Older adults pack up, leaving worries behind

`Active-adult' communities cut maintenance concerns while preserving vitality

August 01, 2004|By Tamara El-Khoury | Tamara El-Khoury,SUN STAFF

Rose Pollard, 55, had enough of caring for her lawn in the summer, shoveling snow in the winter and maintaining a home year-round.

After a lifetime of working as a computer operator for Westinghouse, she decided it was time to play.

That was the case with Joan and Pete Ferger as well. They sought relief from Beltway rush-hour traffic by moving to Ocean City. But they encountered beach-goer traffic jams and a year-round vacation atmosphere.

So they packed their home again and, like Pollard, settled in an active-adult community on the Eastern Shore.

Pollard and the Fergers are part of a nationwide trend of baby boomers (those who are now 40 to 58 years old) and older adults who are buying into active-adult communities even though many of them aren't ready to hang up their business suits for good.

The real estate industry has been moving to meet an expected growing demand for communities catering to the baby boomers and others. Now that the kids aren't around to be persuaded to mow the lawn or clean the gutters, builders are finding that more buyers want maintenance-free communities. And with the recent price appreciation of most homes, many older homeowners can afford luxury communities.

Builders enjoy dealing with sophisticated buyers who can afford to add several amenities to their homes.

A recent survey by builder Del Webb, which constructs communities nationwide for older Americans, found that customers for this kind of housing are getting younger and continuing to work.

The survey, conducted in April and May, showed that 36 percent of boomers will move to a new home once their children move out. Another 26 percent are considering purchasing a home in an active-adult community, which in most cases requires one resident to be older than 55 and doesn't allow anyone younger than 19 to live there.

The survey polled 1,174 residents age 40 to 70 and had a error rate of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Active-adult communities don't have assisted-living programs and have a sweeter ring to them than the term "retirement community," according to builders. Residents pay monthly maintenance or homeowners association fees, which usually are less than $200 a month.

"When you think of a retirement community, you're there to retire and die - that's the mentality," said Joan Ferger. "With an active-adult community, you're moving into a community where there's a lot of socializing."

A clubhouse, monthly newsletter and activities director keep residents informed and busy at the Fergers' community. Not having to deal with maintenance lets residents put their jobs and activities on the top of their priority list.

However, Del Webb, which has a community in Easton, where the Fergers reside, and is opening one in Taneytown, also found that many boomers' nests will be only half-empty.

The builder's survey found that 24 percent of boomers expect their parents or in-laws to move in with them eventually, and 25 percent expect their grown children to move back home.

So although boomers want a resort-like lifestyle, many want it without having to move to Florida or Arizona, according to the survey. They want proximity to metropolitan regions and the grandchildren.

Developers are responding by building communities on the outskirts of big cities. One such new community is Symphony Village at Centreville on the Eastern Shore, where the house styles are named after the likes of Mozart and Vivaldi and where residents cruise through Harmony Way and Encore Court.

Pollard, the first to buy a home in the development, opted for the Strauss model, paying $250,000. She moved in April.

Bob Karen, president of Symphony Development Group LLC, has been building active-adult homes for 30 years, and Symphony Village is his newest project. He said the community's proximity to Washington and Annapolis makes it attractive to boomers who want a recreational lifestyle but still have to make it to the office once or twice a week.

"A lot of our customers want to be easily accessible to their grandchildren," Karen said. "They have many social ties to the area and don't want to go far away from it."

Pollard is 40 minutes away from her grandchild and two children who live in Anne Arundel County. Her children were supportive of her move from a home in Gambrills to Symphony Village at Centreville.

"They thought it would suit my lifestyle because I like to travel, and this way I can leave my house, I can lock it up and take off and not worry about it," she said.

Andy Cochera, an AARP spokesman, said the organization has found that the rate of moving for those over 55 is minimal - 5 percent. But the strong housing market gives the impression that everyone is moving.

"We don't necessarily know if boomers have, as a generation, made this move to active-adult retirement communities," Cochera said. "Part of the problem is that we've had a very active housing market over the past few years."

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