4 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Moving to a 55+ Active Adult Community

When you think about what type of community you plan to live after you retire, what comes to mind?

Are you giving serious consideration to living in an age-restricted 55+ active adult community?

Chances are, the younger you are today, the less likely you are to choose such a community after you retire.

As I write this, I am 59 and my husband is 57. We have no desire to move to one of these communities.

Occasionally, I bring this question up in conversations with friends who are our age or perhaps slightly older. No one we know is planning to live in one, either.

Speaking for myself, here are four reasons why I am opting to live out my retirement years in the community-at-large, not an age-restricted enclave.

1.      They are too remote.

We live in Chandler, which is a suburb located about 20 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona. Overall, we like it a lot, but occasionally we talk of moving closer to town to be closer to most of our friends and activities. We drive into Phoenix or Scottsdale often for band rehearsals, theatre, restaurants, or visiting with friends, and living closer to downtown Phoenix would shorten our drive.

On the other hand, most 55+ active adult communities in the Phoenix area are located on the outskirts of town. Sun City, Sun City West, Sun City Grand, Sun Lakes, Pebble Creek, Leisure World, and dozens of smaller communities sit on the edge of outer suburbia. Most of them are built on land that was available in larger masses and at lower prices, due to their remote locations.

Most retirement communities in other states are either built in previously undeveloped areas (such as The Villages in Florida) or on the outskirts of towns. For these communities, self-containment is the objective.

2.      The Home Owner’s Association (HOA) fees are too high.

We don’t play golf, tennis, or pickleball, nor would we probably avail ourselves of many of the activities held at the recreation centers. We would be paying for amenities we wouldn’t use.

What’s worse, for land-lease communities (such as most manufactured home and mobile home communities), the monthly fees are higher because they include rental of the land your home sits on. You’ll be paying that for the duration of your residency, and you’ll be at their mercy for price increases.

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3.      We want to stay in the mainstream.

We enjoy the mix of people in all age ranges that we interact with in our bands. The younger folks in our bands are friendly towards us, and knowing them enables us to keep up with current culture and trends. Being around younger people keeps us youthful (relatively speaking).

We enjoy being part of a diverse population that we see when we are out in the community.

At the risk of sounding ageist, we don’t want to associate only with older people.

I have often read the claim that you are the average of the five people you hang around with the most, and I believe this to be true. I think that’s true in a wider context as well.

4.      We are concerned about not fitting in with the retirement community crowd.

Based on everything I’ve seen and read, 55+ active adult communities are overwhelmingly white, straight, Christian, and Republican. We are not part of three out of those four demographics. And while many white, straight, Christian Republicans might be welcoming of two married gay, non-Christian Democrats, many aren’t.

We don’t want to live the rest of our lives in a community in which we would feel marginalized or even ostracized. Of course, if most non-white/straight/Christian/Republican people eschew these communities, they won’t change.

I don’t think we would be any more attracted to a 55+ active adult community that was comprised almost entirely of LGBT, non-Christian Democrats either. We expect that we will be happiest in the community-at-large, where there is a wider range of ages, ethnicities, orientations, religions, and political viewpoints.

Truthfully, a Democratic majority does have its appeal, but that doesn’t stop us from living in a predominately Republican part of town now.

Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation in 55+ active adult communities such as The Villages, Florida.

Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation in many 55+ active adult communities such as The Villages, Florida.

Are 55+ active adult communities losing their appeal?


If you are considering moving to an active adult retirement community, I recommend reading Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias, by Andrew D. Blechman. (This book was retitled Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children for the paperback and Kindle editions.)

The copyright date on this book is 2008, which means the data quoted in the book is over ten years old now. At that time, “active adult” housing was the fastest growing sector of the housing market.

However, back then there were already signs that the demand might be abating, even though an estimated 10,000 people turn 65 every day.

According to a generational marketing expert quoted in the book, people from pre-Baby Boomer generations (and perhaps the earlier Baby Boomers) valued conformity and community. They viewed retirement as a time to just kick back and relax after a long work career. Many of the people Blechman interviewed at The Villages in Florida expressed a keen desire to live with no children around. They flocked to communities such as The Villages and Sun City.

