According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76.4 million baby boomers were born between the years 1946 – 1964 – and in a few years, they’ll all be 55 or older.  With their vibrant lifestyles and dedication to health and fitness, today’s active adults are more dynamic and full of life than any generation that preceded them – so dynamic, in fact, that many are choosing to move into communities that better fit their lifestyles.  And no matter whether they’re looking to downsize or live large, enjoy retirement or move closer to work, soak up the warmth in a resort-like setting or go cosmopolitan and move to a big city, many people 55 and over are finding what they’re looking for in active adult communities.

Just like the label “senior citizens” doesn’t apply to many of today’s baby boomers, the term “retirement communities” doesn’t fit many of today’s active adult communities.  Typically, these master-planned communities are amenity-rich and well-designed, offering contemporary floor plans, features, amenities and lifestyle programs targeted specifically to the needs and interests of people 55 and better.  As one of the fastest growing segments of the housing market, active adult living communities are available at every price point, ranging from affordable communities that help retirees and soon-to-be retirees maximize fixed incomes, to luxury communities with the high-end features, fixtures, settings, amenities and extras to match. 

So, with so many options, how do you choose the right active adult community?  After all, what’s important when deciding where to buy at this stage of life is very different than what was important when you decided to buy your first home. 

“Location, overall cost of living and how the community and product designs support the resident lifestyle are among some of the most important considerations for active adult buyers,” says Judy Julison, Senior Vice President of Lifestyle Programming at FirstService Residential.  “Additionally, access to quality amenities, a robust level of programming, opportunities for volunteer and community involvement and connectivity to family, friends and social networks are other significant motivators.”

She adds that many people over 55 are still employed – in fact, in some active adult communities managed by her company, as much as 50% or more of residents may not yet have retired – so proximity to employment and public transportation options are also important factors.

“Lifestyle communities that strive to deliver on these components, providing outlets for fun, recreation, health, wellness and freedom of choice, are best positioned to attract active adult buyers and enrich the quality of lives.” she says.

Another important factor?  Costs.  The overall cost of living is another top consideration for homebuyers considering active adult communities.  So when you’re drawing up your list, don’t forget to factor in home prices, taxes, association fees, assessments and other costs at each potential community to ensure sure you’ll make a practical and affordable choice. 

So where to begin?  Start by asking satisfied friends, relatives or colleagues for referrals, speak with professionals who work with retirees, or get insights or advice from a property management company with deep active adult management experience.  But to get you started, we’ve compiled some tips to help you choose the right active adult community to meet your needs.

Location, location, location.  So nice, they repeat it thrice – yep, location is a major factor when choosing an active adult community – or actually, any type of community.  So where do you want to spend your golden years?  Are you interested in moving closer to family or friends, or possibly remain in or near your hometown?  Both are common motivators for older adults.  Or course, many people in this age group want to say goodbye to cold weather and wake up each morning in a place that’s warm and sunny – a vacation every day.  Consequently, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Nevada and California are home to a growing number of active adult communities, attracting both part-time snowbirds and full-time residents. 

But living full-time in a vacation destination is very different than enjoying a brief stay.  Sure, the beaches and restaurants are less crowded and traffic thins out, but the summers can get pretty steamy.  So if you’re thinking about becoming a year-round resident in a warm or tropical climate, here’s a tip – before you buy, rent a place in town during the summer months to make sure you can stand the heat.  And while you’re at it, check out how close you’d be to services and venues you might need or enjoy, such as doctors’ offices, medical facilities and hospitals, theaters, museums and other cultural centers, universities and colleges offering continuing education, and other places of interest.

And once you narrow down your choices, you may be able to sample some of their lifestyle experiences before making a decision.   Some active adult community home builders offer “stay and play” programs to potential homebuyers – that can include staying overnight in a model home or nearby hotel for two or three days, with temporary access to the community’s amenities and programs.  Some communities also offer prospects the opportunity to interact with current homeowners – a priceless way to get the inside scoop. 

