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Are You Ready for a 55-Plus Active Living Community?

How to determine when to move and when to stay put.

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Rose Wong
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Remember that energizing blend of stress and excitement accompanying your journey to college? Maybe it’s time to revisit that emotional odyssey. When considering a move to a 55-plus community, get ready for that same rush of anticipation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people ages 55 and older represent more than 20 percent of the country. For many of us — I’m 62 — retirement is not about settling down and living the rest of life in a tired routine. We are eager to explore new things, maintain a social life and enjoy our life savings. With these healthy aging goals in mind, active adult communities have become increasingly appealing.

For me, tackling the emotions of moving began when our youngest child moved out. I loved the idea of condo life, which offered an escape from house and yard upkeep. However, I worried about how our three grown kids, all single and living independently, would feel about losing their "home base."

Shouldn’t we wait until all were settled (read married) before moving on? My husband, four years older than me, felt that was unrealistic.

So our search began with local condo communities. We quickly found these full of young couples with small children. We feared being the neighborhood "older couple," lacking peers with whom to socialize Plus the townhouses we liked best had stairs everywhere — not great for aging knees and mobility.

After a yearlong search, we found just the right active 55-plus community. The New Jersey Shore location is ideal, the condo layout is perfect and we are slowly becoming immersed in our new neighborhood which includes a pool, a gym and a clubhouse for everything from card games to themed parties. I've taken up yoga classes, and water aerobics and even helped launch a community newsletter.

Having made this move and having surveyed many retirees, here are my key findings.

The best reasons to move:

How does your empty nest feel?  The early retiree days are just plain fun. The sense of newfound freedom is exciting. No more professional deadlines. You can eat dinner at 10 p.m. (or 4 p.m.!) and watch movies at 3 a.m. (or noon!) — without workplace or children worries. A long-lost feeling of spontaneity was returning — and I was constantly paging through travel brochures. That sense of freedom propelled us to change our lives. If this is you, perhaps it’s time for a life lift and home change, too.

House getting heavy? Does the prospect of new paint or a new deck cause more dread than delight? Does the idea of a new, smaller space spark your imagination? Both were true for me. Suddenly, our happy home where my husband and I raised three awesome children and hosted many parties for neighbors and friends, felt burdensome. So many projects needed tending. It was the right time to focus on tending more on ourselves.

Want new ‘colleagues’? Would you like to expand your circle of retiree friends — particularly those chasing active new adventures? New Yorkers Lisa Pullman and her husband, Scott, bought their retirement home in a 55-plus community in Port St Lucie, Florida, three years ago.

“For 30 years we dedicated 100 percent to our boys and our careers,” says Lisa. “Now it’s time for us. This feels like the ultimate summer camp experience — endless things to do and so many great people to meet. We loved it here from day one.” Lisa's community offers a sports club, bike paths, tennis, golf and, of course, pickleball.

Ready for the excavating challenge? Expect to spend endless hours poring over all forms of nostalgic memorabilia; and lots of tears. (preschool handmade crafts are killers). Then, there is the moment of the final exit — sobbing. But I knew we were up to the challenge and grateful to meet it in healthy, our-choice-to-move circumstances

In other words, consider moving if you believe your current home will hold you back in mind, body and spirit for the last third of your life.

The best reasons to stay put:

You take great joy in the home you have dedicated so many years to creating. Your home is a point of pride, perhaps a legacy that may even date back generations. You cannot imagine hosting family events anywhere else. It’s the place you aspire to forever call home.

Your current neighborhood is central to your life. You live among a diverse community of people of all ages — and you are deeply woven into its fabric. Or, contrarily, you live in a remote location and enjoy limited contact with neighbors. In either case, you feel deeply connected, and fulfilled, where you are.

Your greatest hobbies rely on your private home. You are a gardener who gets great joy in the landscape you’ve created. You can’t imagine living somewhere that limits the pets you can have, or rules them out. You collect motorcycles, antique cars, lawn ornaments or other precious items that spill into passersby’s view. You would not welcome rules and restrictions on your home — or on your beloved dogs and cats.

Key considerations:

Joiner Paranoia

According to New Jersey retirees Joe and Debbie Dunne, this is among the most exaggerated and misunderstood of issues. “People fear they will be forced to become 'joiners' and it’s simply not true."

“No one is going to knock on your door and insist on your participation in anything,” says Joe. You can become what his wife Debbie calls “a choosey-joiner." My husband and I joined the Bocce Club, never having touched a bocce ball before. It turned out to be a great way to meet our new neighbors.

Size Matters

Florida retiree Mary Zezima cautions against getting lost in a huge, sprawling development as well as the "invasive" nature of the smallest communities. In other words, your personal Goldilocks rules apply. What feels just right to you?

Amenity Serenity

The menu of possible 55-plus community amenities is endless. They include basics like lawn care, gyms and pools, and expansive features like stocked lakes, dog parks and cooking classes. Note that amenities directly impact homeowner fees. So carefully compare these conveniences to your priorities — and your pockets.

Visit Early and Often

Just like college campuses, adult communities have a vibe. There are no insider guides, so you need to do your own sleuthing. Walk around and talk to people. What activities are most popular? What is the average age of the residents? Are guests (and pets) welcome?

If the positives add up for you, expect a rewarding transition. After all, like the campus experience of long ago, this can be your runway toward an exciting journey ahead.

Have any of you considered moving to a 55-plus active living community? Let us know in the comments below.

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