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Pros and Cons: Should You Buy in a New or an Established Active Community

Category: Active adult communities

August 19, 2011 — You are in the active adult community’s sales office, pen in hand and ready to sign. You’ve toured multiple active communities and you just know this is the one. The unit you’ve fallen for is just being framed now; there is still time to put some custom touches in, like built-ins for the room you would rather have as an office than bedroom. All the amenities are right, and so is the price. This could just the moment when panic might set in – “why am I buying a new unit in this new community when right down the road I could pick up a comparable unit (albeit with a few miles on it) in a community that’s been around for 10 years or so.” A similar, but less complex conundrum is whether to buy new or used in the same community.

This article will explore the former question- are you better off buying a home in a new development or an existing one. What are the pros and cons of each, and what might you trade off with each choice? Given the complexity of the topic we are sure we will not cover every important issue in this pro and con format. Luckily, we know we can count on our experienced members to fill in the blanks with their astute observations in the Comments section below.

Pros of Buying in a New Community
Overall: You are starting off fresh
– All the units are shiny and new
– The amenities are up to date (pickleball instead of shuffleboard, kayaks instead of golf course, etc.)
– There is an experienced sales staff to help you, including possible help with financing
– You will normally get a warranty and resolution of any problems
– Many opportunities to customize your unit to just your specs
– Average age in the community might be closer to your own
– You can be reasonably confident if the developer has a solid reputation and finances.

Cons of Buying in a New Active Adult or 55+ Community
Overall: Unfortunately these days there are so many deep and treacherous waters that could await you
– Some or all amenities not built out yet, if they ever will be
– The transition from developer-managed to HOA-managed can be rocky

– There is no guarantee that vacant lots and unsold homes will sell in a timely fashion
– Uncertain finances – does the developer have the resources to finish the job, and what liabilities and obligations might pass to new owners? What sinking funds have been set up?
– The community could change direction before it’s finished. For example, the developer might change from single family homes to condos. Or, it could be sold to a new developer with a different vision
– Uncertain future – who will own the common facilities and amenities, and under what terms?
– You will pay more for a comparable resale unit
– What an inexperienced HOA doesn’t know about finances, establishing rules, procedures, and management could sink your new community. Consider Trade Finance UK professionals services.

Pros of Buying in an Established 55+ or Active Community
Overall: The biggest advantage is you get to evaluate the community’s track record
– You can examine the state of their finances (sinking funds, past expenditures, budgets, etc.)
– Foreclosure information and dues delinquency information is available
– You’ll know if the amenities are built and open and running the way you want them to
– You can read what the HOA rules are, and how they are enforced
– You can determine if the HOA is well managed
– There are plenty of neighbors to meet so you can get a feel for the community
– Will probably get better value for your dollar by buying a resale than in a new community

Cons of Buying in Established Community
Overall: What you see is all you are going to get
– Your unit will probably not be new – retrofitting to your preferences will be limited and expensive
– The longer the community has been around, the higher the average age of your neighbors
– Compared to a newer community, it might not have the latest and greatest in amenities
– The community has been shaped; it will be hard for you to influence its direction
– Expensive and contentious repairs are waiting to happen: roads, elevators, roofs, painting, structural problems, clubhouse improvements, etc.
– Even very established active communities can still get new problems. The Villages in Florida has been around for years, but there are still issues to be resolved about the status of its tax-free bonds and the fees paid to the developer.

For Further Reference:
10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy in an Active Adult Community
What Sandy Learned from 8 Years of Visiting Active Adult Communities
100 Most Popular Active Communities: 2011

What could you add? Would you rather live in a new, or an established active community? Do you see different pros and cons? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on August 20th, 2011


  1. Great article – thanks for tackling this issue. When looking for a retirement home be sure to contact a Seniors Real Estate Specialist who is familiar with the specific communities you are considering. Developers will often offer special deals to Realtors who bring buyers to a new construction community and these incentives can be result in great deals for the buyer! Also, we make it a point to know the history of the builders and development phases in a community. That way, when buyers are considering existing construction we can take that into consideration when determining our offer price.

    In the Austin/Central Texas area the quality of new construction has really improved over the last few years as builders have realized that the retirement buyer has high standards. I’ve been happpy to see this improvement across all price ranges, not just the higher end. We see floor plans that are more open and condusive to entertaining, easy to maintain yards, and community amenities that allow neighbors to get to know one another socially. Let us know if you are interested in more information about retiring to the Austin area.

    by Heather Kight — August 20, 2011

  2. 😆 Great article. Many clients of our ask which is better, new or resale, and of course, if is always personal preference. There are 91 adult communities in Ocean County NJ, with a small percentage of them being new construction. Thanks for putting that article out there. It will help many buyers.

    by nancy muldowney — August 20, 2011

  3. Good article; I’ll be really interested to read comments from those who have already made the move to an active adult community. So far, I’ve only looked at one, a new community in Arizona. I loved the houses, but had concerns about how far it was from cultural activities and whether it will eventually get built out with the economy the way it is. I think the pros and cons listed in your article will be really helpful.

