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Active adult living residents aren't retiring types -- Page 2

The so-called stay-at-home phenomenon has been manna to developers who never imagined a market for resort-style communities near major urban centers throughout the Northeast and Midwest. When Parks began his directory in the mid-1990s, half of these communities were in the Sunbelt. Today, three-quarters of them are outside the Sunbelt. Prices start in the $150,000 range for a two-bedroom, two-bath townhome and climb rapidly from there.

"Take Washington D.C., which is not a popular retirement destination," says Jenkins. "In D.C. alone, there are a dozen active adult communities being built. You would never have imagined that 10 years ago."

Dave Schriner, vice president of active adult business development of Del Webb branded communities for Pulte Homes, says even the more mobile one-third of the herd no longer yearns for the sun as their parents once did.

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"They're willing to move further, but interestingly, their motivation is not all weather-oriented. Many times, the children and grandchildren have moved away, and they're actually chasing them," he says. "The same reason people stay typically is the reason some people go, which is to be close to family and friends."

Ironically, some boomer retirees are migrating with their job-seeking kids and grandkids right back to such Sunbelt destinations as Las Vegas and Phoenix, where the jobs are.

Today, Del Webb, which started the concept back in 1960, has 30 communities in more than 20 markets, ranging from 500 homes to 5,000 and above in the Sun City mega-communities. Schriner says another 140 are in some stage of acquisition or development that will put them in more than 40 markets nationwide. They hope to open at least 100 of them in the next three years.

How does a boomer retire?

So how will the boomers retire? The short answer is, slowly. An AARP poll found that 43 percent of boomers plan to work into their 70s and even 80s, due in part to the double-whammy of child care and elder care of the "sandwich" generation and the high dive of their tech stocks.

But those ready to depart the old neighborhood will enjoy that trademark of the baby boom: choice. You want the sun? You got it. Interested in staying close to the kids? There are now age-targeted (instead of age-restricted) active adult communities.

Still working in the inner city? New developments in the Boston and Chicago suburbs are conveniently situated near freeways and commuter trains. Some developers are even building new active adult high rises for those who have spent their lives in condos and apartments. Schriner says Del Webb has redeveloped a prison, factories and school campuses for their prime, close-in locations.

Some communities, such as Fearrington Village outside Chapel Hill, N.C., have become de facto active adult communities because their residents just won't leave. R.B. Fitch developed Jessie Fearington's 1,100-acre farm into a cozy village of 1,000 homes because he liked the feeling of the British villages he visited while stationed at an RAF base. Everything about Fearrington Village flies in the face of traditional retirement communities.

"I'm not age-restricted. I'm not a gated community. I don't have a golf course or a big country club. I've found there are a lot of people who don't want that," he says. "In place of a golf course, I put 40 cows and I just added some goats. But you know, people look at this and they sort of smile."

Today, 70 percent of his residents are active retirees. There's a café in the old granary, a bookstore in the barn and a Zagat-rated restaurant and bank in other original farm buildings.

"We've been doing 'active retirement' for 25 or 30 years," says Fitch. "We just didn't know it."

Bill Parks admits it's going to be a challenge catering to the needs of a generation that has stayed at the Ritz-Carltons of the world. He doesn't figure them for what he considers "contrived theme" approaches such as the Disney community of Celebration. If he had to place money on it, they're going to want top-quality, scaled-down homes in smaller communities with a wide variety of activities and proximity to world-class dining and the arts (i.e., a big city) or sports (i.e., a college or university). A golf course is probably no longer the draw it once was.

But you can probably skip the country club. Boomers are apt to be more interested in high-speed Internet connections, concierge service and their own community coffee shop.

"Frankly, we don't know what the boomers are going to do yet; they haven't started doing it," says Park. "They are not as organized as past generations have been in terms of social activities; they would just as soon have an intimate dinner with a few close friends. We don't know exactly how the social activities will evolve. We are now doing a lot more Starbucks-type venues where they can come in. The boomers came out of the coffeehouse era; they are more casual, less structured, and they are not prone to accept the controls of the codes, covenants and restrictions of large developments."

As the boomers gaze down life's back nine, one thing is certain: When faced with a choice between lifestyle and a sound investment, their choice will likely be both.

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

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-- Posted: Feb. 24, 2005
     

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