August 2, 2021 — You have seen the glossy brochures and websites with photos of smiling couples relaxing by the pool, or tooling along in a golf cart. They sure make it look like everyone is having the time of their lives! In the real world, however, not everyone is looking for a community where the list of amenities goes on and on – big clubhouses, fancy golf courses, pickleball pavilions, hundreds of clubs, activity directors, marinas, etc. Although the amenities are what attract many baby boomers, many people just simply don’t want these extras, especially if it means paying for something they don’t tend to use.
That’s exactly what Pamela was looking for a few years ago when she wrote to Topretirements with this request: “Please consider writing an article for people who don’t want to live in an amenity-rich community, and how frustrating it is trying to buy a home because that’s all that is being built? I’d love your perspective on this dilemma and any suggestions you may have.” Pamela wrote a lot more to explain her issue and asked for input from us and her fellow Members. Wow, then, the Comments rolled in – 60 in all! We are going to include a representative sample of those Comments here, along with Pamela’s final thoughts after seeing what everyone one on this site had to say. In the end her question provided one of the most interesting discussions on this site of all time. We hope you enjoy it, and that it generates even more suggestions!
Members had suggestions for many communities that are either amenity-lite and/or where HOA fees are low. Note that prices quoted are now 3 years old. They also had a lot to say about builders and communities (much of it negative). Here are some of their suggestions (see link to original article and all of the Comments at end):
Nancy suggested: Have you tried looking at any developments by Mattamy Homes? I don’t know if they are in the area you are looking at, but in my area they are building a very small development with only a pool/clubhouse and it is not gated. (they build in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas)
Fred S: We’ve found a great option in Penn National, Fayetteville PA, a “Top 50” retirement community. It’s a golf community plain and simple – just a smallish clubhouse and an outdoor pool. All fees are completely a la carte.
Ella suggested “Why not just live in a regular neighborhood?
Mark is looking in the Gainesville area. There are many new developments, Tioga, Haile Plantation, Finley Woods, to name a few, with minimal amenities. The days of 55 and older only communities seem to be over with the exception of The Villages. A university town like Gainesville has much to offer but contending with the student population is a unique dynamic.
Jack lives in The VIllas in Charleston Park in Charleston, NC. We call it a “gated community without the gates”. We do have a clubhouse, pool and walking trail. None are manned (or womanned). Average maintenance fees are $250/mo. Mostly less. Homes are $200K-$250K. All have 2 car garages located behind the homes. Located in Summerville, SC. 20 minutes from downtown Charleston.
LS: EPCON Communities are worth checking out. No two are alike as they franchise their ideas and plans to local builders. There was one built in the next city over from mine. It is a small community of less than 100 units. They are single level units that are attached to another unit so there are some common walls. Outside maintenance is performed by the community and there is a small clubhouse and pool. (Note from Editor: Topretirements has about 30 Epcon communities in its database, here is one example in Chapel Hill – The Villas at Culp Arbor).
SandyZ: There are many such neighborhoods in Beaufort SC – all ages, non-gated, no amenities or additional costs – of course without security other than the town police and county sheriff dept.
Jim: New River Lakes in Wesley Chapel , Fla. No CDD and HOA of $94/mo.
Pat: Thank you for this discussion. I have been looking at the Towne Shores condominiums in Gulfport Florida. I like Gulfport because it has walkability, which is my #1 priority.
Pamela reacted to all of these great comments with this response: Thanks so much to everyone for giving such helpful suggestions and feedback about this dilemma. I’m very grateful to John Brady for publishing my article and adding his great tips. I love this site and have learned so much over the years from John’s informative posts and the responses to them.
Yes, I have looked at Mattamy and every other large builder in and around Venice and Sarasota, as well as other areas in Southwest Florida to the point of exhaustion. Even though Wesley Chapel isn’t in the vicinity of where I really want to move, Jim has me curious about New River Lakes so I’m going to check it out.
Coral Caye looks adorable online, but it’s also out of my budget because I’m looking for a price in the low $300k’s max. Even if it was in my price range, I wouldn’t consider it because it’s in a flood zone. I think it’s great that the amenities aren’t as extensive as other communities, but it still has more than I want. The fees are also higher than I want to spend ($298 monthly before build out) although it is maintenance free. It’s in the same area that I researched recently (Rotonda), where they’re also building new construction smaller homes. It’s supposedly very safe, there isn’t a gate or any amenities, and the fees are less than $200 a year. I was so excited at first that I could barely contain myself until I learned that nearly all of the Cape Haze Peninsula (which includes the Rotonda area) is in a flood zone. I’m staying away from Charlotte County period because of its low elevation and it’s surrounded by water. One realtor in Rotonda said I shouldn’t rule out an area or home just because it’s in a flood zone. I’d be interested to know what others think about this and maybe that’s the subject of another important topic John would be willing to post some day. Perhaps I should be more open minded, but I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, and I have no desire to pay for expensive flood insurance or expose myself to that risk.
