home icon

Putting a Youthful Spin on 55-Plus Communities

Forget age restrictions — new retirement developments are ‘ageless’

By Amy Hoak | MarketWatch | August 25, 2014

Only a sliver of the aging population has an interest in moving to an age-qualified community. Research shows that many Americans would rather spend their retirement years in the communities they’re already in — a trend referred to as “aging in place.” That’s why developers catering to home buyers 55 and older are building planned communities geared toward residents of all ages.

These “ageless” communities accommodate everyone, but with “thoughtful attention to the 50-plus consumer,” said Helen Foster, owner of Foster Strategy and a participant in a panel discussion at the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) fall meeting in Chicago.

(MORE: How the Village Movement Can Help You Age in Place)
 
Panelists called this new trend “inter-generationalism,” and provided a couple of examples.

In California’s Orange County, there’s Rancho Mission Viejo, a 23,000-acre ranch with agricultural and grazing lands, a habitat sanctuary and most recently, a new village, Sendero. Amenities in Sendero include parks, a marketplace, trails, recreational facilities and a farm and community garden. A portion of the homes there are for buyers of any age, but there’s also a gated community specifically for the 55-and-older set.
 
In Seattle, there’s Merrill Gardens, an independent and assisted living community that shares a courtyard and amenities with non-age-restricted apartments. Proximity to the University of Washington and downtown Seattle are particularly strong draws for all residents.

But in a way, these developments are just trying to imitate existing urban communities that have already matured over decades to become multigenerational, said John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow with ULI.

He lives in a multigenerational community himself. "It's called Brooklyn, N.Y.," McIlwain said.

Interest in Intergenerational Communities

There are many reasons for the appeal of neighborhoods where moms pushing baby buggies intermingle with older residents steering motorized wheelchairs, McIlwain said. And as boomers get older, we'll likely see more of this.

For one: “We’re seeing signs that a larger percentage of boomers don’t want to be isolated,” he said.
 
According to research from AARP, nearly 90 percent of people over the age of 65 want to stay in their current home — and neighborhoods — for as long as possible. But for those who do seek out a community designed for older residents, they might be more apt to make a move if there are younger folks nearby. 

(MORE: Is Your Hometown a Place to Grow Old?)
 
Indeed, there’s a sort of stigma that can be associated with an age-restricted community — especially among a generation notorious for keeping a youthful perspective on life. Developers have found that it’s easier to overcome any stigma when a community is in close proximity to houses that attract younger families and singles, Foster said. 
 
Others agreed. “Age-qualified neighborhoods intermingled with all-age neighborhoods in planned communities are more attractive to 55-plus home buyers,” said Paul Johnson, senior vice president of community development for Rancho Mission Viejo. He said about half of home buyers 55 and older prefer this design, where they can have the options of mingling in the greater community with all ages or retreating into areas designated for 55 and older use only.
 
What’s In It for the Kids
 
On the flip side, there are reasons why people of the echo boomer generation (the kids of the boomers) don’t mind living in areas with a diversity of ages and incomes.
 
There’s a close emotional bond between the boomers and their kids not seen in other generations, McIlwain said. While they may not want to live under the same roof, echo boomers may find it convenient to live near their parents, perhaps so that the grandparents can help out with the grandkids.

(MORE: A Homegrown Retirement Community)
 
Also, while their boomer parents may have rebelled against authority, echo boomers are more likely to seek out opinions of those who are older than them, McIlwain said.

Livable for All Ages 
 
Of course, it’s also likely that people of all demographics are really looking for the same things when picking a place to live: neighborhood amenities, entertainment and good transportation, said William D. Pettit III, senior vice president of R.D. Merrill Company and Merrill Gardens.
 
That’s why established urban communities still hold appeal to all ages, McIlwain said. It’s also the reason why, in many ways, suburban living is being redesigned to be more citylike. 


Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch editor and columnist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @amyhoak.