Active Adult Communities: What They Are and How to Find the Right One

People who are over age 55 may be thinking about their future and considering the possibility of senior living. Yet, many are still active, engaged with family and friends, working, traveling and not ready for a traditional retirement community. Three words might be the answer: Active adult community.

Active adult communities are on the rise as people are staying healthier and more independent longer in their lives. These settings generally offer maintenance-free independent living for people aged 55 and over.

Some are age-restricted, with at least 80% of residences housing at least one person in that age group. Others are age-targeted, meaning they are designed to attract adults over 55 but are not limited to them. These may be owned or rental properties, and the model can involve single-family homes, townhomes, apartments or condos or even mobile homes.

[SEE: The Advantages of Assisted Living.]

The Cost of an Adult Active Community

The average cost of a 55-plus community ranges from about $1,500 to $4,000 a month, depending on the community and its location. For instance, the costs for an active adult property in San Francisco will be in line with the generally high cost of real estate in the area. At the same time, costs will vary based on factors like the number of bedrooms or baths and high-end amenities, such as a pool or a country club-style clubhouse.

Many active adult communities have a homeowners association, which charges fees in exchange for landscaping, snow removal, grounds upkeep and general maintenance, among other services. There is no real average for these fees because they may vary significantly from community to community. However, before you buy anything in an active adult community, inquire about such fees. Ask questions like: What fees are there? What do they cover? How much have fees increased in the past, and how much might they go up in the future?

If you choose to live in a rental community, you likely will be asked to sign a long-term lease, with set monthly payments. You also may be asked for a down payment before move-in. It will be important to find out — before you sign on the dotted line — what amenities are included with your rent. For instance, will you have free access to the pool and/or health club? Will your rent cover maintenance and security? Are utilities and parking included? Are pets allowed, and if so, is there a pet fee?

[READ: Best Exercises for Preventing Falls in Older Adults.]

Do You Fit the Active Adult Profile?

Most candidates for active adult communities are seeking a lifestyle-oriented living situation, with a desire for enhanced socialization, wellness and lifestyle programs.

They may not need the level of care provided in skilled nursing facilities or the help with activities of daily living provided in assisted living, but they may want wellness amenities, such as state-of-the-art fitness facilities; yoga, mindfulness and other classes and programs; or outside trails and parks, golf, tennis, pickleball, basketball and other courts/courses.

Active adults may not be ready for or don’t want traditional senior housing or long-term care. The decision to move into an active adult community often is triggered by a lifestyle change — such as the loss of a spouse or adult children moving out of the area — rather than a change in health or mobility.

[SEE: Early Signs of Dementia.]

Finding Your Niche

So-called “niche” or “affinity” active adult communities are growing in popularity. Colin Milner, CEO and founder of the International Council on Active Aging, notes, “These are less about age and more about what people like and aspire to.”

Perhaps the best known community is Margaritaville, which appeals to Jimmy Buffett fans and the “cheeseburgers in paradise” laid-back lifestyle. However, there are other communities built around common interests, such as golf, health and wellness, cultures, religions, professional backgrounds, the arts, pets, gardening and more.

“There’s a certain comfort to being around those who share our values and interests. It can be easier to develop bonds and relationships, and affinity communities can give people a ready-made sense of community,” Milner says. However, it is important to realize that an affinity community will lack resident diversity to some degree, and it is important to consider if the interests and activities you enjoy today will still be appealing five or more years down the road.

Active Adult Amenities

Active adult apartments or homes can vary in size, from as little as 650 or up to 2,200 square feet or more. They generally offer easy access to parks and trails. They usually are within close proximity to shopping, and they may be connected to retail establishments. Active adult communities are often set in suburban or urban locations with cultural centers such as museums, entertainment venues and restaurants within easy reach.

Such communities have a variety of common areas that enable and encourage socialization and interaction. For instance, they may have amenities such as a bar/pub with liquor lockers, a fitness center with a full schedule of classes, a dog park, a pool and clubhouse, outdoor kitchens and areas for barbecuing. Some active adult communities also may have concierge services to help coordinate meal or grocery deliveries, transportation and referrals to housekeeping services.

While health care services are not a formal part of active adult communities, some have a room or suite that is or can be set up for telehealth visits or exams, and some have offices for home health agencies on-site.

“Some active adult communities have health care in close proximity, such as doctors’ offices across the street. At the same time, residents use fitness centers and other facilities to promote or attend to their health,” says Milner. However, he stresses, “Active adult communities are a lifestyle and not a health care model.”

Questions to Ask Yourself

Once you decide to explore active adult living, you need to determine which one might be right for you. To make this assessment, Greg Hunteman, who specializes in master planning, architecture and interior design for senior living communities as the president of the Austin, Texas-based Pi Architects, suggests asking yourself some questions:

— What recreational activities and hobbies are most important to me? Does the community have the resources and facilities to enable me to pursue these?

— Will I continue to work in some capacity? Does the facility have a business center and the technology I need? Is there room in the living spaces for an office?

— Are there good restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other eateries nearby?

— Is there adequate parking? How convenient is the parking lot or garage?

— What are my financial resources? Can I afford everything I want in an active adult community, or do I need to make some compromises?

— What is my health like? What health care resources or care might I need in five years? In 10 years? How important is it for me to age in place?

— Is it important for me to engage with people who are different from me, or do I prefer to associate with those I have much in common with?

— Do I expect to entertain? Who will I entertain? How often?

— Will my pets be welcome? What amenities are available for them? Is there an extra cost for pets? What, if any, limits are there for where my pet will be allowed to go?

— Will I live here full-time? If I’m only here for part of the year, will my home be safe? Can someone take in my mail and water my plants?

After you honestly answer such questions and do some research, it will be time to visit some communities that are the best match.

Touring Active Adult Communities

“You want a place where you would like to hang out — a place that has energy and excitement,” Hunteman says. “You should get a sense that this is someplace you could picture yourself living and having the kind of life you want.”

He suggests walking around, participating in an activity and talking to a variety of residents. Ideally, the community will give you an opportunity to stay there for a few nights to get a real feel for it.

Milner notes, “If you are close to your family, including grandchildren, find out how they can be part of the experience. Do kids have access to the pool and outdoor areas? Is there space in the units for them to stay overnight?” He says that some communities make it a priority to be “kid friendly,” such as offering an on-site summer camp for youngsters.

In addition to what you hear and experience, Hunteman recommends being a keen observer. “Look around. Are the interiors and grounds well maintained? Are the exterior and interior spaces well connected? Are the common areas clean and free of clutter? Are windows clean, and is there a lot of natural light? All of what you see around you can help determine if this is the right community for you,” he says.

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