Indigo’s HOA fee may be reasonable now, but you can expect that to go up when the community is at full build-out and the builder is no longer subsidizing the upkeep. What that will be is anybody’s guess. I think the lack of full disclosure in all of these communities should be against the law because people have budgets, and many will have to eventually move when they realize what the fees will ultimately be. Indigo is in Lakewood Ranch, which could eventually have more than 30,000 households at build out. There are always other fees associated with these large master-planned communities in addition to just the individual neighborhoods themselves.
The ONE community I found that was as close as I could find to what I wanted was Keyway Place in Englewood, Florida, but they’re built out now. I currently own my own pool that I never use, which is one of the main reasons I’m going to sell my house, so I really didn’t want the small community pool or cabana either. However, I would have compromised considering the circumstances, but I just couldn’t live with the road noise so this was yet another disappointment.
I felt so desperate at one point that I called one of the County Planners to find out why they only approve amenity-rich communities. My guess is it’s because amenities generate a lot of additional tax revenue. I’ve also complained to every new construction community I’ve been to and even called some corporate offices of national builders that build where I want to live to ask why they’re not building simple and regular neighborhoods like they used to build. Everyone claims that all other baby boomers on the planet don’t want to live where there isn’t a gate and endless amenities, and that my requirements are rare. Obviously, the comments on this article show otherwise. One of the builder’s reps even admitted that they plan on at least 50% of the homeowners not using the amenities. There have been times that I almost gave in and purchased in one of these newer communities thinking that I must be missing something. I’m glad I always force myself back to reality, but here I sit in my house that I’ve wanted to sell for a few years.
Like Jennifer, I’m single and want to feel secure. However, I currently live in a gated community with 24-hour guards at two gates. While I’ve always felt safe here, living in this type of environment doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have security issues. In fact, someone’s car window was recently smashed and her purse was taken from her back seat at the country club, and another person’s briefcase was stolen from his car. The police officer stated that there have been several break-ins in our area over the last two weeks. Countless residents have complained that they’ve often seen many cars just tailgate in behind residents and that it’s not a secure system. This is exactly why I no longer want to pay for a gate. If people want to get in, they’ll find a way. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it can and does happen.
Having my lawn maintained as part of the HOA fee would be nice, but it isn’t my top priority. There are very few new construction communities that include lawn maintenance so you’re paying to have your yard maintained in addition to the thousands of dollars a year for amenities. I’d be very happy if I could find a new home in a regular neighborhood where I pay a small annual HOA fee for management services to make sure I don’t have a hot mess living next to me, and I’ll pay someone to maintain my lawn.
While I’d love a 55+ community, I’m not even necessarily thinking of this as a retirement home although that’s what it would end up being. I’m just simply trying to find a home in a community I truly want to buy in period.
My biggest issue is that I have a strong aversion to paying thousands of dollars a year in HOA dues for fancy amenities that I feel aren’t necessary. I’m in my late 50’s, but I’d feel the same way regardless of my age. There are so many free festivals and fun events going on all the time across every county in Florida, and there are other ways of meeting people who have the same interests as you like on Meetup.com, etc.
Unless there are other ideas that pop up or something doesn’t change in the very near future, I guess I’ll finally have to concede and be forced to decide which option I hate the least between the two evils I’m faced with! I think I hate buying an older resale home that doesn’t have any amenities or a gate less than I hate paying outrageous sums of money every year in HOA fees for amenities. Obviously a third option would be to rent, which I’m also opposed to and haven’t done in a couple decades.
I truly am grateful to the members who took the time to provide their feedback. My hope is that there will be even more people who will respond and the executives who work for these national builders will see this. Maybe then they’ll start making some changes to accommodate everyone’s needs.
Bottom line: There is a big divide between people who want a bare bones, low HOA fee community, and those who want the full, amenity-rich experience. Fortunately, there are communities that can work for everyone, and you can find them on this site. It might take some research, since HOA fees are not published anywhere, but the answers are there. Please share your thoughts about this topic in the Comments section below.
For further reading:
When Amenity Rich Is Not the Answer