This type of community is ideal for people who want to downsize into a more manageable home. Often, this is the summer home for Canadians who spend winter in the southern US or elsewhere warmer. It's "a worry-free and maintenance-free place for us to spend the summer," as one homeowner puts it. Ideally, communities offer people bungalow living or other accessible living. Sometimes referred to as 55-plus homes, these allow you to take full advantage of your newly discovered freedom.
Communities offer services and amenities ranging from restaurant-style fine dining, fitness centers, on-site golf courses, indoor sports complexes, an indoor or outdoor swimming pool, a fireside lounge to luxury furnished suites. Some are gated. Your choice of accommodations could be anything from single detached homes to boutique-style retirement residences in an apartment building.
One of the most important advantages active adult residents mention is the friendly atmosphere in their community. Seniors who spend time with friends and family, volunteering, traveling, and doing things they enjoy are able to live longer, healthier lives, as is shown by various research. Social interaction is a necessary component of health. Most importantly, being around others helps you avoid loneliness and just live a more enjoyable life.
There are a variety of terms used synonymously to describe this type of living. Some other names used are active lifestyle, active adult lifestyle, 55 plus and adult retirement, to name only a few. All of these phrases are used interchangeably and refer to communities that are segregated from other neighbourhoods and appeal to people who are usually 50 and older and who are no longer raising a family.
Moving into an active adult lifestyle community also makes life safer and easier than it used to be. Many communities offer onsite security that gives peace of mind and keeps residents safe. Communities make living easier through convenient services (i.e. personal laundry services, housekeeping, general maintenance) and provide an endless number of activities to help you stay healthy and in good shape, in a vibrant community atmosphere.
Bungalow (ranch-style) communities or other subdivision-style communities consist of several acres of what may be a closed community of hundreds of homes. All homes in the area will be ideal for retired couples or even singles who want to live in a friendly little community – like a small town full of people your own age, interests and background. Some of these can have very lovely locations, such as proximity to water, seclusion from busy highways, heavily wooded areas, etc. People in this style of community say it's like living in a cottage year round.
These active lifestyle villages (as some of them will, in fact, be like) may have an onsite tennis court, golf course, restaurant, fitness center, library, walking trails... the list goes on. All of these amenities will foster a close-knit community of those 50 and older, forming new friendships or strengthening older ones.
Condo communities for active living are typically situated in a city, but may have some pastoral features like landscaped gardens, ponds, walking trails, etc., and they may be situated near parks or other greenspace. Inside the building or buildings there may be a games room, a chapel, a lounge or bar and other amenities. Contemporary condo communities will be built with maximum accessibility in mind. Townhouse complexes are typically found in residential neighborhoods in a city or town.
These are an attractive, even prestigious option within the sphere of active adult lifestyle. This type of community may be bungalows or houses, with the added security and exclusivity offered by a secured gate. Golf courses and other amenities may also be a feature of the community, and services such as snow shoveling and grass cutting may also be covered by costs. These may include a recreation centre, hiking trails, the list goes on. Check communities for more details.
Gated communities are rarer in Canada than they are in the United States, but more crop up all the time, especially in Canada's larger cities. The security here is simply not available through any other means, and these are especially ideal for couples who spend a lot of time traveling or otherwise away from home. The added security means that your home is invulnerable to random break-ins or any other type of crime.
"We want to be sure that our home is secure when we are away," says Gail, owner of a gated community home in the city of Toronto. "We travel at least six months of the year, and we’ve never had to worry about our home, never had to ask our kids to check up on it and never had any problem coming back to our home after we've been away for an extended period of time."
Making your own home the nineteenth hole (not necessarily vice versa!)
One of the most sought-after features in any adult lifestyle community is a golf course. Of course, a driving range, putting green and even a mini-putt are also nice to have. Lots of people are looking to "trade in their riding lawnmower for a golf cart" when they sell off their family home. Comfort Life lists homes with both 9 hole and 18 hole courses, and many active lifestyle communities are at least near a golf course. For many people, golfing and retirement go together like hand and (golfing) glove.
If you're moving into a golf community, be sure to learn everything about guests' policy, dress codes, availability of golf carts and other concerns you might have.
Ed King, one resident of a golf community in Toronto says it well: "We love our new home at the golf course."
For communities or new phases that are under development, there are specific questions and concerns that come up for new home buyers. Here are some concerns to dig into with sales agents, or in your own research:
What type of assessments have there been? Find out all you can about objective material written about the community, including information from local municipal government or any other bodies. At least scan these and research online to make sure there is nothing amiss.
