Dawn Schwartz has lived in a community for people 55 and older for about five years and now, at age 60, she’s considered “one of the youngsters” in a place where the average age is 75.
Still, Schwartz says, “I was meant to be here.” She lives at Del Webb Nocatee in Ponte Vedra, Fla., and works in property management at Del Webb eTown in nearby Jacksonville.
As empty nesters, Schwartz and her husband knew they didn’t want to be around tons of kids, but they wanted a community with exercise opportunities and other clubs and activities. Schwartz had spent 35 years working in the hospitality industry and loved the resort lifestyle, and she knew she wanted similar features in her new community.
Schwartz and her husband looked at other 55-and-over communities but felt the vibe and amenities at the Del Webb property suited them best.
“You can be as active as you want to be,” she says. “People who need connection get connection. They feel safe here. There are like-minded individuals. You meet people with similar interests. I have friends who are in their 80s and they’re doing things to keep their minds young. I hope I’m as active as they are when I’m that age.”
She swims on the weekends and is involved in the community poker club. She decided the dances aren’t for her, though, as the average age trends higher.
She adds: “That’s when you feel the age difference.”
She says she had some initial qualms about moving into a community for people over 55, asking herself, “Am I too young to be here?” Ultimately, her desire for resort-type amenities and a quiet community without children overcame her doubts.
Schwartz says she doesn’t think about long-term healthcare needs or the possibility of having to move again to get healthcare assistance, memory care or long-term care.
“I have time before I need to worry about that,” she says.
There are now 19,232 retirement communities in the U.S., an increase of 1.2% from 2022, according to market-research company IBISWorld. The number of such communities has grown 1.2% per year on average over the five years since 2018, IBISWorld said.
California, Washington and Florida are the states with the highest number of retirement communities in the U.S., according to IBISWorld.
For many people thinking about moving to a 55-and-over community, it’s the first time they are choosing a home strictly for themselves, without having to think about the best school district for their kids or the shortest commute to their job, says Joe Della Valle, director of sales at Columbia Place in Delaware, which is owned by the Reybold Group of Communities.
“They’ve turned the page on the three-acre lot and they don’t need as much space. They’re interested in moving to a community where someone is watching the street and mowing the lawn so they can just lock the door and go to Europe for a few weeks,” Della Valle says. “They’ve made a lot of sacrifices in life to be in other homes, and now they’re buying a home for themselves.”
He adds: “At this age, people are very savvy buyers. This isn’t their first rodeo. They have very well-defined goals and we check a lot of those boxes.”
The Delaware community features a clubhouse and fitness center and organizes social events to encourage residents to meet and mingle. Townhomes, which are 2,600 to 2,800 square feet, start at about $840,000, and single-family homes that run 2,900 to 3,500 square feet start at just under $1.1 million, Della Valle says.
Of course, not everyone wants to live in a community for older adults.
“This is not everyone’s choice. They don’t want to live in an age-qualified community — they want a more diverse, intergenerational setting,” says Jane O’Connor, the chief executive of 55 Plus LLC, a consulting firm focused on senior housing and lifestyles.
In addition to the homogeneity of a 55-and-over community, the monthly or yearly homeowners association fees, which can range in cost depending on the community, its amenities and the maintenance provided, can also deter some people.
“HOA fees can be a make or break for some people. For some, they’re looking at it in terms of services and maintenance for their lifestyle. For others, it’s a stopper,” O’Connor says.
A homeowners association also can dictate the “curb appeal” of properties and restrict residents from adding things like gardens or fences for dogs, O’Connor says. That also puts off some buyers.
Overall, though, activities and amenities are dictating buying decisions, says Shane Gillaspie, president of FirstService Residential Arizona.
“These are not ‘retired’ communities, these are very active communities,” Gillaspie says.
From pet socials to wine-tasting events to pickleball and swimming, there are ample options for residents to meet each other, make friends and stay active, he says.
“There is a stigma and a misconception about these communities. But we’re working to refresh what that image is — it’s riding bikes, it’s wine events, it’s very vibrant — and over time, that stigma and misconception is fading out,” he adds.
Renee Comack, 76, moved with her husband from New York to the Regency at Monroe in New Jersey six years ago because of its packed calendar of events and amenities such as golf, swimming, tennis, bocce and pickleball. She didn’t want to move to a traditional retirement locale such as Florida or Arizona, because those places were too far away from family.
“This really fit the bill. The calendar is loaded. The entire community is a beautiful, lively, active community,” says Comack, who has a single-family home there. “It’s beautifully maintained.”
The only drawback she sees in living in a 55-and-over community is the reality of aging.
“When someone is sick or passes, that’s hard. It’s understandable in this community, being over 55. But it’s hard,” she says. “But when someone is ill, we’re always collecting money or bringing food or coming together. We’re all aging in place, so we know what it’s like. The compassion’s there.”