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Dedicated Retirement Living Communities

Dedicated Retirement Living Communities

One reason someone would pick one of the living arrangements discussed in this article would be to do away with the burden of home maintenance and yard care. Along the same lines these living arrangements also allow a person greater freedom to leave the new home to go on long trips and be assured that the home is safely protected. In addition, many of these communities offer a higher level of security than people might now experience in their current circumstances.

Master Planned Active Adult Communities

These master planned communities are developed specifically for people over certain prescribed ages such as age 55, age 62 or age 65. At least one member of the household must meet the age restriction. These arrangements almost always offer individual, owner-occupied units and the appeal of these communities is to offer active seniors selling their existing house to trade equity from the old home into a newer, more attractive unit about the same size or larger. Because these are planned communities most of the lawns, parks and recreational amenities are owned by all the homeowners as common property. The homeowner may only be responsible for interior maintenance of his or her home and some minor exterior maintenance since units are relatively new. (community sponsored contractors may be available for exterior work as well). Crews are also available for yard work and landscaping. All other maintenance and replacement is taken care of by the homeowners association and paid for by fees assessed to all owners. Many of these communities are gated and patrolled by security forces.

These communities are often called by the following names: active adult communities , age restricted communities, resort communities, golf resort communities or adult retirement communities. Adult communities are built to accommodate a wide variety of retirement aspirations and goals. But a common thread for all seniors is the opportunity to move to a safer environment and be rid of costly repairs and yard maintenance on an older home. In addition, seniors are lured by the prospect of associating with other seniors their own age and enjoying such amenities as a swimming pool, golf course, clubhouse or entertainment room, shuffleboard, tennis, walking or bike trails, social clubs, Internet groups and exercise rooms. More upscale communities might offer additional amenities such as private lakes and docks, private ocean-going docks, country clubs, horseback riding and stables, vacations or local day adventures, gift shops, hair salons and so on.

For seniors who like an urban environment, adult communities are built as high rise, apartment-style buildings in large cities. For seniors who want adventure in a rural environment, adult communities are built in mountain, desert or seaside resort areas. For seniors who want a warm climate, adult communities are available in the desert southwest, in southern Texas and in Florida. By far, a majority of seniors wanting to move to a retirement community desire to stay close to children or grandchildren, so active adult retirement communities are being built all over the United States in large cities, not so large cities and in the suburbs where the primary choice of location is determined by where the family is.

The housing also varies from simple apartments to high rise condominiums to single family detached housing. Costs range from a low of $100,000 to well over $700,000. Some communities are upscale only and may cater to high income seniors. Some communities are designed for more moderate income and they might offer affordable housing in the range of $50,000.00 to $100,000.00. Some communities offer manufactured housing of about 800 square feet for anywhere from $20,000.00 to $40,000.00. And some communities offer a mix of all types of the housing mentioned above. Smaller homes might be segregated in one area and larger homes in another.

To give us an idea of the preferences of seniors seeking adult communities, a recent survey conducted by the Del Webb Corporation revealed that:

  • Two million baby boomers likely will move to active adult communities
  • Half of boomers plan to work part-time after retirement and consequently demand home offices.
  • Wiring packages integrating computer, security and entertainment systems are a hot selling point.
  • Great rooms are tops on boomers' design priorities; gourmet kitchens rank higher than swimming pools.
  • Boomers want to retire to homes the same size as their current homes.
  • Flexible spaces that can be used for recreation rooms, guest quarters or play areas are increasingly popular.

It is important for seniors considering a move to one of these communities to be aware of potential high cost assessments down the road. This is especially true of sprawling, large acreage developments with roads, golf course, grounds and common buildings. Part of the monthly fee from the homeowners association should include a set aside for reserve funds for the replacement of the community's infrastructure. Unfortunately, some association boards don't plan well for the future and without adequate reserves there could be the possibility of a very large assessment to take care of crumbling infrastructure in the future. This is especially true where the association has not dedicated roads, water lines, sewer lines and lighting to a local municipality but instead owns these structures as part of the common property of the community. Check out the provisions for reserves and the ownership of roads and service lines before a purchase is made.

For those people desiring to experience one of these retirement communities without actually purchasing, there is sometimes an opportunity to rent one of the properties before purchasing. This might be a good idea.

Planned Communities with No Age Restrictions

Planned communities are designed around a social or geographical concept. The goal may be to incorporate a choice area of woodland or other natural feature into the development of a large tract of land. Or the design might include the layout and land use, including commercial and residential areas, for an entire community . Whereas planned communities are generally very large projects, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) might incorporate the design and development of a smaller commercial or residential property.

The concept of a Planned Unit Development is to maximize the land use while still retaining the building density prescribed by the local government. This might mean clustering houses together in one area of the property and parking, recreation, playgrounds and other amenities in another portion of the property. Because of this common use of the property, the individual owners of dwelling units on the property control the green areas, playgrounds and other amenities as common property. A PUD is a development that has all the following characteristics:

  • The individual unit owners own (or have a leasehold interest) in a parcel of land improved with a dwelling. This ownership is not in common with other unit owners
  • The development is administered by a homeowners association that owns (or has a leasehold interest) in and is obligated to maintain property and improvements within the development (i.e., greenbelts, recreation facilities and parking areas) for the common use and benefit of the unit owners
  • The unit owners have an automatic, non-severable interest in the homeowners association and pay mandatory assessments
  • For the purpose of this definition, a condominium project is not a PUD

Some planned communities may be for seniors only whereas others may have no age restrictions, but; may attract seniors who are selling older homes and looking to use the proceeds for a newer home in a community with amenities and the availability of yard care services.

