By Teri Borseti
The kids (and their stuff) are finally gone, and there’s more room in the big family house than you need. If you're thinking about downsizing, one of the options you may be considering is a 55+ or "active adult" community. These senior living neighborhoods have proliferated over the last 20 years or so and are now in almost every state. There’s a high concentration of them along the Atlantic Coast. Massachusetts has 144, Pennsylvania has 340, and New Jersey has 389. On the West Coast, California has 646 and Arizona has 231. The brochures and web sites tend to make the lifestyle seem like a retirement dream come true, but before you make a decision, you need to weigh the aspects of living in one of these communities that can affect your physical and emotional health.
Fewer Maintenance Chores
The enthusiastic way your husband used to jump into do-it-yourself household projects may be long gone, and the same may be true of mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. Once you move into a community, you can say goodbye to yard work and snow removal. Also, you’ll never have to worry about painting the house again or having to spend your weekends doing home-related repairs.
Active Leisure Pursuits
However, crossing all that off your list doesn't have to mean giving up on health-boosting exercise. The communities typically offer a host of activities such as tennis, softball, swimming, and various types of exercise and dance classes.
Camaraderie With Other Boomers
You'll be joining join a neighborhood of your peers, many of whom are already off the clock. Most communities have a clubhouse where residents can gather and socialize. Some have a fitness center, library, billiard room, and tennis courts, and many are located on golf courses or on waterfront locations for boating enthusiasts. Some are built above or connected to shopping malls. Others have a small store, a hair salon, a barber, a bank, and a pub or restaurant. Yours may offer a concierge or full-time lifestyle director. You can join like-minded people in pursuits including book clubs, painting lessons, needlework, and sewing groups. Many communities also offer on-site lectures and cultural events as well as trips to nearby cities for visits to art museums or theaters.
Peace and Quiet
There won't be any kids next door to wake you up in the middle of the night with loud music, and there won't be any barking dogs. Some communities allow pets but dogs must be on leash at all times and not prone to barking. Smoking may be prohibited, and speeding through the community is one of many ways to incur a fine.
Many units are single story and those with second or third floors usually have the master bedroom and bath on the first floor.
Missing Your Old Homestead
Moving out of the home where you brought up your family can be emotionally traumatic. Though new residents of the active communities used to complain about the yard work, many have a hard time getting used to living in a more congested setting. With the exception of a few details, most of the units look the same. There are rules about how many cars you can have and what you can plant, and almost none of the communities welcome any architectural changes or additions, preferring instead to keep the units cookie cutter style. Yes, there are variations but choices tend to be vanilla and more expensive vanilla. In addition, you may not be able to have lawn furniture or holiday decorations.
Missing a Mix of Generations
The bulk of your time will be spent with people your own age or older, and all communities come with a list of rules. Covenants are usually enforced by a property management board of directors comprised of residents and can vary from community to community. One member of the couple buying or renting in the community must be 55 and just about all of the communities frown on having guests under age 55 stay for very long. You may be surprised to find that not interacting with young people on a regular basis is an emotional downer, and you may also find that the time restrictions regarding visiting grandchildren can be upsetting.
Hidden and Unexpected Costs
Chances are that the model unit you toured and fell in love with is loaded with upgrades, but the price for those amenities may not have been made clear. Marble counters, cherry cabinetry, hardwood floors, and wainscoting might not be part of the package, so you’d better ask. Another aspect to consider is the condo fees. While the monthly payments -- some of which can be very high -- cover a whole host of things, most tend to go up over time and not down. Monthly fees at the resort-like communities can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per month. Tip: Buying into a new development can be a good idea since the fees probably won’t increase much in the first few years. In general, however, Boomers who trade the house for the community are just making a lateral move financially.
One of the most informative sites for over 55 communities is www.activeadultliving.com. However, experts agree that the best way to find out if these communities are right for you is to visit them, talk to residents, and read the fine print. Only then can you make up your mind about whether the next chapter of your life will be healthy in body, mind, and spirit if you choose to make your home in an adult community.
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Teri Borseti has been a freelance writer for over 20 years. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including The Boston Globe, Ocean Home Magazine, Boston- Common Magazine. She is also the author of “Memories of Maverick”. Please visit http://www.teriborseti.com/