Homes for active elders

Homebuilders cater to a growing demand by baby boomers for housing with more luxury touches and social amenities


With main-street designs, meditation gardens, walking paths, day spas, driving ranges and fitness centers, one thing is clear: Today's active adult community is not your grandfather's retirement home.

It's also not necessarily in Florida, Arizona or some other sunny state. Active adult housing is popping up everywhere.

Builders are finding this type of housing is the perfect match for empty-nesters and baby boomers who have built up equity in their homes and are looking for maintenance-free living with lots of extras.

And developers often can build age-restricted projects in areas that have imposed limits on new homes because of worries about crowded schools.

When Carroll County residents Wayne and Peggy Kruhm, both in their early 60s, decided to sell their 3,800-square-foot house on one acre in Taylorsville, they found Taneytown to be the perfect location.

The new Del Webb community of Carroll Vista, about 25 minutes from the Kruhms' old house, had everything they were looking for - a long list of amenities, maintenance-free living and a location central to both of their sons and four grandchildren.

"That was a big thing," said Peggy Kruhm. "We had to be within a reasonable distance of them."

"At one point we both loved doing the yardwork. But we have gotten to the point where we weren't unhappy not to have to do that anymore," she added. "And we just loved the concept. We like having a community of people of like age that we can do recreational things with."

The Kruhms bought their new house, which ahs three bedrooms and three bathrooms, for $368,000, and they pay $195 a month for maintenance fees and use of amenities, including the clubhouse, swimming pools and driving range.

Nationwide, there are about 1,200 active adult communities that are currently selling new homes, according to William Parks, who studies trends in active adult housing for PDC-Parks Development Consulting, based in Arizona. Florida is the most popular location with 305 such communities, followed by New Jersey, Arizona and California.

Maryland, in combination with surrounding states, is rapidly amassing a concentration of those communities. There are 38 under development in the state, with three in the pipeline, and another 17 already built out. Pennsylvania has 39 currently being sold, Virginia 28 and Delaware 19, with another 16 on the drawing boards.

"They are popping up all over the place and a lot have sprung up around Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia," Parks said. "They are taking advantage of that huge population along the East Coast."

In 2003, the latest figures available, people older than 55 accounted for 18.8 percent of the market for new homes, amounting for $51 billion in sales, according to the National Association of Home Builders. That number will only grow as an estimated 77.5 million baby boomers move toward retirement.

That swelling population should help guarantee good resale values, said Connie Morrissette, manager of the Jennifer Road Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Annapolis.

"These communities are going to be in great demand. They are looking for a lifestyle at that point. They want the option to have their yards taken care of and things of that nature," Morrissette said. "The resale value is going to be good. I don't see it being any other way."

Research shows boomers want first-floor living space, high-end kitchens, luxurious master suites and high-tech media rooms in their housing. They also want amenities that allow them to remain physically fit and socially active.

"We are seeing much more affluent buyers in this market," Parks said. "They are really buying a lot of bells and whistles."

Fifty-nine percent of younger boomers say they intend to buy a new home for their retirement and remain within driving distance of family members, according to a 2005 Del Webb baby boomer survey. Of those respondents planning to move, 44 percent said they would consider moving to an active adult community, which typically offers a range of homes at modest premiums to conventional developments.

Lou Baker, president of the Maryland division of Pulte Homes Inc., said research shows these buyers want the resort-style living but - like the Kruhms - are not willing to move more than three hours away from family and friends to get it.

"There are a lot of advantages - same churches, same doctors, same things they are accustomed to, but the biggest driver is grandchildren," Baker said. "They are such a draw."

When Del Webb and Pulte merged in 2001, Baker said the company had about a dozen active adult communities. Today it has 33 nationwide, 22 scheduled to open within the next 18 months and more than 100 planned.

"We are opening a heck of a lot more of them because of this trend to retire in place and also because of the sheer number of people getting to 55 and older," Baker said.

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