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Which Has the Best Choice of Active Adult Communities – East or West

Category: Active adult communities

June 16, 2016 — We’ve been wresting with a question about active adult and 55+ communities. The question is: does one side of the of the USA have a better range, selection, and type of active and 55+ communities than the other? Does the East (from Maine to Florida and west to Wisconsin and Louisiana) offer more, or is the Western half of the country (from Kansas to Hawaii and parts North and South) the one with more interesting active adult possibilities? The obvious answer finally came to us – ask our Topretirements Members – you have a range of collective experience that is incredibly valuable! So we are asking you at the end of this article to share your point of view about the areas that provide the best options for active adult living.

Part of the reason we ask comes from the challenge we continually face in adding new active adult and 55+ communities to our database. Although it usually easy to find a community we haven’t yet reviewed in the Eastern part of the US on any given day, it is much harder to discover new or existing ones from the West. Which leads us to believe that perhaps the fence is much greener if you decide to retire somewhere in the East. But perhaps it is, as several frustrated Members have suggested, because we are just stuck in our East Coast geographic biases!

First, a few facts
We used the Advanced Search function to find out just how many communities we have reviewed at Topretirements. Here is some of what we found after studying the database:

Note that by no means is our communities database complete, even with well over 3,000 reviews. There are undoubtedly developments appropriate for retirees we have missed, although after 10 years of adding to the list they are probably either on the small side or newer. Note that we have 2 newsletters that profile 3-5 different communities each week from each side of the country. You can subscribe to them here.

After looking at the facts found through our Advanced Search we can conclude a few things about this question:
1. There are a lot more active adult and 55+ communities in the eastern half of the country than the west (2040 vs. 1160).

Laguna Woods Village, a vary large active community in the West.

2. For whatever reason, the West has a much higher proportion of RV/Mobile Home communities than does the East (13% vs. 4%).
3. Although there are small differences between the two halves of the country on aspects such as Community Size, New Urban, Manufactured Homes, and Price Range – there are no major disparities.
4. Both parts of the country have a wide range of great communities to choose from. The regions do offer different types of communities based on the local topography and other factors – for example out west you will find developments laid out on former ranches, whereas in the East many are situated around the coast or bodies of water. Both offer mountain locations – whether it is the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Carolinas or offshoots of the Rockies in Colorado or Wyoming. If you look, however, you can find just about any type of community in any region or state because this country is so big and diverse.

We used our Advanced Search to select by State and type of community. Going into this research we predicted that the West would have more RV/Mobile Home communities. Note that some communities might have multiple types of homes, amenities, pricing, etc., so the numbers can add up to more than 100%.

1. Number. Topretirements has reviews of approximately 2040 communities in the Eastern part of the U.S., and 1160 in the West. That’s almost a 2 to 1 ratio in favor of the “Right” coast (sorry, no disparagement intended).

2. Size: In the East about 280 of those 2040 communities have more than 1,000 units (14%). In the West there are 186 or so communities of that size (16%). Clearly both sections of the country have a fair number of very large communities, with the share of large ones slightly higher in the west, possibly because there is more room to build. See our related article series, “Does the Villages in FL Have Any Equivalent Competitors” (there is an East Coast and a West Coast edition).

3. Type of community
RV/Mobile Home Communities. These type of communities often provide the best value for the money in terms of prices and amenities offered, although they are not for people looking for a more traditional setup or more privacy. In the East 80 are RV/Mobile Home communities, or about 4% of the total. Out West we have 150 RV/Mobile Home communities (just under 13%). Arizona alone has 65 communities of this type.

La Hacienda RV Resort in Apache Junction, AZ

Manufactured Homes. There are 260 Manufactured home communities in the Eastern component of our database (13%), vs. 122 in the West (10%); roughly the same proportion as in the West.

New Urban/Master Planned. There are 160 New Urban/Master Planned communities back East (8%), very proportionate to the 106 out West (9%). Note that there is a lot of flexibility in exactly what developers mean whey they claim they are New Urban/Master Planned communities.