What introductory materials or packages are available? For example, some communities offer a weekend getaway that lets you try out the community experience for a weekend or even longer. This is an ideal way to try out living there, but be aware of any signs that people may be "putting on a face". Other developments offer online videos or DVD packages that can be an informative way to introduce yourself from afar. New developments may also host a presentation night, where you can learn everything you may want.
Does the community or the builder have a "sinking fund"? A sinking fund provides capital for improvements or upgrades to community property or to ensure that communal costs are covered for the foreseeable future. It's nice to know if the community will be re-investing in its future.
What is the reputation of the builder; especially, how stable are the builder's finances? Learn all you can about the community’s financial background. Some communities are begun under the best of intentions but the developer has encountered difficulties, financial or otherwise. Building projects or developments are sometimes hit during economic downturns. Properties may be selling slower than anticipated; this may affect a variety of factors such as dealing with ongoing construction or poor property maintenance of unsold land, which may concern you.
How many floor plans are offered by each new community you are considering? If you are comparing across communities, we suggest you pick out one floor plan from each community then compare your choices. Consider the possibility that your accessibility needs may change, then consider the adaptability of the home or community to increased accessibility requirements. Different municipalities or different active adult lifestyle communities may have very different possibilities when it comes to adaptability.
What are zoning bylaws for the areas in and around the development? If there are nothing but farmers' fields or forested areas around the community, don't assume that's how it's always going to be. Get to know what has been zoned for the area or what changes in local zoning might be in the works.
How well has the development been integrated with the natural environment? Homeowners and landowners (like you) are increasingly concerned about our impact on the environment, for the sake of the ecosystem but also for the sake of the long-term wellbeing of the active adult community. Find out all you can about the degree of environmental preservation, and (for example) protection programs for local wildlife, etc.
These communities create an environment ideal for people who have shifted into their post-child-rearing years and whose interests have changed somewhat with age. "I'm not going to let being 74 years old change me, not if I can help it," says Jack, a resident of a lifestyle community just outside of London, Ontario, where great trails nearby allow him to cycle every day.
One strong feature seen across a number of developments is a recreation centre on site, where all activities are geared toward those 50 and over. Some communities set up regularly scheduled casino nights where community residents can have friendly games of blackjack or play roulette together. There may also be an indoor swimming pool where people can swim laps, play water polo or other sports, and there may be other communally-shared facilities that are all included in the cost you pay.
"We moved here because it's a smaller, more manageable home, in a smaller community. We wouldn't trade it for anything," says Francine, Jack's wife. "Being with people our own age, with similar concerns, definitely makes a difference in your everyday living."
Is life perfect in these communities? Well, nothing's perfect. "There are different personalities, to be sure," says Francine, "so you know who to hang around with and who to keep your distance from, the same as you would in any neighbourhood or community. The way I look at it, that makes it like a big family. It's just a great place to live."
"Being with people our own age, with similar concerns, definitely makes a difference in your everyday living."
Communities develop over time, and there are some people who have moved into this style of housing ten or fifteen years ago and who may have developed care needs in the meantime. These changes are easily accommodated, of course. It's important to note that these communities are made up of people at a variety of ages and stages; the range of age in a community can be anywhere from late 40's to 80 and older.
This type of housing is similar to any residential neighbourhood, in that it can accommodate people of any level of need; it's fine to live here and age in place as long as you want. For younger couples or singles just starting out in an active living community, that can mean that some of your neighbours are older than you.
We have seen some developments that grow in phases that range over many years, even decades. The first phase may have been built in the 1990's, and it may now be in its sixth phase of development, adding dozens or even hundreds of new homes. Anne in New Hamburg has told us how this phased development creates "impromptu mini-communities, where each phase will have its own mini-age group or friendships, and even its own personality."
While most communities are geared toward couples, inevitably there are singles, some who have been divorced or widowed. Communities do not discriminate, of course. If you can afford to stay here as a single, you will find these welcoming. There may also be other singles to mingle with.
Similarly, communities do not (nor cannot) discriminate against people or couples who are gay or transgender. If you live with a partner and share costs, communities become much more affordable.
There have also been some communities that are developed with LGBQT seniors in mind. Developments in major cities like Vancouver and Toronto are typically more progressive-minded in respect to this issue.