question with a maybe or a yes, another positive vote for builders of retirement homes.

No opinion7%

Part a: The 132 written comments we received to the second part of this question – “describe your ideal community” – were very insightful. We went through the comments to try to categorize and quantify them. Three themes were uppermost in the respondents’ minds (in order with the # of comments shown):

  • Amenities (29)
  • Close to (town, shopping, medical, restaurants, etc. (21)
  • Social opportunities (14)
  • Single level living (10)
  • Privacy or space (10)
  • Nature/pretty surroundings (9)
  • Low maintenance (7)
  • Storage (stuff or RVs) (6)
  • Near lake or river (6)

Other desirable characteristics survey takers were looking for include: pet friendly, diversity, like-minded people, gated 55+, leasing, golf cart friendly, condos or apartments, friendly to seniors, and security.

They make for interesting reading if you have a little time. Thank you Topretirements members! Your input was so rich. We know your fellow members will find it useful.

Part b: Has the coronavirus changed your plans concerning retirement communities?

The majority of people responding to this question said the virus had not changed their thoughts about where and how to retire. Several mentioned that they had put their retirement plans on hold until the situation is resolved. And at least 4 people said their plans had changed because of it, mostly in favor of not living in an active or 55+ community. Here are 2 of those comments:

-We did consider moving and spent 2 years searching in Florida. But after experiencing shingles in the cornea of my eye and my wife’s heart issues, we decided not to unplug with our excellent health providers. Many don’t consider what it takes to reestablish an entire medical history. We did an entire renovation of our home so we can age in place.

-We wanted a condo and/or apartment ccrc until COVID-19, and now we only want single family homes in a gated community in a safe community.

Comments Please! Did this survey capture your thoughts about the attractions and negatives for private communities? Please share your reactions and other thoughts in the Comments section below!

Links to Previous Surveys

Posted by Admin on August 17th, 2020


  1. While I participated and the results are only of mild interest to me, I still think this article was rushed a bit. Too many alignment errors (on a phone) and the HOA favorability seem completely botched. As best I can see from the misaligned table, 9% said Very Unfavorable and 24% Unfavorable where the article claims only 9% Unfavorable.

    Editor’s Comment. Thanks RichPB, always appreciate you taking the time to give feedback and improve the product. Some of the titles in the tables were too long when viewed on a phone, so we have abbreviated them to line up properly. Have corrected the Favorable/unfavorable prose, you are right, about 1/3 are either unfavorable or very unfavorable. Meanwhile in a separate email Daryl noticed that somehow the link to the Comments was old, we have now fixed that. Appreciate the feedback, it helps!

    by RichPB — August 18, 2020

  2. I just cannot see one-size-fits all retirement plan. To us, it makes more sense to do things in stages. As soon as DH wasn’t able to work any more, we moved into a traditional house, in a new state, in a new region, for our initial retirement. We have plans to ultimately move into an organized Retirement Community with everything under one roof (if possible) followed by nursing or palliative care – as needed. We are now driving around the area and “shopping” (once the Virus restrictions ease up). Thus, it was hard to answer some of those questions. I will say that my parents and most of their friends moved into private Retirement Communities and wished they had done it SOONER! (before being 80+ yrs. old)

    by Flatearth6 — August 18, 2020

  3. I especially enjoyed the comments by readers describing their ideal community, and would like a follow-up question “if I knew then what I know now” from readers who have since found their happy place.

    by Daryl — August 18, 2020

  4. Agree with Flatearth6: It’s worth considering stages. I wanted my own retirement home for 65/66 to 75, but plan on doing something different when I hit mid 70s. At that point, I’m thinking of downsizing to an apartment or apartment-style condo that is much smaller. If anything, to speak to Daryl’s comment — “if I knew then what I know now…”, I would have moved into something much smaller when I retired. I chose a cluster home with a 1st floor master bedroom and a HOA that covers a lot of key services. However, I still have 2 guest bedrooms, a 2nd floor, a full basement and more. Now that I’ve retired for two years, I’ve really changed my outlook. Guests can stay in a nearby hotel! I don’t need or want to redecorate seasonally so seasonal decorations can be donated, I should have gotten rid of more work clothes immediately, should have stripped down possessions a lot sooner, etc. I don’t feel like cooking, baking, or even hostessing — so I don’t need the larger kitchen and space that I thought would be needed when I retired (I’ve learned it can be cheaper & less stressful to take my family out to dinner at a nice restaurant than to spend 3 days’ of energy and the money to prepare a feast). By the time I hit 75, I’ll probably have cut my “needs” list down to a tv, recliner & a comfy bed.

    by Kate — August 19, 2020

  5. I enjoyed (and agree with) the Flatearth6 and Kate. We too have begun retirement in stages, which makes perfect sense. At first, it was very difficult to move from our big 5 bedroom, spacious farmhouse on lovely rolling hills….to a 3 bedroom bungalow in town. Now, three years into it, I appreciate that this home is easier to clean and keep clean. When company comes, we have the fold-out couch, plus a futon and air mattresses in a finished basement. Also, yes, it is so much easier and less stressful to take family out to dinner – rather than cook a big meal. And the only season I decorate for is Christmas! I am grateful for dogs on leashes too, rather than the rather rowdy dogs out in the the country who tear out after walkers and joggers. I had been bitten once without provocation, only to find out I was this dog’s third victim, and I never trusted loose dogs again. We do miss our rolling hills, but we do not miss all the lawn-care time. Life is an adjustment from one end to the other, for sure.

    by Paula — August 19, 2020

  6. I’m right there with Flatearth6 and Kate and Paula. I answered the survey for the stage I’m in now. As time progresses I expect my wants and needs will be better met by living in a continuous care community. And I’ve heard the same thing, people wish they’d moved into those places sooner.

    by Tess — August 19, 2020

  7. Daryl has a good suggestions with, “If I knew then what I know now.” Thanks to Flatearth6, Kate, and Paula for sharing where they are now, how they arrived, and what they anticipate for the future. That makes for insightful reading.