    by Liz Hull — August 20, 2011

  4. Great article! If buying in a new community, find one where they built the pool and other amenities first. Don’t take a chance on “We’ll have a pool after all the lots are built out!”

    by Shirley Kappa — August 20, 2011

  5. Every time I read a new article, I swear it’s got the best advice for those of us preparing to retire. And then another blockbuster like this one comes out. This great community has the most appropriate advice-constantly. Keep it coming- we love it. :mrgreen:

    Editor’s comment: thank you ver24x! We are blushing. That folks like you find our work helpful is so gratifying, makes us very happy!

    by Ver24x — August 21, 2011

  6. How do we find a senior real estate specialist????

    by elizabeth janicki — August 21, 2011

  7. Elizabeth (et al), SRES seems to be a designation created by the Natl. Assoc. of Realtors. I did a google search on SRES and the full term. Do so, you will find ways to locate them … or one can merely click on Heather’s name … she is one! Which brings me to something I’ve mentioned before (and will continue to do so) … due to no “fault” of this forum’s creator, realtors LURK here (and MANY other sites … just as car sales people do on auto enthusiast sites, etc. etc.). PLEASE, remember that these people make their livings SELLING to you and me … i.e., caveat emptor!!!!! And for time share sales people … CAVEAT EMPTOR X infinity!!!!!! 😉 That doess NOT mean that one will not find good, honest, even caring people in any field … just that one finds fewer of them in some areas of work … or so it seems. BTW, the article itself is GREAT … as is this whole forum … as are all of us sharing honest opinions and trying to help each other.P.S., if you read something by sommeone, meet them at a development, on vacation, whatver, and you get a GLOWING recommendation on ANYTHING, you can always ask if the person has any connection with that item or place. Yes, it’s terrible to have to doubt the intentions of others, but better safe than sorry. Sorry for all of these cliches, but we all learned them. Also, read AARP Magazine (Sept/Oct 2011), “Our Own Worst Enemies” concerning older people scamming other seniors! I have no business relationshio with AARP other than being a member … and one can usually find their magazine in a public library without being a member … good info … though I shy from the meds and insurance advertised (they just sell their name or space in the mag to these firms … no representation by AARP as to quality … i.e., still caveat emptor).
    Enjoy the journey!

    by The Mad Monk — August 22, 2011

  8. Mad monk makes some great comments as usual. With respect to professionals who visit topretirements and comment here and there. We welcome them and appreciate the insight and expertise they bring to many areas. Most are respectful and don’t cross the line into self-promotion. Those that do will be edited down or at worse, banned. But helpful comments are always welcome – if they ultimately result in some benefit for the poster, it would be deserved.

    by Admin — August 22, 2011

  9. Down sizing kids are gone its time to remember why you got married …before kids should we go into a active adult community new or old or a smaller house (town house), attached or stand alone but smaller

    by scott — August 22, 2011

  10. Which is less expensive: Move to a warm climate permanently (Florida) or stay in New Jersey and be snow birds?


    by Caryn — March 12, 2012

  11. We looked in Florida and liked it, but wanted to stay in New York near our children. We also looked in Pennsylvania and found that we didn’t like it and the houses were not built as well as they could have been. We found a wonderful, affordable community in New York and absolutely love it! It is a new community that started developing five years ago and got caught in the housing downslide. It was bought out by a very strong and reputable builder. Even the people who got caught in the downslide and were in the process of building were lucky with no problems because this builder took care of everything. We checked out anything you can think of and are so happy with every aspect of the building process and the people in the community. Community is more than half complete and homes are being sold very quickly now. I cannot say enough about it – the builder, community and the people who live there. Although it is in New York, it is less expensive than many Florida communities we were interested in that had extremely high HOA fees. …. Our taxes in N.Y. are UNDER $4,000. and the HOA’s are now $140.00 and will be $198.00. The club house is great, like a Florida clubhouse… there is an indoor/outdoor pool, people are great… and we love the area….. It is in Wallkill, New York – lots of shopping and plays in the area. Houses start at $235,000. What I love about it is you are responsible for YOUR house – so down the line if you need a roof, you do your own shopping and price comparisions. The community takes care of the mowing and gardening and snow removal up to your front door. We visited there, at least, 30 times prior to buying, met with builder, project manager and every time we went there and spoke to people, we liked it more and more. It is a very active community, but you can participate as much or as little as you would like. Check out Wildflowers, Wallkill, New York – …if we want to vacation in Florida or anywhere else, we will… but I love the fact I can afford to stay in New York. Jackie

    by Jackie — March 14, 2012

  12. Sometimes, if people have already established their circle of friends, it’s tougher for new people to break into an established community. On the other hand, an established community often has nicer landscaping since it’s had time to mature.
    Jan Cullinane, The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale)…..and no, I’m NOT a realtor 🙂

    by Jan Cullinane — March 15, 2012

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