What to consider when looking to downsize into a retirement village

Q. My husband and I are in our late 60s and want to downsize from our large home. Fortunately, we are healthy and active. We are trying to decide if we want to move to a retirement community where one lives independently with those of similar ages or to a retirement community that is more diverse. What should we be considering?   

Thank you for raising the issue of downsizing. At some point, most older adults entertain the subject. It may be desiring less space, or even more, geographically relocating or just getting rid of stuff. Sometimes the latter can be the most challenging.   

Retirement communities have an interesting history. They date back to 1960 when Delbert Eugene Webb opened five model homes in Sun City in the Phoenix area. The concept was new.  It had been expected that older adults would retreat from life and sit at home during their golden years. It was unheard of for these adults to pull up their roots, move to a vacation spot, buy a new home and embrace fun and pleasure with people who were similar to them. According to a company history, many thought it would fail. The opposite happened. On that opening day, thousands of cars were lined up with more than 100,000 visitors. That same day 237 homes were sold representing $2.5 million in sales. The company planned to sell 1,700 homes in the first three years. In just their first year, 2,000 homes had been purchased.  Currently, there are 59 Del Webb communities in 20 states. 

So, what is a retirement community? It is an age-homogenous living environment for people in mid- to later life. Most residents are retired; others are not. These are planned communities ranging from a modest mobile home to a luxurious five-bedroom house with a three-car garage and a view of a golf course. Large retirement communities such as those in Florida, California and Arizona often have almost all the facilities needed by their residents such as shopping, banking, recreational facilities and more. The environment is safe and protected. Smaller retirement communities often are near towns, cities and even universities.

Living in such communities provides comfort for its residents, protecting them to some extent from crime and from being stigmatized in a society that values youth over older age. It helps them avoid being perceived as an old person assumed to be dependent and declining and maybe even suffering from dementia, most often untrue.

California has many senior living retirement communities. See https://www.55places.com/california/region/southern-california

A good example is Laguna Woods in Orange County with 18,000 residents. It is restricted to those age 55 and older who typically can care for themselves. It is a city designed for an active lifestyle with 250 clubs, golf courses, swimming pools, tennis facilities, an equestrian center, performing arts studio and more. Several housing models include condominiums, cooperatives and single-member homes. Many residents continue to work and a small percentage of residents have children under 18 years living with them. A comparable example is Leisure World in Seal Beach.

Another planned retirement community receiving lots of attention is The Villages in central Florida. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, it is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation. The Villages is a master-planned retirement community for those age 55 and older. Paul Irving, chairman of the Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute writes in PBS Next Avenue, a digital platform for those age 50 and older, “residents (of The Villages) are lured by warm winters, pastel-hued homes, golf carts and pickleball courts. The population is almost 80,000 up from about 51,000 in 2010. The Villages has been praised and is the subject of the award-winning film, “Some Kind of Heaven.”  

Although such retirement communities continue to grow and are popular, it’s not for everyone. Irving is one of those people.  

“If communities like The Villages represent the future of aging, please count me and many of us out,” wrote Irving in PBS Next Avenue.  

Although these age-restricted retirement communities continue to grow, there is also a movement towards more intergenerational and diverse retirement communities.  

Next week, we’ll describe some of those communities and suggest some action steps that might help in making the decision.

Thank you, A.B. for your good question. In the meantime, stay safe, be well and good to yourself and others. 

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