Today, builders have slapped the tag "active adult" on them because not only do people want maintenance-free, one-floor living, they want all the styles and amenities available in 2002.
"They very much strongly want a place that is going to serve their needs," Koren said. "We must step up the quality of life that they had before to attract them to our community.
"In the old days, you used to argue that a retirement community should target the prices at a percentage of the last house that an adult had before moving here. ... It was a formula. Somebody said, you're going to move out of a $200,000 house, so take 75 percent of that and give them an active-adult place at $150,000. Today, I'm not sure that that is correct."
At the Villages of Woodholme, where models are expected to be open by July, prices are starting in the $240,000 range for the Ryan townhouses, which are 34 feet wide and 54 feet deep and have 2,100 square feet. The 33 Ryan detached homes, which range from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet, will start at $290,000, as will the 2,400-square-foot NV Homes villas.
How popular have these communities become? Rich Pezzullo, marketing manager for Koch Homes, said people camped out to purchase a home in Crofton Colony, the first 55-and-older project the company had done. But to get it started, it took a "call out of the blue" from an older Crofton resident two years ago who was able to prod owner Gary Koch and Pezzullo into considering an active-adult community.
"The conversation turned to `Why don't you provide the county with what they are looking for, and don't overcrowd the schools and provide the citizens of Crofton what they are looking for,'" Pezzullo said.
"Looking back, it's just been a great success."
At Hickory Crest in Columbia, Patriot Homes President Rick Kunkle said the 88-unit community, which opened a little more than a year ago, is almost sold out. And, he said sales "moved quicker" than at most other Patriot developments.
"We were a little concerned about [making it age-restrictive] when we first contracted to buy the land and to develop the property," Kunkle said. "It turns out the demand was so strong, it was not an issue."
It proved to Kunkle that "there is a shortage for the type of product that we are building."
Jackie Derr, one of the first homebuyers in Hickory Crest, found out firsthand how difficult it was to find a home suited for her age group. Derr, "a young 67," looked with her husband to move from their Glen Burnie home for years before learning about Hickory Crest. "I wanted a real pretty home," she said. "I didn't want to go into an apartment-type, three-story kind of thing. We were the real pioneers here in Howard County, there isn't anything like this."
Derr's husband died unexpectedly months before they would have moved into Hickory Crest. However, she decided to go ahead with the purchase.
"People who have moved in here now are not ready for the assisted-living kind of thing," she said. "The majority of the people who are moving into here are probably the people who originally resided in Columbia. They love Howard County. They don't want to move out of it.
"The wonderful thing about this place is you can have a one-story and 1,300 square feet ... or you can have up to almost 3,300, with a loft and basement. People don't have to get rid of things that mean a lot to them."
Size is just one aspect that these buyers are seeking, said Charles D. Harker, a principal at Martin Architectural Group in Philadelphia. The firm specializes in planning and designing active-adult communities, and has done a number in the Baltimore area.
"We've clearly seen in most of the markets that we've gone into clients ask us what size range should we be," said Harker, who has been designing these communities for almost 30 years. "And every time, what we have been finding is that the larger units have become the more popular units.
"We've always been tweaking the floor plans. ... Back then [1970s and 1980s], it was 900 square feet to 1,500 square feet. Now we are finding that a 1,600-square-foot unit is a small unit."
And not only do these buyers want all the upgraded amenities, he said his firm has gotten requests to design two master bedroom suites. "We are always doing split bedrooms ... his-and-her master suites," Harker said.
That might be more the exception than the rule, but an area where developments are distinguishing themselves is in creating a country club feel by making the clubhouse an opulent centerpiece of the community. At the Villages of Woodholme, the gated community will offer residents a 9,000-square- foot, two-story resort-style clubhouse next to a swimming pool and tennis courts. The clubhouse will feature an art room, card room, kitchen, sports bar with multiple wide-screen televisions and a pool area with fitness center.
Harker said other communities go further if residents are willing to pay additional fees.