Active Adult Communities: Your Definitive Guide for 2021

Active Adult Communities: Your Definitive Guide for 2021

Learn what sets 55+ communities apart

By Emma Rodbro, last updated August 8, 2022

Active adult communities are master-planned retirement communities that offer residences and amenities to people who are 55 and up. In some cases, the communities are age-restricted, with the Fair Housing Act requiring that 80% of the residences have someone at least 55 years old living there.

People living in active adult communities may rent their homes, or they may own the condos, single-family homes, apartments, or townhomes making up the community. Typically, all outside maintenance is provided to homes in the community, with homeowners or renters handling the inside maintenance.

Active adult communities appeal to those who want to enjoy retirement living and stay active. They're often located near shopping, recreation, restaurants, and entertainment, providing residents with plenty to do.

The amenities in active adult communities can range from modest to lavish, with some retirement communities boasting swimming pools, tennis courts, and even golf courses. Unlike other types of senior living communities, active adult communities don't offer on-site dining facilities or medical care. All amenities are typically paid for through the homeowner's association (HOA) dues.

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What are 55+ communities like?

Residents in 55+ communities can enjoy amenities that encourage them to stay active and enjoy their retirement. In addition, life in an active adult community surrounds you with a community of people of a similar age, who grew up the way you grew up and provide a true sense of community. Today, active adults want to live in a neighborhood where they know their neighbors and everyone feels safe and welcomed. 

Each 55+ community has its own rules about various lifestyle choices — noise or parking regulations, for instance. But all 55+ retirement communities share restrictions regarding the age of their residents. While the younger spouse of a 55+ adult may live in the senior living community (and stay there if the older spouse passes away), one person who is at least 55 must live in every home. In addition, no children may live in the community.

The pros and cons of a 55+ active adult community

Pros:

  • A community of your peers. It's relaxing to spend time with people in the same life stage. Many 55+ communities offer classes and activities to help people with similar interests get together.
  • Plenty of amenities to enhance retirement. Retirement is the time to do all the things you couldn't do when working a 40-hour week, and active adult communities open the doors to that with events, clubs, and recreational opportunities and facilities.
  • Less time spent on maintenance. People who are tired of pushing a lawnmower or dealing with exterior upkeep enjoy the low-maintenance style of active adult communities.
  • The opportunity to downsize. As children grow up and have families of their own, many adults find themselves maintaining and paying for a home that's larger than they need. The chance to downsize can be a huge relief.

Cons:

While 55+ communities are very appealing to many, they do have a few drawbacks:

  • Everyone's in the same age range. While this factor is a plus for many seniors, some people prefer to live in neighborhoods that feature a greater diversity of age.
  • Lack of health and personal care. As seniors age, they often require a greater level of personal and health care. While it's possible to arrange for in-home care in an Active Adult Community, some residents may come to need a higher level of care.

How much does an active adult community cost?

The monthly costs of an active adult community vary drastically depending largely on where you live. In addition, the level of amenities provided can affect the overall cost. If you live in a major city with high housing costs, such as Boston, San Francisco, or New York, you can expect higher costs. Of course, the size of your living space also affects the price you pay, with a two-bedroom home costing more than a studio.

Even in a state with a high cost of living, though, it's possible to find affordable active adult communities. For example, adults who prize the great weather in Southern California or who want to be near family there can head to towns like Hemet or Apple Valley to buy homes starting in the mid $200,000s located in 55+ resort-style communities with golf courses and low HOA fees of around $150 per month.

Along the Gulf Coast of Florida, active adults can find homes set in retirement communities filled with lakes and the recreational amenities that go along with them, again beginning in the $200,000s.

Looking for a more posh community on the higher end? High-end active adult communities featuring homes with prices approaching $2 million are available for those seeking expansive ocean views, marinas, polo grounds, or high-rise views over exciting cities such as Chicago.

Expect to pay monthly fees that average around $5,000 for the luxurious lifestyles provided at these high-end communities.

It's often possible to find more affordable options in the same retirement communities, with smaller homes beginning in the high $300,000s and monthly fees in the $3,000s in these same communities.

Active adult communities vs. independent living communities

Active adult and independent living communities share a lot in common. Both consist of homes that residents own or rent, and both provide exterior maintenance services and recreational options. Independent living communities, though, have many services that aren't available in active adult communities.

Independent living communities offer housekeeping services, as well as on-site meal plans of various sorts. In addition, residents of independent living communities can take advantage of personal care services and some health care services on-site. Staff members are typically available to help residents as needed.

Active adult vs. independent living features and services:

Both active adult and independent living communities typically offer:

  • Age restrictions
  • Condos or apartments
  • Educational, recreational, and social activities

And while independent living communities will often offer transportation services, they cannot provide single-family homes as active-adult communities often do.

Active adult communities vs. assisted living communities

While active adult communities are designed for those who are able to live independently, assisted living communities cater to those who need a little help with the Activities of Daily Living, such as bathing, grooming, and managing medication. Assisted living communities also provide all meals for their residents, something you won't find in an active adult community.

Active adult vs. assisted living features and services:

Assisted living communities offer:

  • Help with ADLs
  • Medication management
  • Personal care
  • Housekeeping
  • Meals
  • Transportation
  • Memory care (sometimes)

Compared to this, active adult communities can guarantee age restrictions, but they simply aren't designed to provide the care that assisted living can offer. Both types of community will provide fun activities, however. Just because assisted living residents cannot live as independently as those in active adult communities doesn't mean they aren't having as much fun socializing, exploring, and living their best lives.

How do I choose an active adult community?

You should think about the kind of lifestyle you're looking for as well as what you can afford. Some considerations as you look for a 55+ community include:

  • Cost. Your costs include rent or mortgage plus your HOA dues — and you still have to pay for your own meals, health care, and other personal expenses. Add up the numbers to see what you can afford.
  • Location. If you don't like the greater area you're living in, it may not matter how much you like the 55+ retirement community you're considering. Make sure you choose an area you love, with the weather and activities you prefer.
  • Amenities. Golf-lovers won't be happy if they end up in a 55+ community with no golf course, while others might not want to pay for a golf course they don't use. Check out the amenities at the retirement community to see if they match your personality
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Emma Rodbro is Head of Growth Operations at Seniorly and holds an MA in Social Work with a focus on aging

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