Buying a house in an active living retirement community may be one of the most exciting — and important — life decisions you’ll get to make. The biggest challenge is often deciding if a particular community is the right one for you.
There are many factors to consider, from the location of the community to the design and customization of your individual home. The community’s social offerings — and its overall sense of community — can be important, too.
A new way of life in Washington
While “55+” developments abound in places like Florida, Arizona and Southern California, they are relatively rare in Washington state. According to listing sites for senior living, there are only a few dozen 55+ communities in Washington state that focus primarily on single-family homes (rather than on condominiums, high-rise units, or continuum-of-care plans). The majority of these active living communities are in the Puget Sound area.
Communities for active living are increasingly popular, according to Kendra Decker of Landed Gentry. Landed Gentry has been building and selling homes to what’s called the “55+” community for over 20 years, and describes these homebuyers as a particularly selective.
“On one hand, they want what they’ve always had,” she says. “A beautiful home, with shopping and recreation nearby — and easy access to airports for travel. On the other hand, they’re looking to do less yardwork and exterior maintenance. And a few of them are looking ahead to what they’ll need later on in terms of being able to age in place.”
A 2018 AARP survey found that 24% of people 50 and older who would need to renovate their current homes in order to age in place would prefer to move to rather than try to remodel.
Location is key
Finding the right location for retirement is key. Some buyers want to be near the town or city where they’ve worked. Others are looking for proximity to their children and grandchildren. Still others are interested in communities offering easy year-round access to airports and travel.
“Being near an urban area is important to most people,” Decker says. That’s a challenge for companies developing 55+ communities. The popular one-story floor plans require more land per home. A commitment to “zero-step” houses means that all the lots in the community need to be relatively flat — a challenge, Decker says, in a relatively hilly region. To keep prices affordable, many communities are built near smaller cities.
Landed Gentry’s most recent active adult community, Woods Point, is in Whatcom county, five miles north of Bellingham. Residents have easy access to a bustling university town with restaurants, health care facilities and shopping. “Bellingham has a good balance of urban and outdoor activities,” Decker says. “Woods Point has mountain views and scenic walking routes — plus there’s skiing and seaside amenities just a few miles away.”
Design elements that make a difference
At first glance, an active living community may look like other planned communities. But there are important differences, both in the houses and in the neighborhood.
“The houses are designed with aging-in-place in mind,” Decker notes. “In our communities you’ll see zero steps, and wider hallways and doorways. The master bedroom is always on the first floor, and so are the laundry facilities. The master bath has a low, step-in shower with a seat.”
While some buyers select models with second floors, the additional space is likely to be used for home offices, hobby rooms and guest rooms.
Seeking the social aspect
A 55+ plus community often provides an “instant neighborhood,” enabling people to find recreational and social activities close at hand.
“In the best active living communities, you’ll find plenty to do,” Decker says. “It might be going for long, scenic walks or runs on your own or joining neighbors in the clubhouse.”
Woods Point includes a central “lodge” with a great room, kitchen and outdoor patio. In large developments, the homeowners association hires a clubhouse manager. In small communities like Woods Point, volunteers from the community typically organize events and keep a clubhouse calendar.
Decker has heard people call their active living community “a second college experience.”
“Having a single-level house is important, but the real charm of the 55+ community is the social aspect,” she says. “People are ready to socialize and make new friends.”
Landed Gentry creates communities for active seniors with features that include maintained yards, walking trails, community lodges and pickleball courts. Their newest development is Woods Point in Whatcom County. For more information, visit landedgentry.com