Pluses and Minuses of 55+ Communities
How we learned to stop worrying and like (if not love) the joys and challenges of living in a 55-and-over community
My husband and I sold our Connecticut home in the fall of 2020. At the time, our plan was to rent a cottage in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, while searching for a charming country home.
Alas, we moved during the height of the pandemic, when finding a decent rental was nearly impossible. So, when our realtor heard about a spacious unit in a community for people aged 55 and over, we decided to rent it, albeit with minimal enthusiasm.
With time — and much to our surprise — we began to warm to our new surroundings. Our neighbors were welcoming, the layout of the unit was ideal, and we liked not having to stress about maintaining our property when we traveled.
Pluses Outweigh Minuses
We didn't love everything (more about that in a bit) but on balance, the benefits of a 55+ community outweighed the drawbacks. Ultimately, when a unit in a prime location became available for purchase, we decided to make our temporary residence permanent.
Life in a 55+ community is not for everyone, and it is important to understand that these communities vary widely
Life in a 55+ community is not for everyone, and it is important to understand that these communities vary widely, and your experience may be very different from ours. But if you are intrigued by the idea, here are what we have found to be five joys and challenges of life in communities for older adults:
Joy #1: Community At a time when isolation is a growing problem for many retirees, it's wonderful to live in a place with a strong community feel. Just had surgery? Your neighbors will bring food for dinner. Traveling? There's always someone willing to water your plants or check on your place during your absence. It's delightful to have so many caring people living close-by.
Challenge #1: Community The flipside of having a close-knit neighborhood is that it can sometimes feel as if you live in a fishbowl. Or as my friends sometimes say, "Are we still in middle school?" If you're someone who strongly values your privacy, a 55+ community is likely not going to be your best bet.
Joy #2: Age-Friendly Living Thankfully, my husband and I are still healthy and active. But when we inevitably slow down, it's comforting to know that we will be settled in a house designed to meet our evolving needs. Like the homes in many 55+ communities, ours has a main bedroom, bathroom and washer-dryer on the first floor. At 2,400 square feet, it's big enough to comfortably accommodate large gatherings, but small enough to be manageable for years to come.
Challenge #2: Age-Friendly Living By definition, 55+ communities cater to older people (communities have different regulations regarding age-related restrictions). The repetitive "organ recitals" — slang for the litanies of health problems that can dominate some conversations — can get monotonous. We still miss the diverse perspectives, conversations and energy of life in a more multi-generational neighborhood.
Joy #3: HOA Living Our HOA (homeowners association) board members work tirelessly to ensure that the grounds and amenities are meticulously maintained. If an obnoxious neighbor throws a loud party or decides to fly a large political flag off their patio, they will intervene on your behalf.
Challenge #3: HOA Living Before buying into a 55+ community, be sure to read over the community rules. Like it or not, HOA's restrict things like what color you can paint your door, when grandchildren can use the pool and how many pets you can own. If you're someone who prefers to customize your home, or who chafes against restrictions, living under a HOA could prove problematic.
Joy #4: Plentiful Amenities Our complex includes a pool, tennis/pickleball courts and a fitness center, as well as weekly activities, clubs and special events. Having all these built-in amenities makes for a robust and budget-friendly social life. We especially enjoy meeting friends for dinner, without having to worry about driving home.
Challenge #4: Plentiful Amenities With so many things to do within your complex, it's easy to grow complacent about life outside the bubble. We have found that it helps to balance our leisure activities, with volunteering, classes, work and other activities outside the community.
Joy #5: Lock It and Leave It The low-maintenance style of 55+ communities, makes it ideal for frequent travelers. We love not having to worry about our property when we travel, especially for an extended period of time.
Challenge #5: Lock It and Leave It Many of our neighbors head south when the weather turns cold. While there is still plenty to do, the community doesn't feel quite as vibrant in the winter as it does in the summer.
Tips for Making the Transition
Should you decide to move to a 55+ community, here are three tips to help ease the transition:
- Do your homework. Life in a 55+ development is as much about the personality of the community as it is about the amenities. So, do your research before you invest. For us, renting proved an invaluable way to get a feel for the community before we bought.
- Use the community newsletter to find homes for sale. Units in our complex are hot commodities that often are sold privately. We found our unit by placing an ad in the newsletter expressing our interest in buying directly from an owner. Many 55+ communities have newsletters, some of which allow outsiders to advertise for a small fee.
- Get involved. You don't need to participate in everything. But the best way to meet your neighbors, and feel a part of the community, is to find activities that resonate with you and then get involved.