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.
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.
© 2016 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.