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Buying in a 55+ community: Everything you need to know

Buying in a 55+ community
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Buying in a 55+ community
kali9/Getty Images

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If you are getting older and hoping to live among people in a similar life stage, you might be thinking about looking into 55+ communities. These types of housing developments, also often called “active adult communities,” are specifically designed for those who are 55 years or older and typically have plenty of amenities, activities and opportunities for socializing.

The phenomenon of 55 and over communities is becoming more popular as the population, and particularly the Baby Boomer generation, ages. According to the Census Bureau, the population of older adults in the U.S. is expanding by leaps and bounds, growing by more than 34 percent — or nearly 14 million people — in the past decade alone. Curious about life in a 55+ community? We’ve got all the details for you.

What is a 55+ community?

Simply put, a 55+ or active adult community is a residential neighborhood in which the vast majority of residents are 55 years or older. They are often master-planned communities that are built specifically with older residents in mind. Some have options for residents to either rent or buy, depending on their preference. They can also be organized around particular interests, like golf or hiking. And they cater to adult residents only — no children allowed.

There are many different types of 55+ communities at various price points. Some are designed for active lifestyles and others are created for those who need a little more assistance — some even have different units or areas to accommodate both. Most of these communities keep aging in place top-of-mind.

“Most everyone will have some health issues at some point where home design will directly impact their ability to get around,” says Rob Krohn, VP of marketing for Epcon Communities, which develops 55+ communities all over the U.S. “Zero-threshold garage entry and showers, grab bars, wide hallways offering wheelchair accessibility, single-story design — these are all things that are available in our homes. While our buyers might not need them today, the goal is to provide a home that will allow them to age in place for as long as they are able.”

Typical kinds of housing

You can find just about every type of home in 55+ communities, from apartments and townhouses to single-family homes — even RV parks. Some developments focus on a single type of housing, while others have multiple options. Different types of housing within a single community can provide the option for residents to move to more assisted spaces as they age, if needed.

These developments can also vary in size, from relatively small to massive. For example, Epcon communities tend to have just 60 to 150 homes. “I like to refer to them as bed-and-breakfast communities as opposed to cruise ships,” says Krohn. “Some people like cruise ships, where there are hundreds or thousands of people, they have cruise directors with lots of planned activities, and you are more anonymous. Other people like bed and breakfasts, which are more intimate and offer greater connections among the people living there.”

Typical amenities

Amenities for 55+ communities vary, but there’s usually a lot to take advantage of. Some of the more common offerings include:

  • Maintenance and security
  • Housekeeping and laundry services
  • Community clubhouses
  • Exercise facilities, such as gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses and walking trails
  • Organized activities
  • On-site restaurants or meal services
  • On-site medical care or assistance

Are 55+ communities hard to get into?

Being 55 or older doesn’t mean you can buy in any 55+ community you want. Each one has specific rules and regulations, typically administered by a homeowners association (HOA). You will need to make sure you fit all of the requirements for the specific community you want to live in.

Then, you’ll likely have to go through an application process — and in some of the more desirable communities, competition can be fierce. It’s best to find a real estate agent who has experience buying homes in active adult communities, or even in the specific one you’re aiming for. They will know how to work within the community’s rules and regulations, and they may know of other communities that would suit your needs as well.

If you want to buy in a new-build community, contact the builder to find out how to apply for a spot. For rental communities, contact the leasing office to find out about available units and application requirements.

Do you have to be retired to live in one?

No, you do not have to be retired to live in a 55 and over community. The restrictions are around age, not employment status.

Can your children inherit your home if they are not yet 55?

Every community has different rules regarding this tricky situation. The Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 requires 55 and over communities to have at least 80 percent of its residents be 55 years or older. This means that 20 percent of the residents could, hypothetically, be younger than that. Some 55+ communities may allow for children to inherit a home in their community, but it is up to each community to decide. If you are unsure about the rules for a specific neighborhood, talk to a community representative or lawyer to help you figure it out.

Pros & cons of living in a 55+ community

A 55+ or active adult community can be a great option for mature buyers. However, the lifestyle may not be for everyone. Here are some pros and cons of living in these communities.

Pros

  • Neighbors in a similar life stage: Being a resident of a 55+ community means most of your neighbors are guaranteed to be 55 or older. So you can be confident you will have at least that much in common with your fellow residents — and probably more.
  • Amenities and socializing: No matter the type of development, from luxury resort to RV park, 55+ communities are designed to serve the needs of older residents. Most have a range of amenities to enhance their residents’ lives, including indoor and outdoor fitness facilities, organized activities and clubs, and often entertainment and dining options as well.
  • Peace and quiet: Without kids or young families in the neighborhood, your area will inevitably be quieter and calmer.

Cons

  • HOA fees and other costs: It’s convenient to have lots of services and amenities right in your neighborhood, but it can come with a hefty price tag. The fees associated with active adult communities can be steep, often costing thousands of dollars per month.
  • Lots of rules: Like any HOA-run community, these developments typically come with strict rules to be followed, ranging from how a home’s exterior must look to specific quiet hours. If you prefer the freedom to live without such restrictions, this lifestyle might not be a good fit for you.
  • Lack of diversity: People who enjoy living with other people like them will enjoy the 55+ lifestyle. People who enjoy being surrounded by more diversity in age and lifestyle probably won’t.

Bottom line

Life in a 55+ community can be a great option for people in that age range. If you are considering one of these communities, do your research to determine which locations and amenities suit you best. “Learn what is out there, where communities are located, what home designs are being offered and how much homes might cost,” says Krohn. “But that is only the start. You have to get out and visit the communities, walk into the homes, talk to the employees.” It’s also smart to find a real estate agent with experience in the communities you’re interested in.

Written by
Emma Woodward
Contributing writer
Emma Woodward is a former contributor for Bankrate and a freelance writer who loves writing to demystify personal finance topics. She has written for companies and publications like Finch, Toast, JBD Clothiers and The Financial Diet.
Edited by
Senior real estate editor