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Over 55 Active Adult Retirement communities - right for you?
My wife and I moved to an over 55 retirement community in December of 2005. We had actually started looking for places like this two years earlier but hadn't found what we wanted. I thought I might share with you some if the things we learned both while searching and after living here a while.
I am not retired
First, I'm not retired. I am self employed and work out of our home. I will say that the recent recession has made me less busy than I'd like, but I am still actively working every day. We didn't move here to retire.
My wife has physical problems. Scoliosis, several ruptured discs in her back and very painful joint disease throughout her body. She also has one leg a little shorter than the other and trouble with her hips due to both inflammation and that the bone that goes into the socket is shorter than it should be. She's in constant pain and often has difficulty both walking and concentrating - mostly due to lack of sleep from the pain. She is retired and on Social Security. She is the primary reason we began looking at retirement communities; we knew that sooner or later she would need single floor living and we didn't want to wait until we were forced into it and would have to make a hasty decision. We wanted to find the right place to live and as we were approaching our 60's, a retirement community made sense - why move twice?
We also felt that real estate was near its top and we wanted to take our profits when we could. As it turned out, we missed that by just few months, and sold just as the real estate market started to tumble.
Don't feel too sad for us: we had bought our house in 1973, so we made plenty of money. Just not as much as we would have liked and not enough to avoid having a small mortgage here.
I really regret that, because early on someone actually had suggested the very place we ended up back when we first started looking. We paid no attention because he described it as "very expensive". It isn't, but it must have seemed so to him. If we had looked into it and had sold our home earlier, we might have easily made another $50,000 or more - quite possibly enough that we would have no mortgage here. But we did not, so that's over and done, right?
This was 2003. We knew we didn't want to live in a condominium or an apartment. We didn't want yard work or snow shovelling, but we wanted to stay in MA and not in a city. We searched on the Internet, in newspapers and asked everyone we knew for recommendations.
Finding the reitrement community
Let me mention a few things about searching for retirement living on the Internet. You might think you could just type "retirement community" or "over 55 community" but in my experience not everything will be found that way. If you want to find retirement choices in MA, you need to search for "MA retirement communities" and "Massachusetts retirement communities". You also need "55+", "Senior", "55 plus", "Active adult", "age restricted", "senior independent retirement", "senior-friendly", "independent living" and "master planned community" variations and combinations. There are probably other key words I haven't thought of. It can really take a lot of effort to find everything.
Of course you also need to buy multiple newspapers and the ads you want may not be where you expect to find them. This is why it took us two years to even know about the place we ended up at. I finally stumbled upon it in an Internet search, and we knew it was what we wanted just from the web page. We visited that same week and bought shortly thereafter.
What we bought is a 1600 square foot manufactured home. We rent the land it sits on and the site owners take care of plowing, shoveling our walk, mowing the grass, even trimming our shrubs. We do some of our own yard work and landscaping because we enjoy it, but we don't have to.
Some communities have restrictions on extra landscaping and so on. This community does require submitting your intentions for approval, but they haven't refused permission on anything we have wanted to do as of yet.
Mistakes we made
Some mistakes we made: we didn't take into account the storage space we had in our cellar or the fact that we had more rooms in our house and therefore more wall space. We thought we could fit all of our furniture comfortably because the square footage wasn't a lot less and we were planning on giving away or selling enough to make up the difference. We thought a one car garage would be fine as we planned on selling our other car after moving, but we really could have used the extra storage space that the two car garage would have given us.
The picture at the bottom of the page is our garage shortly after moving in. It was a few months before we could make room for our car.
We still have no room for our golf cart. That has to sit in the driveway all winter and gets moved behind the house in winter so the plows don't have to avoid it. We wish we had a two car garage - that would have helped.
We also missed a few problems on the inspection walk through. In hind site it definitely would have paid to have hired a professional to come with us - we missed some obvious defects. Nothing really major, but it would have been better to have found them.
Quality of manufactured homes
Generally speaking, these manufactured homes are very good. However, we were not and are not happy with the quality with the quality of the windows or of the roofing. The windows are tight, but difficult to raise and lower. The thin plastic at the bottom which you'd grab to raise them has cracked on two of them. We've had two very minor but still annoying roof leaks also.
On the plus side, these homes are well insulated and our heating costs have been less than they were in our home. We were warned not to paint until the home settled because of cracks, but we haven't had any. I was also concerned about water in the shallow crawl space but that's been bone dry.
We have had a few warranty issues and found the management to be very responsive.
By the way, this hub on the cost of modular homes like ours may be helpful to you.
This community has a large shared clubhouse and a very well run social department. There are a large number of clubs and regular activities like movies and dances at low cost or often free. Although my wife sometimes has to dance with a cane, it is great to get out once a month for that and I play poker every week and run our monthly community computer club. We really enjoy living here.
When investigating these communities, it is good to talk to current residents. We did a bit of that, but should have done more. If the community has a common postal center or mail drop, that's a good place just to hang out on a Saturday if you can. You'll meet a wide range of people and often they are very willing to talk about their likes and dislikes.
I've suggested to prospective buyers that they should buy their own appliances and their own flooring. The choices available from the site sales are limited in both quality and selection. We tore out most of the standard carpeting and replaced it with wood floors of better quality than what they had to offer. We also replaced the dishwasher; which was a very cheap, very noisy model.
It's also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the greater community. We had no idea where stores were and spent several months somewhat befuddled because we hadn't learned shortcuts. Befriending some locals helped a lot!
We've found that there are quite a few other people like us here who are either not retired or only partially retired. We thought we'd be surrounded by people much older, but although there certainly are such people, there are others right around our age. We made new friends here quickly.
We did need to adjust our expectations a bit. Although they do plow and mow as I said, they don't do high quality work - that surely comes from hiring low bidders. On the other hand, you don't have to keep up with the Jones; everyones yard is less than perfect - acceptable, but not up to the standards we had at our home.
We are happy to be here
Overall, we are glad we made this move. The community we chose fits our needs, expectations and budget very well. It's not perfect, but neither was our home. We are happy to be here.