For many residents, the social aspects of 55-plus communities—such as golf, tennis, shuffleboard or exercise groups—are a major selling point. It can be easier to stay socially connected in communities that encourage interaction and group activities, and those connections can help stave off loneliness and isolation, says Alicea Ardito, a Virginia-based licensed clinical social worker who specializes in care of older adults. In fact, Finnish researchers concluded in a 2021 study that the social activities typical in housing communities designed for older adults appear to support well-being and healthy aging effectively.
Fewer Kids, Yet More Opportunities for Intergenerational Interaction
For individuals tired of noisy neighborhood children, a quieter atmosphere could be a welcome change. “What 55-plus communities really offer that’s different from other types of housing is that there are no kids around,” says Friedman.
Many communities have limits on how long visitors under the age of 55 can stay, says Andrew Carle, adjunct professor of senior living administration at Georgetown University.
On the other hand, for those keen on living in a more age-diverse setting, an increasing number of retirement communities are being built near or on university campuses. Experts anticipate this trend to continue, as intergenerational interaction appears to provide significant health benefits for older adults, according to research published in Frontiers in Public Health.
“Mirabella at Arizona State University is maybe the best example right now,” Carle says. These communities are attached to universities and offer residents opportunities to take classes, attend lectures and football games, and “just be around young people, which we know can make you feel younger,” he says.
Lower Home Prices
Whether you or a loved one are interested in a three-bedroom home or a studio apartment, real estate in 55-plus communities is often less expensive than properties would be in the broader market, says Rande Friedman, a senior real estate specialist in Tampa, Florida.
“They can be very affordable, depending on the amenities. The buyer pool is smaller, which is why they sell for less,” says Friedman. Friedman also notes to be aware that 55-plus communities almost always come with Homeowner Association (HOA) fees, which can be very high.
HOA fees in 55-plus communities typically cover maintenance of the property, including road resurfacing in the community and pool and grounds maintenance. Some communities might include home utilities and internet in their fees as well. Be sure to ask exactly what’s covered because there’s no industry standard, says Mike McClernon, a certified senior advisor and founder of Assisted Living Locators of Long Island in New York.
Homes May Be Smaller
It’s not a given that a home in a 55-plus community will be smaller than what you live in now, but 55-plus communities can be enticing to people looking to downsize. But if you move into an apartment or condo, the storage space available in a 55-plus community may be limited.
A Safe Environment
Many 55-plus communities are gated, which means only approved guests can enter. This feature alone can make residents feel safer. Meanwhile, larger communities might also employ security staff who regularly patrol the community.
A User-Friendly Design
Newer 55-plus housing options are likely to include elements of universal design, which prioritizes functionality, says Carle. Homes in 55-plus communities are likely to be single level to eliminate stairs, have light switches and counters that are lower and accessible for people who use a wheelchair, no-step showers and easy-to-reach cabinets, he says.
“It goes beyond ADA compliance and just makes a better home. It goes to usability,” says Carle.
A well-designed 55-plus home likely includes these sorts of accessibility features, adds Friedman.
At the very least, most 55-plus communities handle grounds maintenance, but some offer resort-like amenities, such as a limousine service, nightly activities in the clubhouse and gourmet meals, says McClernon. In addition to typical offerings like golf, tennis and pickleball, maintained dog parks are an increasingly popular 55-plus amenity, he says, and some communities offer art studios, classes and on-site lectures for residents to attend as well.
Other communities also offer health and care services such as assistance with daily tasks.
HOA and Membership Fees
Fancy resort-style living doesn’t come cheap, says Carle. In many cases, HOA fees can exceed $800 a month. What’s more, some communities might have additional fees on top of HOA fees, such as membership to an adjacent country club.
Rules and Regulations
HOA rules in a 55-plus community are no different from what is common in non-age restricted HOAs, says Friedman. They could forbid painting your home certain colors or dictate what you’re allowed to keep outside on your patio. Other communities may have rules about how long an RV can be parked in your driveway or how long a visitor under the age of 55 is permitted to stay in your home.
People who might dislike needing to get approval for everything they want to do to the exterior of their home might not be a good fit for a community with stringent rules, says Friedman. He also notes that there are no rules regarding how high HOA fees can go or what rules HOAs can impose on residents.
The Community Might Not Provide Enough Assistance
“Probably the biggest downside of a 55-plus community is that people often don’t consider that they might have to move again in the future,” says McClernon.
For instance, someone who didn’t consider a senior living community until they experienced a life event that caused a need for additional help might find their assistance needs change more rapidly than they expect. These types of events can be extremely hard to predict, he adds.
Some older adults might want to choose a community that offers various levels of care on the same property, he advises, so you can start off in an independent dwelling but easily move to a different area that offers more assistance, such as memory care or skilled nursing. These are commonly referred to as Life Plan or Continuing Care Retirement Communities.