Active Adult Communities
In this age of health, wellness, and organic everything, active adult living has essentially become synonymous with being alive and over 55. And, the building and development industry has responded…in force.
Active adult communities have been around for a while, but suddenly they’re everywhere and the number of baby boomers flocking to them is at an all-time high.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, the 55+ housing industry market reached 71 points, the highest reading in history, in the fourth quarter of 2017. The 55+ single-family HMI is based on builder perceptions of new 55+ single-family home sales, both current and expected for the next six months and traffic of prospective buyers. Builders are asked to rate conditions as “good,” “fair,” or “poor” (or, for traffic, “high to very high,” “average,” or “low to very low”). The responses are used to create diffusion indexes on scale of 0 to 100, where any number over 50 indicates more builders report positive than negative conditions.
So, what has changed? For starters, the number of baby boomers who have reached active adult status has increased dramatically in recent years. The United States Census Bureau reported that the number of U.S. residents age 65+ increased from 35.0 million in 2000, to 49.2 million in 2016, accounting for 12.4 percent and 15.2 percent of the total population, respectively.
Then, there’s the societal or ideological shift from canned or frozen, and rocking chairs and knitting to community gardens, fresh and local only. Social groups and fitness centers are everywhere you look.
A continually heightened focus on nutrition, overall health, community, and a long, vibrant life is driving baby boomers to seek situations and communities that support an active and healthy lifestyle. So, all-day porch sitting and days spent crocheting are a thing of the past. Not to worry, though, active adults haven’t totally given up the chill and focused life. They’re just doing less of it, or doing it with friends or in groups for smaller chunks of time, making even relaxing activities inherently more “active” given their social nature.
History and Popular Culture
The first active adult community on the scene was Del Webb’s famous Sun City community in Arizona in 1950. A mile-long waiting list and record sales within the first 48 hours was a sure sign that Del Webb was on to something. Fitness-focused, 55+ restricted, and activity and socialization-centered, Sun City was a 180 degree spin on mid-century retirement communities.
Now, nearly 70 years later, active adult communities can essentially be found everywhere in the continental U.S. And, the non-active senior has become the more rare of the two.
Active adult icons from the famous to the super-fit are good representations of this new retirement era we’ve found ourselves in. Here are a few standouts.
There’s President George H. W. Bush, who celebrated three of his birthdays – 80, 85, and 90 years old – skydiving from an airplane. Rolling Stones lead and great-grandfather, Mick Jagger, still appears on stages around the world. And, none other than the great Betty White, pegged “the grandmother we all wish we had,” became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live when she stepped onto the SNL stage at age 88.
Then, there’s the slightly less famous, Judy Meyers, the oldest female competitive barefoot water-skier in the United States. All it took for Meyers at 53 to first try barefoot skiing was a dare.
Now 74, Meyers not only “walks” on water but also flips, turns, stands on one leg, and does tricks that would make your body hurt just watching her.
And, finally, there’s the great Ida Keeling who, with her daughter’s help, wrestled herself from depression after her losing two sons in her late 60s by taking up running. At 95, she was both setting and breaking 100-meter race records and, days before her 101st birthday, became the fastest running centenarian in history. Now 102, Keeling is still running with no intention of stopping.
And, these are just a handful of the hundreds of stories like them. While these examples may not represent the average active adult, they do represent the trend toward a “55 and better” mentality.
Sun City’s success drove home the idea that 55+ could symbolize new beginnings, fresh perspectives, and second chances. And, while the concept definitely turned developers heads, it took a couple of decades and an influx of aging baby boomers for active adult communities to become a widespread phenomenon.
Companies like K. Hovnanian’s® Four Seasons, Traditions of America, and Landmark Homes came onto the active adult scene in the 90s and have developed a prominent following.
Barry McCarron, President of K. Hovnanians’s northeast Division, says that variety is key in K. Hovnanian’s® Four Seasons communities.
“Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast, a tennis pro, or an avid chef, our wide range of group activities meet the diverse needs of our residents. We’ve created a world-class lifestyle environment that supports those passions, and then some. There’s something for everyone here,” McCarron said.
K. Hovnanian’s® Four Seasons communities are speckled along the East coast from New Jersey to South Carolina to Florida. Dr. Amy Rady, resident of K. Hovnanian’s® Four Seasons at Parkland, has lived both extremes.