One National Harbor – a New Urban Community

Pricing. In the East Topretirements has 500 communities that say they are “lower priced” (25%), and 670 that are “luxury” (33%). That compares to over 300 in the Western component of our database that claim to be “lower priced” (26%), and 330 that are “luxury” (28%) .

55+ or Age Restricted. The Eastern communities we have listed include 1150 that are 55+ plus or age restricted (56%), vs. over 700 that are 55+ or age restricted (60%).

Traditions at Bella Casa in Apex, NC offers plans for multiple generations to live under one roof

Distribution by State. Florida has active adult and 55+ communities than any other state – we have over 300 in our database. There are 220 in North Carolina and 170 in South Carolina. That compares to the Western states with the most communities – Arizona and California each has 250 and Colorado has 85.
The whole active adult community movement got started in Arizona at

Sun City – the Original!

Sun City.

Popularity. Looking at the annual Topretirements report on the 100 most popular active communities for 2015, the Eastern part of the country cleaned up. Fearrington Village (NC) was #1 and The Villages (FL) were runaway favorites. Only 2 Western communities penetrated the top 10, and they were #7 Talking Rock in Prescott, AZ and #10 Silver Sage Village in Boulder, CO.

Most of the relatively few communities on this top 100 list from the West were in Arizona, like Montesa at Gold Canyon, or Colorado like Sunflower.


Bottom line
All in all there are not too many big differences between the communities offered in the East vs. the West. The greatest is why there are relatively few communities available in the West. Why is that – because westerners don’t want this kind of living experience, they don’t have to escape a hostile winter climate, or whatever? We urge our members to explore as much of the country as they can, because there are wonderful communities to be discovered in every part of it. How else will you be able to find the one that is perfect for you? Here is where you can find our complete list of active communities by state.

Comments? What have been your experiences – have you explored communities both in the West and the East? Do you see differences in the types, range of builders (big vs. small, high end vs. low end, amenities, environment etc.?) If you know of communities that we don’t have reviews of, or that other folks should explore, please please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading
100 Most Popular Active Communities – 2015
Does the Villages Have Any Competitors (2 part series – East and West)
Is an Active Community Right for You

Posted by Admin on June 14th, 2016


  1. I’m in Southern California. Last summer I visited several brand new 55+ communities in Orange County. Many of them are not listed in your database of 55+ communities perhaps because they’re fairly new, and I assume they were not counted in your survey. The prices of these new homes are relatively high, ranging from $400k-$800k, so that only those who have a large amount saved can afford to live in those communities. Also, Calif. doesn’t offer many advantages to retirees, and the high cost of living, among other things, is a big turnoff. However, these communities are being constructed and people are buying the homes so there are definitely retirees interested in living here. But it’s less costly to live in NC or FL so I can see how people with fixed incomes might prefer to retire in those states. (I can only speak for California communities as I have not visited any other communities outside of this state.)

    by libran — June 15, 2016

  2. To Libran

    I would be interested in looking at these 55 and over communities in Southern California. Any websites or information you can provide me would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you


    by Guy — June 16, 2016

  3. Be careful about getting into one of these communities because the annual dues and sporadic assessments can cost a lot of money. Many of them have an automatic HOA fee increase every year and you may have no say in the matter.
    Also, if you don’t mind having to pay for permission prior to doing just about anything in your yard to to the exterior of your home, then you’ll be in good company. However, if you prefer to have your yard and home tastefully maintained according to your preferences these types of communities are probably not for you. For instance, some of them even go so far as dictating the brand of heating and cooling units and hot water heaters you can buy, and even then you still have to pay a fee for getting permission from the HOA, but there’s more; once installed you can expect a visit from the HOA committee member that oversees this ridiculous rule just to ensure compliance.
    Definition of HOA: Hording Our Assets!

    by Denny — June 16, 2016

  4. Pardon me while I choke–just went to the Talking Rock site and the Silver Sage website. ROFL!! The lowest priced unit in Talking Rock “starts” at 350K and the only available unit in Boulder is 799K. Sheese.

