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When Amenity-Lite Is the Answer

Category: Active adult communities

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!

Amenity-lite 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. 

Nancy: Check out a new community called Indigo in Lakewood Ranch FL. Gated with just a few amenities, it has no CDD and reasonable HOA fee.

Ella suggested “Why not just live in a regular neighborhood?

Dan McM: Look at coralcaye.net in Placida (Englewood) Fl. It might fit her needs to a tee.

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 is 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. 

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

Posted by Admin on August 1st, 2021

Before You Buy a Condo or Home in an Association: 4 Things You Need to Do

Category: Active adult communities

July 21, 2021 – So you managed to get lucky. It looks like you might win the bidding to buy that condo, or a home in an active adult community. But before you submit the winning offer and break out the champagne, here are 4 things you need to do first. Your new community’s financial picture deserves some extra looks, particularly in light of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, FL. A community might look healthy, but until you have examined its financial reserves you really don’t know.

This week we listened to an insightful interview on NPR with Robert Nordlund, founder and CEO of Association Reserves. An expert on reserves and the financial health of communities, he lists four things things you need to do before you invest your hard-earned money in a condo or home in a community. We have added some of our own commentary to his questions.

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Posted by Admin on July 21st, 2021

Florida Building Collapse Highlights Serious Challenges Facing Condo Boards

Category: Active adult communities

Note: We are once again grateful to Joe West of the Community Associations Network, LLC, for helping us research this topic.

July 10, 2021 — The collapse of Champlain Towers South near Miami, built in 1981, has made owners and buyers nervous. The dream of living near the ocean has been interrupted by the fear that some buildings might not be safe, and that owners’ investments could be in danger. It also highlights the problems that condo, community, and home owners associations (HOAs) face all around the country. Some 70% of homes and condos in Miami were built prior to 1970 – more than 50 years ago. Since then they have been exposed to all kinds of problems like those at Surfside – salt air and salt water incursions, rising water tables, aging concrete, and older building codes. The problems are worse along the coasts, but, like us baby boomers, even buildings far inland are not exempt from the vicissitudes of age. And who are the people who are going to have to deal with these expensive, highly technical problems – you and your condo board!

The causes of the Surfside collapse and the actions of its condo board members have been a staple of discussion in the news. The problems with the building were well known for a long time. After great struggles and almost a complete turnover of its board members, a $15 million plan was approved to correct water incursion and corrosion issues in the 167 unit building, although work had not started on it. Board members and residents fought over the expensive plan, which was going to represent a hardship for many owners. Some experts believe even those repairs might have too late, and still not have prevented the building’s collapse.

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Posted by Admin on July 9th, 2021

The 21 Most Popular Active and 55+ Communities in the Southeast

Category: Active adult communities

May 18, 2020 — The Southeast is by far the most popular region for retirement on this site. But which of the hundreds of 55 plus and active adult communities in this region attract the most attention from our Members and visitors? To find out we examined the data from the first five and one half months of 2021. Here are the most popular communities in the Southeastern states of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina (we included Alabama but no communities made the cut). Most of the winners are in Florida (15), with Georgia and South Carolina making up the rest. This article updates one we did in 2018, and complements a similar one for the Southwest: “15 Most Popular Active Adult Communities in the Southwest for 2019“.

The results are a combination of: “of course” (The Villages and several communities we have as advertisers), “head shakers” that we never expected to make this list, and some pleasant “surprises”. What was really interesting is that only seven of the communities on our 2018 list made it again this year. The winners cover a wide range – from really big (On Top of the World and Solivita), to 55+ communities within larger master planned developments (Cresswind), to special interest (Shantinakin and Nalcrest), to inexpensive manufactured home and RV communities popular with snowbirds (Lost Lakes and Jamaica Bay). Note that most, but not all, of these communities are designated 55 plus, although the majority of their residents would probably meet that qualification.

While these are the 21 most popular active adult communities on this site for these four states, they might not necessarily be the “best” for your needs. They were, however, interesting enough to beat out hundreds of other great communities. If this list does anything for you we hope it expands your horizons, showing how important it is to spread your net wide when researching active adult and 55 plus communities. There are thousands of choices that might work for you, but you won’t even find out about them unless you look around. There are many good choices awaiting you, so make a little effort and go beyond the one you or your friends know about.

The most popular 55+ communities in the Southeast

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Posted by Admin on May 17th, 2021

Where Are the Most Innovative Retirement Living Options: 10 Examples

Category: Active adult communities

March 31, 2021 — For every person who loves the idea of an active adult or 55+ community , there is probably another who loathes them. For those who do not want to live in an active community, there are several common criticisms. A big knock comes from people who don’t want to live with a bunch of old folks.  Other slams are that they are boring, cliquish, difficult for singles, and expensive.  In this article we will explore a group of a developments suitable for those 55+ that break the mold, and that take bold measures to provide retirement choices that are innovative and attractive.

At the risk of omitting dozens of other really innovative ones, here is our list of great places to retire that think out of the box. We promise to add more in the Comments section of this Blog as we come across them.