When she and her husband decided to move from their K. Hovnanian® community in New Jersey, they knew two things: 1 – they wanted to be surrounded by active folks in their age range, and, 2 – that they wanted to be in Florida. They also hoped for the same K. Hovnanian® experience they’d had in New Jersey. When they finally chose Parkland as their Florida destination, they were in luck.
“(We) basically had no other interest in looking at any other area, and we’re very happy that we found Four Seasons K. Hovnanian ® in Parkland,” Rady said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s absolutely beautiful. And, there’s a great ambience within the clubhouse.”
Aside from social and fitness opportunities, K. Hovnanian® Four Seasons resident, Ken Brager, said it’s the connection that he values most. “We came to this community, and I have to tell you that, for the first time, there’s a sense of camaraderie and community here at Hovnanian that we never felt anywhere that we lived before,” Brager said. “I’m not sure what it is, but the people here are just fantastic, generous, fun, and active.”
Landmark Homes, a builder and developer in Pennsylvania, started developing communities specifically for active adults due to requests from customers.
“We found that this was what the majority of our 55+ customers were looking for,” said Cliff Weaver, vice president of Landmark Homes.
Weaver said that aside from a general desire for low-maintenance living, the charm and serenity of the Central PA region, and some universal home design elements, Landmark has learned that one size does not fit all when it comes to active adults residents.
“We’ve learned to accommodate a range of people and lifestyles,” said Weaver. “Yes, some want the one-story 1,200 sq. ft. home that’s easy to maintain,” he said. “But, downsizing means different things to different people. Some folks are moving to Landmark Active Living Communities from really big homes. Small to them may still be big to others. We also find that a lot of our residents equate being active with having visitors and grandchildren come to visit; and, others want to continue to entertain and host parties. Both require more space.”
So, Landmark offers a variety of models with lots of customization options.
Weaver says that the most definitive change in the past few years has been the number of people participating in activities offered. “There was a time,” he said, “when the fitness centers, tennis courts, and other activity centers were empty most of the time. But, now they’re either full of people or about to be.”
This increase in interest, and requests for more activities, has persuaded Landmark to bring on an activities director at the corporate level.
Traditions of America, a 55+ exclusive development company headquartered in Pennsylvania, was named the #1 55+ homebuilder in the nation in 2016 and has a reputation for delivering for good reason. The company, said Jay Goldberg (Vice President of Marketing), was founded out of necessity more than anything.
“Our company founder, Timothy McCarthy, decided 25 years ago to focus on the 55+ lifestyle when he was searching for a new home for his mom,” Goldberg said. “He realized that though there were choices, all of the elements of the purchase process and lifestyle weren’t being addressed by traditional active adult builders.”
So, McCarthy took matters into his own hands.
“One of my favorite quotes,” said Goldberg, “is from John Roman, a resident of our Bridle Path community in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. He said, ‘I love it here because every night is Friday night, and every day is Saturday.’”
Traditions communities all include clubhouses, fitness centers, social clubs, events and activities, and community ambassadors to help welcome new residents.
So, where are Traditions-bound active adults coming from? Everywhere, it seems.
“But, more often than not,” Goldberg said, “it’s within a five mile radius of the community they move to. They just decide that with their kids grown and out of their home it is just time.”
Many, Goldberg said, are actually returning to the area from a move to Florida or the Carolinas in order to be closer to children and grandchildren.
So, like everything in life, the perfect active adult lifestyle depends entirely on the active adult. And, the great news is, there are lots of options.
What Active Adults Want
ideal-LIVING Magazine’s parent company, RPI Media, issued a survey in 2018 asking 55+ participants to list what mattered most to them when choosing an active adult community.
Activity, the ever-present need for good healthcare, a sense of community, and access to travel hovered at the top. Here’s a look at the results:
Walking Trails 90%
Hospital/Healthcare Provided 90%
Town Center & Shopping 89%
Wellness/Fitness Center 89%
Sense of Community 89%
Swimming Pool 85%
Social Clubs 82%
Beach Access 74%
Golf Course/Club 44%
Tennis Courts 38%
Developers have mirrored these results by focusing their efforts around them.