People approaching and entering retirement today and those who will follow want anything but a giant one-size-fits-all age-segregated, planned community. They want homes that meet their unique needs, a more “authentic” lifestyle experience, and to be closer to families and friends.

People entering retirement today want purpose and fulfillment. They are more active, adventurous and individualistic. Today’s retirees are more likely to be starting businesses, pursuing creative passions, and exploring the world.

And just as the people entering retirement today rebelled against the “establishment” in the late 60s and early 70s, they are now rebelling against the old notions of what retirement should look like – including moving to age-segregated communities.

Today’s retirees don’t even think of themselves as being “older.” I know I don’t.

Of course, this is how I feel at age 59. When I’m 75, I might feel very differently. And perhaps active adult communities will evolve significantly over the next 10-15 years to embrace the desires and the diverse demographics of today’s America.

So far, I don’t see signs that this is happening.

What are your perceptions of 55+ active adult communities?

Are you considering moving to one – or have you? Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
Sun City: Jack Miller. Some rights reserved.
The Villages: Ted Eytan. Some rights reserved.

25 Responses

  1. Fionna says:

    I agree with everything Julia has said about her experience in a 55+ community. We moved into one 1-1/2 yrs. ago and regret it. There is no room for individuality here — as an example, if you don’t participate in the “wonderful” activities, I am told constantly “I haven’t seen you at many activities lately…” Please! Stop trying to manage my life!! Women seem to be of one mindset here — cooking for their husbands and going to activities to eat, drink and gain weight (ugh). Very gossipy with too much time of their hands. My husband and I are too independent for a place like this. We would also prefer to do our own yard work instead of the half-assed job we get from their landscaper. I am actively looking for a house as I type this, although we probably will not make the move until next year. It can’t be too soon, believe me!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Fionna,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve received several comments to this effect. Your statement that “There is no room for individuality here” really gets to the heart of the issue. I think you should be able to create the retirement YOU want, as opposed to the retirement that activity planners want you to have. That sort of thing is fine for some people, but certainly not everyone.

      I hope your next home works out much better for you!

      Dave

      • Barbara says:

        Thanks for your kind words, Dave and for creating this forum. I appreciate your giving me a chance to vent my thoughts and feelings!

  2. Julia says:

    We moved to a 55+ Robson community near-ish to Tucson, and after a year and a half, I’m miserable. My husband enjoys it more than I do, I think, but it’s different for men. Groups of women tend to be difficult to begin with, and add the isolation, the boredom, the overwhelmingly sedentary nature of these women, and there are too many idle hands and wicked tongues around here. The cliquishness and gossip are appalling.

    Two topics people don’t like to talk about are the alcoholism and the bullying — I think they go hand in hand — there are a lot of bored, sedentary people here with nothing else to do but drink and complain and bully anyone who doesn’t capitulate to their pathetic desire to control everyone else.

    I’m ready to move, with or without my husband. This place is literally sucking the will to live out of me.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Julia,

      I’m very sorry to hear that this has turned out to be such a disappointing experience for you.

      There is a problem with higher levels of alcoholism among retirees. I think you are correct that boredom contributes to the problem. People getting together for drinks may be their way to enable socialization, but it comes at the price of drinking too much.

      I’ve heard others express the concern that if you don’t participate in the clubs and activities that the community organizes, you may be viewed as unsocial and ostracized.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope you’re able to find a better place to live.

    • Anonymous says:

      I moved to a 55+ Community and am appalled at how wicked, manipulative and deceptive people can be. As I prepare to retire, I am very proactive in researching answers to depression, dementia and environmental illnesses: No one seems to care and are comfortable with their diagnosis. I am witnessing people becoming increasingly deoressed, and often hear them speak of feeling imprisoned. It is due to the operating system of the developer: We have no voice.