This arrangement may appeal to seniors who do not want to live in the structured adult retirement community outlined in the previous section. It gives them the opportunity to live in a mixed-age neighborhood, perhaps in a more secure area, where some of the headaches of home ownership may have been removed. On the other hand, the introduction of the homeowner's association with a planned community may bring problems of its own.


Planned communities described in the section above, come about because of the desire to develop land and build dwelling units that are part of a larger community plan. Homeowners in a planned community own their dwelling and the land on which it is situated. Other parts of the development such as amenities, parks, parking, roads and other infrastructure are owned jointly by the community.

A condominium or condo as it is commonly called is a form of ownership and not a development plan. However, a condo project may be part of a planned community as well. The owner of a condo unit has title to all the interior airspace and the interior walls, ceilings and floors of his or her dwelling unit. The rest of the superstructure including the exterior, the land and all the amenities belong to all the other condominium owners as common property. Certain exterior parts of the unit such as a carport, balcony, patio or storage unit are part of the common property but are set aside for the exclusive use of the owner.

The advantage of owning a condo is that the dwelling space is solely owned and not a rental, thereby allowing the owner to carry a mortgage that would someday be paid off or to pay cash and never have to make payments again. This is opposed to a rental for which one must pay as long as one lives. The owner of a condo is not a renter and can never be evicted. Another advantage of a condominium is that the owner is only responsible for maintaining the interior of the unit. All other maintenance on the exterior, on the grounds and on all other common property is handled by a property manager or done through contract or hired maintenance. Maintenance is paid through monthly fees assessed to each property owner.

Condominium developments also offer security. It may be only a minimum level where the community is well lighted and other homeowners are coming and going such that residents feel more secure. Or security could be very tight with gates, guards , locked doors, security systems and other safeguards. Because of the security and the minimal amount of maintenance required, many seniors buy condos to live in perhaps for a few months a year and then feel safe leaving the unit unoccupied to travel the rest of the year. Or owners may own more than one condo unit and spend time during the year living in their units in their various locations.

Many condominium complexes offer additional amenities to their members. Such things as a clubhouse, sauna, playgrounds, exercise facilities and equipment, meeting rooms, tennis courts and shuffleboard and possibly a swimming pool; although, the liability and upkeep of swimming pools is forcing many newer developments to forgo this benefit for members.

Homeowners elect a select number of their fellow homeowners--typically five to seven homeowners--to represent them on the homeowner's association board. The board may also be called a board of directors or a board of managers. Board members are elected such that their terms expire on a staggered year to year basis so that there isn't a complete turnover of board members in one year. The board has the responsibility of taking care of maintenance on the project, making sure rules are followed and setting aside reserve funds to pay for future capital improvements or replacement of worn out infrastructure.

Condominiums may be high rise buildings with units like apartments, or they may be town houses with two or more units per townhouse, or they may be individual structures or even individual houses. Non-high rise condos typically have little open space or lawns thus cutting down on the cost of yard maintenance. There is a growing tendency all over the country to build new condominiums that cater exclusively to the elderly. Some developments may even have age restrictions.

Condos can be luxury units with more living space and interior appointments than the typical home or they can be apartment sized or even apartments that were once rentals and have been converted to condominiums. Buying into a condominium complex sometimes carries with it more market risk than buying into a single owner housing neighborhood. If the complex is poorly managed, property values may decline over time, the renting out of units by owners may increase, security may deteriorate and trying to sell the property at some future date may be very difficult. It is extremely important to check out the management of a condo property prior to buying. Please read the information in the section on homeowners associations below.

Cooperative Housing

Like a condominium, cooperative housing is a form of ownership. With a condo, described in the section above, the owner has title to all the interior of his or her to dwelling. With a co-op the person has a lifetime lease to occupy the property and the ownership is in a corporation that controls the property. A cooperative is really a form of renting. The difference is the co-op owner has a say in how the property is managed, how rents are set and how rules are made and enforced. And more importantly if the owner abides by the provisions of the lease, he or she can never be evicted. There are also tax advantages to this type of living arrangement as opposed to owning the property out right.

There are two types of stock ownership arrangements in cooperative housing. With one a separate entity owns the property and pays the property mortgage and taxes and the members of the cooperative own stock in the management of a master property lease, meaning they can handle maintenance, determine rents and enforce the rules. With the other form of ownership the stockholders themselves own the property and manage it as well.

A person wanting to occupy one of the units on the property must buy stock from one of the other members who is willing to sell it. There are different types of stock ownership forms. In one, the stock can be sold at market value, that is, the actual market value of the property is divided by the number of stockholders. With other forms of ownership the value is held constant, below market value, to allow people with limited resources to buy in.

As housing costs continue to climb and the housing market tightens, housing cooperatives have become an increasingly attractive housing option. For constant value stock purchase options, it may mean the ability to find a nice apartment at a low entry cost in an otherwise tight apartment market. With the establishment of a secondary market for cooperative loans, conventional financing is more readily available. Personal tax deductions, lower default and turnover rates, lower tax assessments, reduced maintenance costs and resident participation and control are further incentives for choosing the cooperative route to home ownership.