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How to Choose a 55-Plus Active Adult Community

Fingers arrange wooden house toys.

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for choosing a good active adult housing community? My husband and I, who recently retired, are planning to relocate to an area closer to our grandkids and are interested in buying a house in an age-restricted 55-plus housing community.
--Active Retirees

Dear Active,
If you're contemplating moving into an age-restricted community, finding one that's right for you takes some legwork. While active adult communities generally offer the opportunity for a lower-maintenance lifestyle around similar aged people, they vary enormously. Here's what you should know.

Today's active adult communities come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, ranging from small city-based apartment complexes, to single-family homes, to sprawling resort-style locations situated on a gated golf course. Most are owned by their occupants, but a growing number are rentals. Typically, at least one occupant of each property must be at least 55.

It's also important to understand that 55-plus active adult communities are not the same as retirement or independent living communities, which are primarily designed for older seniors in their 70s and 80s. Active adult communities do not typically include meals or have a central dining area, but many of them do offer a range of recreational amenities and activities.

To help you locate and research active adult communities in the areas you're interested in, the best resource is 55places.com. This is a comprehensive website that provides ratings, reviews and information on activities and amenities for thousands of communities across the country.

Once you find a few you like, here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you choose:

What's our budget? To help you choose the right active adult community you'll first need to determine what you can afford. Consider the home's purchase price, whether you'll need a mortgage, how much the property taxes and insurance are, and how much the homeowners' association or community fees are.

These fees, which typically run a few hundred dollars per month, go toward lawn care and possibly snow removal, as well as community areas like a clubhouse or pool. However, some communities may require additional memberships or fees for golf, tennis, classes, or other activities.

You also need to consider the area's cost of living for other things like food, utilities, transportation, health care and taxes. Numbeo.com and BestPlaces.net offer tools to compare the cost from your current location to where you would like to move. And Kiplinger's has a tax guide for retirees at Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and compare taxes state-by-state.

How active is the community? Some communities provide fitness facilities, swimming pools, tennis courts and more, along with dozens of organized activities, classes and social events. Other communities are much simpler and more laid back with very limited amenities and structured activities. You'll want to choose a community that has the types of people, facilities, activities and vibe that appeals to you.

Will we like the surrounding area? Will the area around your prospective community serve your needs now and in the future? Ideally, this means having easy access to good doctors and hospitals, and a local airport if you plan to travel much. You'll also want to research how far you'll be from essential services like grocery stores, banks and pharmacies, as well as dining, shopping, and recreational attractions.

Schedule a Visit
Once you've narrowed your choices, call to make an appointment and visit them. Be sure to allow plenty of time at each community and, if possible, go back to your favorites more than once. Also be sure to ask questions while you are visiting, particularly about the community rules.

Some developments will let you stay overnight in a model home for a few nights to get a feel of what it would be like to live there. While you are there, try the amenities and activities, and speak with as many residents as you can.

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