  3. Kim Klin says:

    We are getting ready to move – snowbird – from our home in Alaska to Sun City, AZ. We purchased our home and cannot wait to move in, get involved and be part of what we have found to be an awesome community. My husband and I are both on the younger end of elderly and enjoy tons of activities. From Harley’s to glass art, wood working, textiles and more. Sun City has it all right there. We met others while there on a visit. Super friendly and energetic. Lots of community activities and lots of excellent ways to take care of your health. Having been in private practice for years I am ready for uncomplicated fun. The HOA is the rec fee in Sun City at a 486.00 annual fee for a household of two. We can’t even join a gym in Alaska for that amount. That fee gives us access to everything. The folks there do so much volunteering and community service as well. In many ways it is almost a communal lifestyle. It is fairly close to Phoenix so I do not feel isolated. Growing up in S. florida I swore never to move to a “retirement” community. Sun City is not the retirement community of the goldfish bowl complaints of who is sick, who died and aches and pains. Sun City is the place for me and my husband to stay independent, enjoy a wonderful quality of life at a very affordable price and continue to do all the stuff we are passionate about including scuba diving, riding motorcycles, hiking, kayaking and jogging. I look at it like 24/7 x 365 summer camp. Bring it on!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Kim,

      Good luck with your move to Sun City! I hope it meets your expectations and you are happy there. Many people who live there like it, but I caution you not to look at it too idealistically. It has its pluses and minuses. No place is perfect.

      I live in the opposite end of the Phoenix area (Chandler). Overall, the Phoenix metro area is a great place to live. Sun City isn’t quite our cup of tea, but obviously it is right for some people.

      Cheers,
      Dave

    • Marie Tilden says:

      Dear Kim, I think I agree with you yet I’m about 3 to 5 years away from retiring. I’m researching communities now and have long been interested in Sun City. Now that you’ve been there for awhile, I’d love to know what your experience has been. Do you still like it as much as you thought you would?

  4. Dan says:

    I have NO interest in a 55+ community. I am almost 63 and plan to retire in 1-2 years. We already bought our future retirement home near Orlando, using it now for vacations, weekend getaways, and friends/family. It is in a non-age restricted community that has nice amenities. I enjoy interacting with people of all ages, and only interacting with seniors is not attractive.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Dan,

      We have friends who moved to Orlando a couple years ago and really like it. I hope you enjoy your experience there too! There is a lot more to Orlando than Disney World and Universal.

      Cheers,
      Dave

  5. Lorraine says:

    One of my daughters and my son have decided I need to move to an apartment in a 55+ community as the house is too much for me—although they do not live nearby or offer me any assistance on any repairs. I cannot stand the thought of being surrounded by only old people. (I work in a hs). I will not be by any of my friends or even close to shopping like I am now. And have to get rid of my pets. (They want to pick the place.) They all live out of state and I honestly thought when I got older I would be moving near them. I am alone but moving to a 55+ is not going to give me friends–

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Lorraine,

      I am really sorry to hear about your situation. Perhaps showing them this article could help.

      Are there any nice apartments near you? That would allow you to retain your friends, your convenient shopping, and everything else that is familiar to you. Some apartments are pet-friendly.

      As I’m sure you know, another disadvantage of a 55+ community is that you’ll probably pay high HOA fees for amenities you probably won’t be using. Maybe pointing that out to them will help.

      I hope this works out for you.

      Dave

  6. Michele Sharp says:

    My mom and I are both seniors and we moved into a rental 55+ cottage community. Our experience has been mixed. On the plus side, the management and maintenance are wonderful. No yard work. The units are quiet and the community is very peaceful. On the minus side, for us anyway, we don’t like structured activities and resident dinners. We have always been very active volunteers in the cities we have lived in and we like to choose when and where we socialize. There seems to be an unwritten rule here that you need to participate in their structured activities or be considered unfriendly. Also, there is a marked lack of privacy around the outside living areas of the units. That seems to be true with a lot of these types of communities. Where someone got the idea that we stopped needing privacy when we turned 55, I’ll never know. What I do know is that it creates conflict between the residents. It is very awkward to be looking directly into your neighbor’s back yard or have them looking directly into your living room.

    We feel very fortunate that we were able to try this on for size as a rental, and we are planning to move as soon as our lease is up. I shudder to think how we would feel if we had moved to a buy-in community.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Michele,

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I hadn’t really considered lack of privacy until now, but when I think back on many communities I have seen, they are usually characterized by no fences and homes that are close together.

