How to select an active adult community
Steve Thornton was driving along Interstate 75 in South Florida on a “scouting trip” for a place to live in retirement when he saw a billboard for Trilogy at Ocala Preserve. Stopping there, he was taken with the beauty of the place — and knew his wife would agree. “Lyndia would like it,” Thornton, 69, recalled thinking.
While their children were growing up, the Thorntons had vacationed in Orlando, an hour southeast of Ocala.
“We knew we wanted to be in Florida,” he said. “We had a few places on our list.”
The couple had gone online to do research at FloridaforBoomers.com. They narrowed their choice to three communities by following these steps:
Do in-person reconnaissance
As part of their research, the Thorntons visited the area as well as the communities they were considering. “We went to them all,” Thornton said.
They settled on Trilogy at Ocala Preserve because it felt “right” for them: It wasn’t too big, was newly construction and had a golf course.
Plus, it was a 45-minute drive to their grandchildren and 30 minutes to an airport, and had “excellent” healthcare nearby. “This place is more intimate,” he said. “We have new friends from all over the United States.”
For retirees, living in an active adult community — whether age-restricted, age-targeted or no age restrictions — is an option for the 40% of retirees who relocate.
Five percent moved to an age-restricted community, according to 2014 surveys conducted by ProMatura Group, a market and consumer research organization focusing on those 55-plus.
“Active adult communities come in all shapes and sizes,” said Bill Ness, founder and chief executive officer of 55places.com, a Chicago-based website that focuses on such communities. “It’s not a one size fits all.”
Some communities are budget-oriented, and others are high-end. Most have a 3,000-square-foot clubhouse, while others have 20,000-square-foot clubhouses or multiple clubhouses and pools.
Today’s active adult homebuyer wants to be closer to a metro area, Ness said. At the same time, the average community size has decreased, with some communities of just 25 homes near an urban center, for instance. About 75% have an age restriction of either 55 and older or 62 and older.
Visit the community and the surrounding area. Many communities offer two-night visits, typically at a special rate of $99 or $199 per stay or, in some cases, $149 per person per stay so that prospective residents can learn about them. (Rates vary by property.)
While you are there, ask to try the amenities and activities, walk through the clubhouse, and speak with as many residents as you can.
Know your budget
One key to finding the right active adult community is knowing what you are comfortable spending, now and in the future.
“What is your capability? What are you willing to spend?” Ness said. Consider the purchase price, whether you will need a mortgage, how much the real estate taxes are, and how much the monthly homeowners fees are and what they include.
The Thorntons traded their 5,000-square-foot house for a one-level, 2,400-square-foot home at Trilogy at Ocala Preserve. Their new home has two bedrooms, a library, sunroom and a three-car garage.
The cost of living is lower in Ocala, Florida, than in the Dallas area. “It fits into our budget,” Thornton said. Houses in their community range in price from about $169,000 to about $304,000.
Monthly fees vary depending on the location, amenities, size of your home and age of the community. Monthly fees in other active adult communities can be $150 to $400 or more, depending on the amenities — which may include a clubhouse, pools, restaurants, tennis or pickleball courts, fitness centers and spas, walking trails and bike paths, libraries and art studios.
Fees also can cover services such as lawn care. Ask what the fee covers; fees can increase, typically with inflation (about 2% a year).
Research the financial stability of any community you consider. Ask to speak to someone other than the marketing person to obtain detailed financial information.
Request a copy of the current financial statements and the operating budget, said Dawn Bauman, senior vice president, government affairs at the Community Associations Institute, in Falls Church, Virginia.
Two key questions to ask: Is there a reserve plan? And is it funded? The reserve plan describes the life expectancy of major components of the property, the cost of maintaining them and their replacement value.
You’ll want to find out if there is a line item in the budget for funding the reserve plan. Funds can be placed in a separate account, Bauman said. Although that is not required in every state, it is a best practice, she said.
“Before you sign that contract, find out how long you have to evaluate the homeowners association’s finances, reserve fund and rules,” Bauman said. For example, some communities don’t allow you to park a motor home in your driveway.
Initially, developers manage most active adult communities, but generally after 10 years or less they transition to management by the owners.
Make sure the developer has adequately funded the reserve in advance of owners taking over management, so monthly fees won’t jump or to avoid a special assessment. Check if a special assessment is pending in the upcoming budget.
Get the right fit
Active adult communities typically do not include meals or a central dining area. You’ll have your own home, and you can participate as much or as little as you want in community activities.
Do a self-assessment. “You have to take stock of choices you’ve made in the past and how you’ve reacted to them,” said gerontologist Mary Kay Buysse of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.
Find a place that has activities you like. “Be an anthropologist for a couple of days,” Buysse said. “Try to figure out what the life is like there.”
© 2020 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.