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Active adult living residents aren't retiring types

Strike the creaky term "old age" from your dictionaries. It has no place in the lexicon or lives of today's 60-plus generation, which is operating under a motto that harkens back to their 1960s roots: "Hell no, we won't go!"

Ever the activists, as they battle inevitable aging, they also are retiring the antiquated concept of retirement that their parents embraced. Instead, baby boomers are preparing to lace up their Rollerblades, crank up the iPod and skate into hip, sophisticated active adult communities (also called lifestyle communities) that are coming up like flowers around the country, catering to their every whim.

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Bill Parks, the former architecture director for Del Webb Corporation who now tracks the coming great herd of retirees on behalf of delighted, bewildered developers, says if you don't see an active adult community springing up near you, just wait six months.

"It's amazing," he says. "There were over 100 started last year and about 50 are scheduled to open this year, and that's just what's on my radar. There are so many that don't announce until they open."

Parks says there are more than 1,200 active adult communities nationwide, with many more in the planning stages. Although their underlying purpose remains much the same -- to give empty nesters a place to downsize after the kids have flown -- their size, location, amenities and ambiance are unlike anything that has existed before.

Just how big a trend is this for home builders? Jeff Jenkins, deputy director of the seniors housing council for the National Association of Home Builders, says that since 2001, when the first boomers became age-qualified for 55-plus communities, the impact has been "staggering."

"According to our figures, people age 55 and over accounted for more than 207,000, or about one-fifth, of the 1.1 million new-home purchases made in 2003," he says. "The active adult market accounted for an estimated $51 billion in new-home sales in 2003. That's why you're seeing active adult communities springing up everywhere."

More than semantics separate the Greatest Generation from the Me Generation. For good or ill, the largest generation in history has changed the face of everything in its path, from entertainment to health care, childbirth to investing, fitness to education. So it should come as no great surprise that the boomers are about to reinvent the retirement village.

Snowbirds and great herds

In many ways, the World War II generation invented retirement living; it was, after all, the first generation that both outlived its work and amassed enough wealth to kick back and enjoy its golden years. And it chose to do so 1) in the sunny climates of Arizona, California and Florida, 2) with a pool and golf course handy, and 3) a community center or country club through which to establish a new social life.

The boomers, however, have something else in mind, according to Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, an active adult advocacy organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"Boomers have a greater range of life experiences, and that is going to be reflected in active adult communities," he says. "The main difference is in what we have had access to. When we talk about fitness, our parents didn't have fitness in their vocabulary; in fact, exercise itself was a big turnoff. The boomers started the whole exercise trend, they have had access to that all their lives, so it's not something that turns them off. Their lifestyles are being reflected in what developers are building."

Perhaps the biggest difference between active adult communities and the first generation of retirement villages is location. Numerous surveys have turned up a surprising finding: Two out of three boomers want to retire within 100 miles of where they have worked and raised their family.


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-- Posted: Feb. 24, 2005

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