Housing & Mortgage
55+ Communities: Know Yourself to Avoid Buyers Remorse
Renting first can help; weather, privacy, new friendships and isolation are concerns
Housing developments aimed at those 55 and older are wildly popular now, attracting a wider swath of the demographic than ever before. Millions of older homeowners are swapping their traditional lifestyles for social-focused active adult communities.
Some of them will regret the move. Tens of thousands of senior citizens leave Florida, Texas and other places flush with retirement communities to return to their home states. While there are no statistics on how many left 55+ developments, just about every resident has heard of someone who went home disillusioned.
That depressing fact is not an indictment on active adult communities at large. On the contrary, for many buyers, these gated and restricted developments are perfect for providing the security, services and activities they seek in retirement years.
In talking to residents and trolling forums that active adults frequent, we find that some buyers are simply unprepared for their new surroundings. Their disappointment comes not from the failings of a particular development, but from lifestyle changes they didn’t fully appreciate before they signed on.
Ideally, you’ll try out the 55+ community life with a rental or two before plunking down a lifetime’s savings on the move. In addition to general travel sites, SnowbirdCondo.com classifieds and 55communityGuide.com are useful but limited tools for finding rentals behind the gates. Friends inside the community are your best scouts.
Then consider whether these common factors in buyers remorse would be problems for you as long-term residents.
The weather can be overwhelming. Many Northerners gleefully trade snow for sunshine in retirement, but some are unprepared for so much of it. It’s hot, muggy and buggy for months on end in Florida. One hundred-plus temperatures throughout the South often keep people holed up inside just as effectively as winter ice. Desert areas like Arizona aren’t steamy but the heat can be stifling.
Nostalgia for touchstones like fall foliage and chimney smoke can be real sources of depression for transplants to geographies that lack four distinct seasons. Southerners moving to the mountains and other points north are sometimes unprepared for long stretches of gray days.
Private space is limited. Moving from a modest Boston apartment, any home with four exclusive walls may feel like plenty of distance. But someone who lived in a 3,000-square-foot house with a big yard for 30 years may find the tighter quarters unnerving. The neighbors, and their televisions, lights and patio conversations, are very close.
Making friends can be hard. Buyers often pick developments because the residents share their interests, whether it’s golf or birding or biking. But without concerted effort, these people rarely become close friends. A lifetime living in one place can put us out of practice in taking on deep conversations with new people. The median age within the community may be much older than you. Some residents find they make plenty of nice acquaintances but none of the strong connections they left behind. Ask yourself: Have you formed any deep friendships within the last decade, or are all your closest buddies from younger days?
It’s isolated. Considerable distance from city centers is a selling point for many 55+ communities, as many retirees are looking to escape noise and traffic. But they sometimes underestimate how often they’ll want to go outside the bubble for a change of scenery. Restaurants and other entertainment hubs may be too far for uncertain night drivers. Friends and family may visit less if there’s no convenient airport.