      For myself, I would probably not opt for most of the structured activities too. There’s nothing wrong with them, but many of them are just things I am not interested in doing. It is useful to know that you could be perceived as anti-social if you don’t participate in them.

      Thanks again for your very insightful feedback.
      Dave

  7. Simone says:

    I agree with reasons 4 and five the most. I love communities representing all ages, ethnicities and sexualities. Diversity of opinion and experience is healthy and we can learn from each other. As a high school teacher for 28 years I cannot imagine a life that does not include young people or children in it.
    The idea of Co housing has a great appeal for me. Multi-generational families/ couples live in community which emphasizes weekly shared meals. Practiced more in Europe than here in North America, this idea has resulted in building apartment complexes with community in mind.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Simone,

      Co-housing is a very interesting idea. I didn’t know much about it, but learned more as I was researching an article I recently wrote, How to Survive and Thrive as a Single Person in Retirement.

      There are a few co-housing communities here in the U.S., but I hope the idea takes hold and grows.

      Thanks,
      Dave

  8. Stacey Walsh says:

    I feel the same way. Although I’m a native NYer and used to living on top of everybody, I long for a small home that is just mine with no one under, above or to the sides of me. I love being in a mixed community….how boring to only see yourself wherever you look. That’s why, when the time comes, I’m off to Athens, GA. Can’t beat a university town for diversity, culture, education etc etc

    • William DeyErmand says:

      Good financial choice. Also the hospitals are great there. It is fourth on our list of choices.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Moving to a university town is truly an excellent choice! I play in a couple jazz ensembles at local community colleges, and I value that highly as part of my retirement experience. Most of the members are either college students or fellow retirees!

      We are planning to take Spanish lessons at a local college this fall, too, to better prepare for travels we are planning to take.

      You can’t beat local colleges and universities for free (or very cheap) concerts and theatre. They are grateful for the audience.

  9. William DeyErmand says:

    Hi Dave,
    I think the view points on this article is right on. My wife and I recently rented a temporary apartment on the outskirts of a town, to experience apartment living. We really hated it even with loving the town. I do not see either of us living in a 55+ community where we may not fit for numerous reasons. I felt isolation living in an apartment compound with many residents! No thanks, I will live in my own home, near community at large, inviting over who ever I want without opinion or offense of another resident. All and all it was a good experience on apartment living.. It was cottage style living with neighbors on both sides, with no stairs. I learned about sizing down to 720 sq ft, I learned to get creative with a smaller living area, and to enjoy what you have with the one(s) you love. I learned that waiting for maintenance men to fix things is an inconvenience. It keeps me healthy to maintain a home and yard. I found the utilities to be as high as my home. I will find a smaller home around a 1000 sq ft, with lot enough for a garden! Boy did I miss evenings on the porch.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      We know we will downsize at some point in the future, but it will be to a similar living arrangement to what we enjoy now – our own house in an un-age-restricted neighborhood. The rent-vs-buy discussion is a good idea for a future article.

      Thanks!

      • William DeyErmand says:

        Just wanted to comment that you can get assisted living or total assistance in your own home, with a Doctor’s prescription saying “Permanent”. You must be “homebound” other than doctor appointments.

  10. Kenny says:

    It is uncanny sometimes how you write about things that I think about. I live in east Mesa near several age-restricted communities which I walk through all the time for exercise. Heck, my mom lives in one. I can’t recall ever seeing any skin color but white in those neighborhoods. I would be really worried about a lack of diversity living there. No, I foresee living in my suburban home in a regular neighborhood until my wife & I can no longer physically maintain the garden & yard. Then I think, depending on my age at that time, it’s either a move into town in an apartment or condo, or perhaps into the assisted living facility that will be the lot in life for those who do not have a family option for support in our twilight years.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      That’s how we foresee our future, too. We truly enjoy our private back yard for gardening, swimming, and a place for the dogs to “go.” We can handle the yard maintenance for now, but at some point in the future, we may end up in a condo or a house on a very small lot. But it will be in the community-at-large, regardless.

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