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How to Find the Right Active Adult Community

What to consider when determining if it’s right for you


What is an active adult or active lifestyle community (the terms are interchangeable), and is it right for you?

An active adult community “is not different than any other planned community except there is an age requirement,” said Margaret A. Wylde, president and CEO of the ProMatura Group, an Oxford, Miss.-based market research firm specializing in older adults.

Most of these communities require residents to be over 55, though some set the bar at age 62 and up. Another requirement: 80 percent of the residences must be occupied by those in the specified age bracket, as regulated by the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Housing for Older Persons Act. Most of active adult housing — 85 to 90 percent — is single-family homes with 15 percent condominiums or rental apartments.

Typically, active adult communities attract people aged 60 to 65, some retired and some still working but thinking about retirement. Ninety-five percent purchase their homes or condominiums, cook their own meals and have the option to participate in group activities at a clubhouse or community center.

Often, people who choose an active adult community are downsizing and want a place where they will have amenities and limited work, such as lawn care and snow shoveling.

What Active Adult Living Is Not

The active adult concept is often confused with a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), but the two have significant differences. CCRCs offer a “tiered approach” with independent living, assisted living, often some type of nursing care and, sometimes, a separate Alzheimer’s wing, said Susanne Matthiesen, managing director of aging services at CARF International, a Tucson-based accreditor of services for older people.

Are you the kind of person who is looking to be in a community with peers? Look at the culture of the place; some are tied to universities.

— Susanne Matthiesen, CARF International

The average age of entering independent living is 82, said Wylde, compared with 60 to 65 for an active adult or active lifestyle community.

The key difference between an active adult community and independent living in a continuing care retirement community is active adult communities typically do not offer any centralized dining options or health care options, Matthiesen said.

Find The Right Place

How do you know if an active adult community is right for you? Each is different in what it offers and its overall feel, so ask exactly which amenities, services and activities are included in a monthly homeowners’ association fee. Are clubhouse, pool, fitness center and art classes included or are there any add-on fees?

Also know what you prefer. “Are you the kind of person who is looking to be in a community with peers? Look at the culture of the place. Some are vital; some are tied to universities. Look at the culture of the organization, the demographic,” she said. “Is it vibrant and active?”

A community naturally ages, so keep that in mind when considering different communities. Visit several places in the area you are interested in and seek out friends or people you know who live in the community to find out what you can about the atmosphere.

Be honest about what appeals to you in day-to-day living in terms of amount of privacy, community activities and neighbors. If you prefer living in the home you have lived in for many years, a community of any kind may not be for you. Think about how you want to live your life as you age. Ask yourself how you envision your life from today forward, whether you are 60, 65, 70 or beyond.

What Can You Afford?

Evaluate your finances and expected future income to determine which, if any, communities you can comfortably afford. Prices vary by region and size of the home. For, example, at Symphony Village, an active adult community in Centreville, Md., homes ranged from the low $300,000s to $500,000 in the past year.

Because it’s a major decision and investment, visit the communities several times, Matthiesen said. Determine how fiscally sound the community is overall. Ask to see the organization’s most recent audit or annual financial report, and speak to the person in charge of the financial side of the operation, rather than solely relying on a marketing person.

Every community has its rules, and age-restricted communities have federal and, sometimes, state regulations that determine the composition of the residents. A disclosure packet for the community will detail such items as the hours a clubhouse or pool is open to those under 18, typically the grandchildren of residents. Usually, the by-laws for the community are given to new owners. As a prospective owner, ask to see the by-laws or inquire about any rules that may affect your life in the community.

Even if you’re still driving, evaluate transportation alternatives to basic services such as supermarkets, drug stores, hardware stores, restaurants and arts and cultural activities. If you continue to live in the community past 80 or 85, shuttle buses or other transportation will increase the time you can comfortably enjoy your new home.

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