I’ve been reading Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias, by Andrew Blechman, with great interest. It’s fascinating as a sociological study of The Villages in Florida, and it includes much information on other age-restricted, 55+ communities as well, particularly Sun City in Arizona. The book came out in 2008, but in 2014, BuzzFeed published an in-depth update on The Villages (with great photos) by Alex French.
Life at The Villages doesn’t much appeal to me. I don’t do well in hot weather. I don’t play golf. The geographical isolation and lack of diversity would depress me. But that’s just my opinion. One-hundred thousand people disagree and have moved there. The development now covers an area larger than Manhattan.
As Blechman writes, “Behind all the gated age-restricted leisure, ersatz architectural nostalgia, and nightly hanky-panky, what I saw in The Villages is a concerted effort by a segment of older Americans to find community …. Many Villagers simply don’t care if they live in an autocratic fantasyland founded on a policy of [age] segregation; they just want a place to call home, a geritopia where they can be comfortable among their peers.”
More interesting are the smaller, 55+ “active adult communities” now springing up around the country — many closer to major cities and cultural attractions. You can browse these communities, as well as the mega retirement communities, at 55Places.com.
At one of the new, smaller communities, seniors would likely find all the latest in interior design features — the granite countertops and upscaled cabinets — and, with any luck, aging in place adaptations, such as hallways wide enough for wheel chairs and shower grips. All the exterior maintenance, from mowing to staining the deck, will be taken care of. Most communities will have a clean, neat appearance due to all the restrictions in the deed covenants. There might be a pool, walking trails, and a clubhouse. Nor would a large entrance fee be charged, as is often the case at continuing care communities.
Still, most of these places are located on the edges of metropolitan areas, often surrounded by major highways. Some communities offer bus rides for shopping and other outings, but by and large residents remain dependent on their cars. And there’s still the matter of age segregation. What’s the point of it, anyway? I like having kids in the community.
Nonetheless, there may be some gems out there. This one in Richmond looks appealing.
Blechman’s book warns that buyers need to beware when making their purchase decision. Don’t buy after a day or two of being wined and dined by the developer! Take a careful look at the covenants. Can you live with them? What would your financial responsibilities be with respect to the community “amenities,” such as the clubhouse and the rec center? How is the community governed? Do you want to get involved with serving on the board, and endure all the stress that can entail? If not, are you willing to accept the board’s decisions on everything from roof repair to tree-cutting?
Perhaps a little condo or a rental apartment– back home or near the kids –would be a better idea.