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8 Things I’ve Learned While Looking For The Perfect Retirement Community To Call Home

retirement, retirement locations, 8 things i’ve learned while looking for the perfect retirement community to call home

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It finally happened. I was finally able to take an early retirement and join my wife who had been enjoying the leisurely life now for a good year, rubbing it in every minute of the day.

It was all in good humor, of course, but during the time leading up to my own retirement, we began thinking about moving away to a new area, even a new state. There were many reasons why we would consider such a move after paying off our current house and living in the area for over 40 years: to be closer to my family and longtime friends; to move to an area that is full of historic sites and museums, something we love dearly; and basically just get a change of scenery.

Your list of reasons to relocate is probably similar to mine. We looked around in the area we were thinking of relocating to and discovered an option that has become extremely popular with young retirees — the 55+ community.

There are many reasons to consider a 55+ community when you retire: great amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts, and depending on the homeowner association fees, there may be little or no yard work for you to do. It’s all taken care of for you.

Sound great, right? But as I found out, there are many questions that need to be answered before buying into a 55+ community, questions that you should consider, too.

1. What Is A 55+ Community? 

Before we get into things to consider before buying into a 55+ community, it helps to know what it is.

First of all, pay attention to its name — 55+ community. They are no longer referred to as “retirement communities.” As the name implies, it is an established community of adult residents ages 55 and older. You will be surprised to find out just how many 55-year-olds are buying into these communities.

Some of these communities strictly regulate that all residents be 55 or over while others are willing to overlook it if one spouse is 55 and the other 54 years old.

The number of houses and residents in a community varies, but all offer some sort of incentive for moving in such as exclusive resident amenities, tax breaks, etc.

2. What Housing Options Are Available? 

55+ communities offer many different housing options. There are single-family houses on small quarter to half-acre lots, apartments, townhouses, and duplex or semi-detached houses.

Before looking at your first community, consider what option best suits your needs and preferences. Will you be downsizing and a simple apartment will be adequate, or do you have a need for the extra space that a single-family home offers?

Many homes in a 55+ community are built close together or in the case of a townhouse or duplex, adjoining each other. Will you be comfortable with the close proximity of your neighbor?

Consider how many rooms you need. Do you need extra space for an office or exercise room? How about when you have guests spending the night? Do you want to have a yard?

When considering a community, visit their website and check out the floor plans and options available.

3. How Much Can You Afford?

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is how much can you afford? Begin by setting a realistic budget.

At first glance, buying a brand new or recently renovated house in one of these communities appears to be a great deal. You can find some really great deals out there on a new home, but you will be surprised just how quickly that cost can grow when you start crunching the numbers.

In our shopping experience, we found a nice 1,400-square-foot home in a community at a reasonable price we could afford. But that was to buy the house alone. There were several other fees to consider.

First, there are Homeowner Association, or HOA, fees to consider. Sometimes the fees are low, sometimes they are high. When it comes to HOA fees, it’s not only the price that matters but also what you will get for your money.

For example, in several locations my wife and I looked at, we found fairly reasonable fees ranging from anywhere between $100 and $150. The area we were looking in gets a considerable amount of snow in winter. Those fees included snow removal from the roads and also the home’s sidewalks and driveways. They also included landscaping and lawn care. When looking ahead to the golden years when doing such chores on your own may become impossible, that is a pretty good deal.

HOA fees also include access to various amenities like tennis courts and swimming pools within the community — nice options to have. Be sure to verify with the relator you are dealing with about what is included in their fees and any restrictions that may apply.

Property tax is another fee you need to consider. An excellent site to find tax rates across the country is the SmartAsset website. It’s completely free and gives a pretty accurate picture of what you can expect in any community. Simply choose a state, enter some basic information like the zip code where the community is located, and up come the numbers.

Some communities and states offer tax breaks for retirees. Be sure to ask the realtor if the community you’re interested in offers tax abatements. Many times, abatements are used to foster growth in a community by cutting your tax rate or even delaying property taxes for a period of time. Just remember that these are temporary and the full cost will eventually kick in.

And don’t forget to factor in the cost of living for the area you are looking to move to. Your budget should include estimated costs for healthcare, food, and energy as well as the mortgage and taxes you will pay on your new home.

4. Does The Community Fit Your Lifestyle? 

Consider the lifestyle the community offers. Many communities offer large venues where small concerts, dances, and educational classes are held.

Do a little research into the community’s activities. Do residents organize events like hiking or bike treks to nearby parks? Or maybe field trips to historic sites and museums?

5. How Big Is The Community? 

Another question to ask is how big of a community do you want to live in? They range in size from extremely small — like Golden Oaks Village in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains where there are only 100 houses — to the mega Villages in Florida with almost 55,000. Each has its pros and cons.

6. Are There Rules You Can Live With? 

Naturally, 55+ communities have rules that residents have to follow. Are they rules you can live with?

Check with the relator about what is expected of you as a resident in the community. There may be parking rules that restrict how many cars can be on a property, rules that dictate how you can decorate your yard or paint your house, and many more.

As mentioned earlier, some communities restrict who can live on the property. For example, some require that both occupants be over 55 years old. One can’t be 54 or younger.

Some communities may not allow children under 18 to live there and some even restrict visitation to the community, only allowing people over 18 to visit, a definite problem if you love having the grandkids over.

The bottom line is to check those rules before buying!

7. Does The Area Suit You? 

It’s just as important to learn if the area around the community is right for you. Do you like antique shopping? Are there any nearby? Are you a history buff? Are there museums and historic sites nearby that interest you? How about movie and entertainment venues and outdoor recreational activities like hiking or fishing?

You have plenty of years ahead of you to enjoy life. Make sure the area offers enough to keep you active and happy.

8. Talk To The Neighbors For A Sense Of Community 

One thing that my wife and I did when visiting communities that interested us was to park the car and walk down the sidewalks. Occasionally we would meet some of the community’s residents who were more than happy to talk to us about life there.

You will be surprised how some open up to you to dish about the community’s good — and bad — aspects.

So talk to the neighbors and get a sense of what community life is like.

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