What makes these active communities so great?

Here are some of the attributes and types that make these retirement communities so innovative and desirable.

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Posted by Admin on March 31st, 2021

20 Best Active Adult Communities of 2021

Category: Active adult communities

February 23, 2021 — Want to know the active adult and 55+ communities Topretirements visitors are interested in learning about? We sure do, so we went through our user logs for the last 12 months, using them to identify the retirement communities that received the most online visits on this site. You will find the top 20 below – with many surprises mixed in with some sure things. Best of all, it is an interesting list with communities of all types from all over the country. That makes us happy, because it just not the same names all over again. Instead, there are many new communities for people to consider. Two of the winners are advertisers on this site, the rest are not.

Top 20 Active Communities for 2021

The Villages – Central Florida. Just about everybody has about this giant community. It spans 3 counties, has of over 120,000 residents, virtually every kind of amenity, and hundreds of clubs. 2000

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Posted by Admin on February 22nd, 2021

Movie Review: Some Kind of Heaven: Is More More or Is Less More?

Category: Active adult communities

By Larry Gavrich

January 29, 2021 — With 3,000 social clubs, more than 30 golf clubs, 89 swimming pools and dozens of taverns, The Villages in north central Florida does not seem like the kind of place where any residents could be depressed or bored.  But, according to a new documentary film called Some Kind of Heaven, there may be a thin line between heaven and hell in the famous – some might say “infamous” — community. 

The movie focuses on three subjects, two single people and a married couple, all four dealing with different personal demons.  An 80-something male is the instrument of his own misery, a “vagrant” living out of his van and hanging out at the community pools hoping to find a lady who will take him home and tend to his goal of a life of leisure – all expenses paid.  You likely won’t feel much sympathy for his plight; he is both cunning and conning.

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Posted by Admin on January 29th, 2021

The Villages: An Incredible Place to Retire

Category: Active adult communities

By Jackie: (This was an unsolicited contribution by one of our Members who has retired to The Villages. It is so rich in detail we thought it had to be published on its own. See bottom of article for links to other articles on The Villages).

December 27, 2020 –

“The Villages is an incredible place to retire to”.  

Jackie

I spent the first 60 years of my life visiting family and friends mostly in Key West, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tamarac, Boca, Delray, West Palm Beach, Naples, Fort Myers, Clearwater, New Port Richey, Sarasota, The Villages and Ponte Vedra. I knew 10 years ago I wanted to move to The Villages (TV), but my husband was keen on either Naples or Delray.  So about 4 1/2 years ago I decided to retire to Delray Beach after looking for a home to buy over a 5 year period. Then I stayed at my aunt’s house in The Villages for a long weekend for a family wedding. After that we decided to cancel our plans for Delray and move to the Villages instead. We have not regretted our decision.

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Posted by Admin on December 27th, 2020

What I’ve Learned about Golf Communities…and the People Who Move There

Category: Active adult communities

by Larry Gavrich

Editor’s note: Larry is a frequent contributor to discussions here at Top Retirements, and we have learned much from him. We are happy to have him today as a guest to discuss what he has learned from helping individuals and couples find the best golf community for them (even if they don’t play golf!).

After 15 years of research, visits to 150 planned communities, more than 1,000 articles and hundreds of conversations with real estate professionals, golf directors, community board members and, most of all, the hundreds of clients I have worked with to identify the best community for them, I have come to a few important conclusions. I cover them, and more, in my new book, Glorious Back Nine, How to Find Your Dream Golf Home (which I could have titled, just as well, “Not for Golfers Only” since about half of those who live in golf communities never play golf).

Here are a few of the most critical lessons I’ve learned:

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Posted by Admin on November 29th, 2020

New York Luxury Retirement: Living the High Life

Category: Active adult communities

October 20, 2020 — Jaw-dropping amenities like indoor therapy pools, art galleries, and rooftop decks overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. Lifecare options along with concierges and celebrity chefs. For those who crave the bright lights and constant stimulation of an urban retirement, many new luxury options are coming. Expensive, yes, but what an interesting lifestyle for those with the means to pay for it! After all, if you have it, why not spend some of it to get the most out of your remaining years?

Rooftop terrace at the Watermark

Retirement in a big city is not for everyone, but there is a small segment that really wants it. New York City, which has many older people but not that many senior retirement living choices, is adding a raft of them in the next year. One of the newest and fanciest is the Watermark at Brooklyn Heights. Converted from a luxury hotel built in 1928, it retains many grand features from that earlier era. For example, the former grand ballroom is now a dazzling restaurant. The Watermark community offers a full range of care from independent living to assisted living to nursing care. There are 275 units. Developers have included an amazing 50,000 sq. ft. of amenity spaces that incorporate three restaurants, a pool, and art gallery. A rooftop deck overlooks the Brooklyn Bridge. Watermark told the New York Times that it looked for 2 decades to find an urban spot like this. The reporting was in an article about “New Senior Housing Towers Coming to New York“.

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Posted by Admin on October 20th, 2020