Consider your lifestyle.  Active adult communities offer a broad range of amenities, facilities and lifestyle programs to fit their residents’ tastes, needs and budgets – everything from recreation and fitness facilities, to health and wellness programs, to educational classes, seminars and workshops, to cultural and performing arts programs, to entertainment and social activities – and everything in between. 

Popular active adult community amenities often include clubhouses, fitness centers, swimming pools, golf courses, card rooms, classrooms, walking trails, tennis courts, media centers, pickle ball courts, business centers, cafes, spas, and many more – the selection is usually driven by the overall size and scope of the community, as well as homeowner needs and interests.  In addition, some active adult communities employ on-site Lifestyle Directors charged with developing and implementing wellness, social and lifestyle programs tailored to current and future residents. 

So make a list and prioritize your interests.  Do you have special hobbies or pastimes you enjoy – or would like to try?  Are you a dedicated health and wellness buff, or perhaps a fitness newbie who wants to learn how to eat better, lose weight or quit smoking?  Do you want to expand your knowledge, acquire a new skill, meet new friends and enjoy a year-round vacation?  Depending on the community, you may be able to learn yoga or French, take a painting class, discuss politics, stocks or wine, work out or take a swim, enjoy a facial or massage, play bocce, badminton, cards or other games, attend a show or musical performance, relax by the pool, improve your tennis game or golf handicap, socialize with your neighbors at a club or community event and more.  

In addition, some 55+ communities offer on-site health and wellness facilities, spas, salons and restaurants, and if you don’t drive, be sure to find out if the community offers a shuttlebus or transportation to local supermarkets, pharmacies, shopping malls, medical facilities or other places of interest. 

And what about the floorplans?  Are they designed to make your life safer and easier?  You want to be able to age in place, so think ahead – for example, if you’re considering a walk-up or multi-story unit, remember that climbing stairs may become more challenging as you get older.  You may also be looking for a community that offers maintenance-free living or specific programs and services for residents that enable them to stay in their homes longer as they age.
Check out the neighborhood – and the neighbors.   In addition to its lifestyle activities and programs, a community’s profile is also shaped by its residents.  So whether you’re retired or still working, you may want to find a community where many residents are in the same life stage and enjoy the same types of activities you do.  Some of the larger age-restricted communities attract seniors of all ages, while others tend to skew primarily towards to the lower or upper range of the age spectrum. 

So once you find some communities that interest you, be sure to spend some time there to get a feel for their personalities and to meet some of your prospective neighbors – after all, these may be your future friends.  Are residents happy with the community and its programs?  Would they recommend it to others?  How does the community handle emergency situations?  What about security?  Does the community offer an unmanned gate, a manned guardhouse, video security, roving security patrols – and which will provide you with peace of mind? 

What about the management company?  If the community is professionally managed, is it clean and well-maintained?  Is the property manager or community association manager accessible and responsive?  And here’s another tip – if you’re considering a condo or coop community, be sure to research its by-laws and covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) before you buy to make sure you can live with its rules and limitations. 

If you’ve never been part of a condo association or homeowners association (HOA), remember, these guidelines are not there to punish you – instead, they apply equally to all residents and are designed to maintain property values, keep the community clean and beautiful, and ensure peaceful relations and harmony among all residents.  Once you move in, if you disagree with any of the community’s rules and regulations, or just have a desire to contribute something back and be involved in the decision-making processes of your Association, you can make your voice heard by attending community meetings, joining a committee or even volunteering to stand for election to a Board position. 

So be sure to check out the floorplans, the community calendar and the residents – tour often and ask lots of questions.  Once you’ve narrowed your search to a few top contenders, you may want to see if you can rent a unit in each of those communities for a short time – many active adult communities do, in fact, offer short-term rentals, which is a great way to get a feel for what it’s like to actually live there. 

With a little due diligence, you can easily narrow your search to the 55+ communities offering the right amenities, facilities, programs and features to meet your needs – and enhance your lifestyle – now and in the years to come.  For more information on lifestyle programs and active adult living, visit FirstService Residential.
Wednesday November 11, 2015