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Let’s Grow Old Together

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Posted on: November 2017

They’re dubbed active adult, retirement and 55-plus communities – attracting millions of homeowners and tenants who left the working world behind and jumped in their golf carts to revel in resort-style activities.

Many of the residential sites are gated, showcase swimming pools and tennis courts and include homes in the mid-six figures to more than $1 million. Some of the nation's largest builders are involved in the business, constructing ranch homes, colonials and manufactured dwellings. The Villages, in central Florida, boasts more than 70,000 homes.

They’re most common in warm weather climates but also grace major metro areas. “If a retirement community in a place like Naples or Scottsdale just isn’t for you, maybe the big city would work,” contributing writer Vanessa Grout says in a Forbes Magazine article three years ago.

The seniors-friendly villages – geared to healthy singles and couples that typically like to socialize and take part in all sorts of amenities, are racking up business by attracting the baby boomer generation now aged 53 to 71, “who account for about a quarter of the U.S. population,” Grout says. “In the next decade, (baby boomers) will drive up the number of retiree households by about 10 million,” she says.

Industry veterans peg the launch of large scale retirement communities aimed at the more active customers with Sun City near Phoenix, which opened in 1960. Del Webb, at the time an owner of the New York Yankees, would head a company under his name that would go on to open a host of active adult areas nationwide. Today they include Sun City in Bluffton near Hilton Head Island completed less than 20 years ago, the exclusive Del Webb neighborhood in Cane Bay in Summerville, which opened in the past decade and another Del Webb community planned at Nexton, off Interstate 26 in eastern Summerville. Pulte Group, the nation's second larger builder bought Del Webb in the 2000s. Jensen Communities, founded in Connecticut before World War II, develops appealing pre-fab housing communities nationwide including Southern Palms fashioned around a lake in Ladson.

Other big players are K. Hovnanian Homes, which opened an active adult community in the Lakes at Cane Bay; Florida based Kolter Homes, which opened the 55-plus village Cresswind Charleston; Robson Communities; Shea Homes; Toll Brothers; and Lennar, according to Investopedia.

Grout in 2014 penned “Rules To Live By When Buying Into A Retirement Community.”

Her tips include:

• Get to know the characters. Seniors house hunters should learn about their neighbors and grasp the community’s personality.

• Check out the medical care. Not all communities have on-site health centers, and hospitals could be a good distance away. “Remote upscale communities should be equipped with a helipad for airlift,” she says.

• Factor in local tax rates. Income, property and estate taxes are all important to consider. Florida, Wyoming and Texas offer “great income-tax advantages,” but property taxes can be high she says.

• Time your buy to get the best price. Typically, purchase a home after the region’s peak visitor season. If that's too early, “consider buying the home and renting to another retiree,” Grout says.

• Study the community financials. Some retirement communities were hard hit in the late 2000s recession, so be ready to review the homeowners’ association financial records or check for liens and foreclosures.

• Explore “membership.” There may be club memberships, annual dues or a mandatory equity ownership. “This investment may run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet its appreciation and resale value can be uncertain,” she says.

• Scrutinize the activity calendar. “In most cases, there are the country club staples – golf, tennis, swimming. But some of the most popular activities for retirees these days may sound foreign to you. Pickleball, for example, is played with paddles on what looks like a badminton court. Bocce, the Italian lawn-bowling game, is also hot, primarily because it can be played with a drink in one hand,” the contributor says.

• Research the restrictions. Pets may be one ban, another outdoor grilling. According to Grout, “You may not even be allowed to talk on your balcony after dark.”

• Consider the caretakers. “Home-watch services are common offerings in high-end communities. Some visit 200 to 300 homes per month and charge $50-$100 to open and close the house and make sure your lights, air conditioning and pool pump are working,” she says.

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