    by Donna — June 16, 2016

  5. There are plenty of affordable communities across the country (and many that are not!). Using our Advanced Search we find 300 “lower cost” communities in Florida alone – many where existing homes can be purchased for less than $50,000 ! Obviously, the nicer the community, the more you will have to pay for the privilege.

    by Admin — June 16, 2016

  6. I love California and lived there 16 years, before moving to AZ. I have lived in Orange County, it is expensive and congested. I looked at places there and other areas prior to moving, finding out homeowners fees, and real estates taxes would be higher than where I live now. Fortunately I still have family and friends there and go back often to visit…but i love my house here, the people I meet, and the lower cost of living. That’s my experience, and of course it depends on what you can afford. I wanted more spendable cash to enjoy doing things and enjoying my life now that I have the free time.

    by Loralea — June 16, 2016

  7. Hi Loralea, Which community in AZ did you choose and how do you like it? It sounds like you like it very much. My wife and I are taking a trip from the east coast out to AZ to stay and visit 3 different communities out there.


    by Rob S. — June 16, 2016

  8. Guy, I visited new construction homes as well as 55+ communities in Orange County. I don’t have their websites, but for 55+ communities here are the names and the builders in Rancho Mission Viejo:
    Vireo by Wm Lyon
    Avocet by Std Pacific
    Cortesa by Shea
    Alondra by Shea
    In Brea Del Webb will be building a 55+ community call Buena Vida. Homes start a mid-$600k

    by libran — June 16, 2016

  9. I always LOL when I read an article that says affordable! over $100,000 for many retired folks is not affordable! $100,000 and under is affordable!

    For other folks that may not be affordable. The admin is correct regarding affordable deals out there but you will need to make sacrifices. Do your research and find something you can afford and be ready to settle for less.

    by Skip P — June 17, 2016

  10. Loralea I love California too and live in Hemet which is very inexpensive. California may be expensive for folks with large incomes but for us average folks its great. They have a lot of benefits for senior citizens. I will hate to leave this ideal weather to go back East to my family but the day is coming. I have put our website on several times but have had no comments on it.

    by Ellen Brantley Bettis — June 17, 2016

  11. I wonder if the difference in the number of communities East vs. West has to do with population. A quick search seemed to come up with 70% of US population in the East and 30% in the West so it would seem reasonable that there are more retirement communities in the East.

    by Susan Andersen — June 18, 2016

  12. I live in a house I own now, and the attendant costs of home ownership is what is troubling me as a future expense: water bills from the pool and landscaping (and their care), upkeep of the pool (which I love), electricity costs of heating and cooling an entire house- the majority of which I really don’t even use. Perhaps I’m wrong to think that such a community would be cheaper: perhaps the HOA costs would outstrip the utilities and upkeep I now pay? (and I would have no say or control over the HOA costs either)

    Does anyone know of a 55+ community (non-mobile home) ANYWHERE that offers the option of apartments, condos, or casitas instead, or in addition to, single family homes? It would certainly bring more profit with more homes per acre and they could be just as tasteful as the rest of the private home community. I recently happened to come across a little gated group of about 24 small-ish dwellings gathered around a little common courtyard here in Sun City West (AZ), that was just charming. These courtyard neighborhoods scattered about in an upscale 55* community could be just as attractive and desirable as the rest of the homes, while offering more affordable housing options for singles or others who just don’t want the costs or care of an entire house. Why do we have to have a whole house or Nothing, in a 55* community???

    I wish I could develop a little courtyard neighborhood myself: I’m sure it would quickly sell out!! Anyone else interested?

    by Anne — June 19, 2016

  13. Anne, The Villages have courtyard villas, is that what you mean?

    by Art Bonds — June 19, 2016

  14. Art, I just checked out the courtyard villas per your suggestion and it seems the only way they resemble what I’m looking for is the name. The smallest of them, even the smallest of the smaller patio homes, is still larger than my present home of 1550 sq ft. ! And they look the same as a normal single family home on any street, not gathered around and sharing a common little private courtyard. Thanks anyway for the suggestion.

    by Anne — June 19, 2016

  15. OK, just trying to get an idea of what you were looking for.

    You mentioned Sun City West. I see in both SCW and the original Sun City they have ‘apartments’ homes that share common walls that surround a courtyard. On an example of this is 12718 W Maplewood Dr, Sun City West, AZ 85375 and 14223 N Palm Ridge Dr W, Sun City, AZ 85351 (I think you can use the address to look it up). However, these are “full sized” houses also, 1200 to 1500 sq ft..If it is neither, can you post an address or at least a street name so I can zoom in on it with Google Maps? You’ve piqued my curiosity.

