Active-adult communities offer older people a place to retire among their peers, with lots of nearby amenities for recreation and opportunities for socializing.
Many are gated, master-planned neighborhoods of 1,000 or more two- or three-bedroom single-family homes. Typically, they provide the facilities you would find at a country club, as well as services ranging from dry cleaning to home repairs.
If you're considering such a community, check on the builder's reputation. Then, in addition to talking with management, be sure to talk with current residents who have not been selected by the management and get answers to the following questions:
What is the base price of the houses, and how much are the extras? Extras, such as alarm systems and granite countertops, can add as much as $50,000 to the base price. Find out if the home's appraised value includes the extras.
What are the amenities? Ideally, you want to buy into a community that has its golf course, clubhouse and pool up and running. It's a lot more risky to buy into a community where the amenities are still in the works.
What will happen to the common grounds and amenities when the developer finishes building? You want to buy into a community where the developer turns over ownership and control of the common grounds and facilities to the residents when the community is finished and the homes sold.
How did the developer finance building roads and sewers? If bonds were issued to pay for infrastructure, you'll probably pay a special assessment each year to cover the interest on those bonds. Find out how much and how long you'll have to pay.
What is the market for resales? If you sell your home, remember that a community's age restriction (many limit the age of residents to those 55 and older) will limit your prospects. Check resale prices with the developer and with real estate agents in the area.
What kinds of health-care facilities are nearby? Active-adult community developers don't talk much about age-related health problems for obvious reasons. No one wants to discuss infirmity in an "active-adult" community. But they should be able to provide you with the information you might need later on.
For instance, is there a hospital or an assisted-living facility nearby? If you get the cold shoulder when you inquire about services in the area, that may be a sign that this community won't be able to deliver the health care you need down the road.