    Would it be possible to do a survey on what things, specifically, lead retirees’ decision on which state and what town/community/city? Decision made, how satisfied are they where they chose to retire? Will they change that? If so, why and where next?

    by Shelley L Pitchford — August 19, 2020

  8. Thank you, administrators, for running this survey each year. I find it interesting and enlightening, and especially enjoy reading the participants’ comments.

    by Clyde — August 20, 2020

  9. I completely agree with the idea that retirement comes in stages — what’s right to start may either not be the right decision or may change with years and aging. Regardless, flexibility is needed.

    We chose to retire in place with a bigger house than we need now and more upkeep and maintenance than I can do at this point due to unexpected spine issues (aged wear and tear). We considered moving, downsizing but that’s where our flexibility comes in. For us, any financial advantages were out-weighed by the costs and problems with moving. We designed this house 28 years ago for retirement including low passive- solar energy costs for our very well insulated, all-electric home (though the multi-flloors was a mistake). We have adjusted our budget to include having almost all maintenance hired out (thankfully, I had just completed the last difficult upgrade before my “accident”). No major difference in cost for maintenance than having to pay significant HOA fees — our HOA fees are very small. A stair-chair is in the budget. We live in central NC, so a desirable retirement location to start. And we designed and built a home we love and do not want to compromise on despite the size and continuing costs. We can yet change our minds

    So for everyone else, it is worth considering ALL your options and realistically comparing them.

    by RichPB — August 20, 2020

  10. I seem to be opposite to many here. I’ve been spending 6 months in my small motorhome and 6 months at home. My home is a duplex. I live in one and rent the other. So home is nothing but work. I plan to sell so i can be a full time RVer with no responsibilities. I know realize i should have done that 10 years ago! 10 years of driving all the way back to Duluth, MN from AZ, NM so i can spend my time doing yard work and house repairs. Dah! The main reason was to be able to see the few friends that have chosen to remain here. Most others have scattered all over the country. Not a good enough reason anymore, especially since with Covid i have seen any of them this summer. I plan to remain on the road as long as I’m able as i enjoy the change of scenery instead of always being in one place.

    by Bob — August 23, 2020

  11. Bob – we have considered doing what you are now doing when we retire in less than two years; keeping our current home and traveling several months out of the year. We follow an RV group on Facebook with great interest.

    by Paula — August 24, 2020

  12. Paula, despite the cost rent a nice RV for 2-3 weeks before taking the plunge. We had one for a few years long before Covid and eventually decided it wasn’t for us — the reasons weren’t all about the RV and can only be discovered personally. We revisited that decision in depth recently and, while the lure of RVing is still there (especially with Covid-19, we again decided “no”. We are private people and aging does play a part. Asin any “move”, try it first before committing.

    by RichPB — August 24, 2020

  13. Agree with all the comments about retiring in stages and trying things before you go all in. Good advice! In our town I can’t believe how many condos have the master bedrooms upstairs and no elevators. What were those developers thinking! Even a great location near center of town doesn’t make up for that.

    by Rick — August 25, 2020

  14. RichPB, thank you for that tip. We also are private people, and we do like having a little corner of earth to call our own, which is why we don’t think we will sell our home and go total RV. But I think renting is totally worth it, and we may do that for a couple of months, just to try it on for size.

    by Paula — August 25, 2020

  15. Referring to what Rick said, condos not designed specifically for 55+ often do have the bedrooms upstairs (townhouses), which can be an issue as we age. Most 55+ communities have single-level living only. But if your unit is above the first floor, an elevator is a must. Not only for yourself, but for resale value.

    by Clyde — August 25, 2020

  16. I’ve always been an adventurer, travel by all means including be a live aboard cruiser in boats I built myself. Now at 71 I’m a snowbird. 6 months st my home in northern MN and 6 months on the road in my class b motorhome. I get a kick about 55+, as if you are old st 55. Elevator? I have 37 stairs to climb to get from my garage to my second floor apartment. When in public buildings I mostly choose to take the stairs over the elevator. Beside hiking i still do rock climbing too. No, I’m not blessed with amazingly good health. I have chronic pain from fibromyalgia and spinal injuries that finally ended my boating life and sent me on my RV life. But so many here seem to just think “i’m old now, so that’s it” and make plans for assisted living. Frankly, I hope to die before needing that. There is living, and then there is just being alive. Just being alive is not what i want. If I fall off a mountain at 75 that’s better than being in a nursing home at 95!

    by Bob — August 29, 2020

  17. Bob, I love your attitude! I have traveled in 107 countries and don’t intend to stop now. I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead, in the words of the original parrothead.

    by Pat — August 30, 2020

  18. Bob,

    You have a great outlook! I am with you! Adventure is the best and I love to travel and explore wherever and whenever I am able. Those places have brought amazing discoveries, wonderful memories, new friends, appreciation for my blessings and a deeper understanding. Travel is the most mind-broadening experience regardless of whether you travel simply or in more luxurious style. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It has made my life so much richer and I cannot (but I certainly will) wait to be able to travel safely again to see new places, meet new people and learn more. Best wishes!

    by Barb — August 31, 2020

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