    Are you looking for small home villages, like these?

    To me these small home communities resemble park model (RV) homes, the ones you would find where you buy the RV and then usually rent the underlying lot.

    by Art Bonds — June 20, 2016

  16. Anne – I recall reading about a small community in Port Townsend WA a few years back. I think this is it – see link.
    BTW – we did visit this small seaport town during a trip and fell in love with it. Ferry service to Seattle and other islands too.

    by Joann — June 20, 2016

  17. This Comment from Sally from another Post is being reposted here because it fits the subject better:

    Does anyone have a recommendation regarding great quilting, fiber and textile art groups in communities? I am a fabric artist who would like to find facilities and like minded folks in a retirement setting. Thus far, have looked at Quail Creek, AZ that has a fabulous art facility, but may not be exactly the best fit for us. Interested in Texas (Austin area or Hill country?), or some of the lesser priced areas near the WA coast (VAncouver?) or maybe one of the newer communities near Las Vegas. If anyone has any comments on their experiences looking for the same, please post! Thanks.

    by Admin — June 20, 2016

  18. Anne, I to am looking for a community like you are describing, but in either WA, OR, or ID.

    by Vickie — June 20, 2016

  19. In looking on Zillow for the homes Art mentioned, I also came across this one at 10029 W Hutton Dr,
    Sun City, AZ 85351 for just $105,000 that seems in better condition than some of the others (besides Art’s) that I looked at online. So the question remains, if courtyard communities were built back in the 60-70’s, why can’t they be built now in new 55+ developments??

    by Anne — June 21, 2016

  20. Hi Anne, I see what you are calling ‘courtyard’ now. If you look at the Southeast corner of W Bolero Drive and N 136th Ave in Sun City West there are good examples. These are 5- and 6-plex town houses with front entrances and rear back door/garages. One of them alone is nothing more than a 5/6-plex town house (you can see one that faces N 136th and others that face W Aleppo just to the South), but take two of them, face each other and put a fence at each end with an alley in back and you have a courtyard community (like the ones just to the East of the first one).
    Seems easy enough to do, as to why they don’t… you’ve got me. I personally like the idea. I would love to build a larger 55+ community with amenities (rec center, indoor pool, pickleball courts, the standard stuff) here between Bristol and Johnson City, maybe near the Tri-Cities Airport. Maybe a mixture of condos, Tiny Houses, smaller single family homes (2 BR, 2 bath, <1000 sq ft) and town houses in a courtyard arrangement like in SCW and Sun City. Maybe throw in a few "upscale" (in other words "normal" ) home areas.
    Unfortunately I suffer from that ancient Hawaiian disease, Lacka Moolah. If you ever come across somebody with an extra 10 or 20 million in seed capital laying around, send her my way. 😉

    by Art Bonds — June 21, 2016

  21. My wife and I are on our way to New Mexico for our final look/see; the Albuquerque area specifically because we want the four seasons as we hail from Long Island, NY. The active community selection is limited to just four. Del Webb has two of these the other two are one offs. We have visited all of them and only one of the Del Webb communities has the usual activities associated with these types of communities as the other Webb property is too new. The other independent community; Jubilee; in Los Lunas (20 miles South of Albuquerque) is very well equipped. The other independent in Belen (25 miles South of Albuquerque) is an older established community made up of manufactured homes with plenty of RV parking catering mostly; but not exclusively; to those travelers needing a home base. A very nice community as well.

    by Basil — June 22, 2016

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