The massive Baby Boomer generation, known for driving societal changes since the 1960s, hasn’t stopped transforming the world as they reach retirement age.
Age-restricted communities, which typically require residents to be 55 or older, look almost nothing like the retirement communities of a few decades ago.
While retirement communities have always had a social aspect, today’s seniors are more likely to be out on the pickleball court or at a wine tasting than playing cards or doing crafts. Simply put, today’s 55-plus buyers want edgier amenities in the new communities.
What Do 55-Plus Homebuyers Want?
“Our residents want more experiential activities than in the past, things like cooking lessons and food and wine pairings,” says Hal Looney, Arizona area president of Shea Homes Active Lifestyle Communities.
Other popular amenities get homebuyers outdoors, like pickleball and amenities like green space, while other amenities keep them inside, but provide a chance to engage with neighbors, like cooking classes and full-service salons.
Smaller communities don’t always have the space or budget for extra amenities, but nearly every active adult development has gated security, a clubhouse and a swimming pool. Larger developments can experiment with more elaborate amenities and expand popular features.
“Two of the most important amenities to our buyers are walking trails and community gardens,” says Jim Chapman, president, Jim Chapman Communities in Atlanta, Ga.
Allen Harris, president of Bailey Harris Construction in Auburn, Ala., says the company’s first active adult community, now under construction, has a garden plot for every resident, each in a sunny location. Chapman says they include 20 to 25 plots for an 80-to-100-unit community.
Chapman says they’re adding a potting shed with a bathroom to their community gardens, since many are in parklike areas of the community rather than close to the houses.
Outdoor Features for Active Adults
Today’s over-55 population embraces fitness and relishes opportunities to be active outside. While golf is still popular, pickleball has taken over as the fastest-growing sport in active adult communities.
“Pickleball has been around for a decade or more and its popular because it’s slower version of tennis,” says Chapman. “You use a paddle instead of a racquet and the court is smaller so there’s less distance to run.”
A pickleball court with an interlocking surface that drains quickly after a rainstorm is just one of the outdoor amenities at the first active adult community being built by Bailey Harris Construction in Auburn, Ala.
Looney says 500 to 800 people show up to watch pickleball tournaments at their communities, which typically have four to eight courts.
Larger communities offer the option to add extra amenities.
“We have a 124-acre property with two lakes and a 45-acre wildlife sanctuary with a wooden bridge that the residents can use to walk across,” says Harris. “One of the lakes is fully stocked so it’s like a Disneyworld of fish and the other lake has a boat dock.”
Harris says they added a green event space to the property, which can be reserved for large parties. The community has five-foot-wide sidewalks everywhere to encourage walking.
“We’re building a 500-unit community 40 miles north of Atlanta where we plan to have on-site self-storage facilities, boat storage and RV storage, both covered and uncovered,” says Chapman. “That way residents don’t have to drive to a separate facility.”
At a soon-to-open Shea active adult community, Looney says they’re building a mountain bike outfitter and a kayak and canoe outfitter so residents who like cycling, boating and fly fishing can pick up the supplies they need on site.
“In one of our communities we have a sports bar almost completely surrounded by water that borders a golf course,” says Looney. “Residents can do a short golf game on four lit-up holes or play lawn bowling or do a wine tasting at the bar, which also has a fire pit.”
Indoor Amenities for Active Adults
While older adults enjoy socializing and trying out new hobbies just as they did in the past, their interests and expectations have changed, says Looney.
“We still have arts and crafts rooms, but now instead of being a back room designated for painting, we have industrial-looking modern spaces with garage doors that open so you can experiment with art in an indoor-outdoor space,” says Looney. “Some traditional crafts are available, but we also have facilities so people can experiment with metal sculptures and wood carving.”
Party rooms have always been part of retirement communities, but now the spaces tend to be more elaborate and often include a chef’s demonstration kitchen instead of a basic catering space.
“Our residents like to spend time in these oversized culinary spaces that hold 50 people, with a kitchen, a bar and seating where everyone can watch the chef cook,” says Looney.
Dining options used to be limited to a cafeteria in retirement communities, but foodie baby boomers request updated options. Shea Homes’ often includes a gourmet market and coffee shop where people can pick up items to entertain home, a casual poolside restaurant and a more upscale restaurant with chef-driven menus.
“Some of our clubhouses have a private chef’s table where residents can entertain with an off-menu experience,” says Looney. “They just tell the chef about their budget and the number of guests and then the chef creates a memorable evening with food and wine pairings.”
Many of Shea’s communities have a full-service spa and a physician on site to coach residents on healthy eating and exercise. The company also offers a touchscreen system to access information about dozens of day trips to nearby towns, vineyards and art galleries. Residents can touch the interactive screen and have a map and details sent to their phone so they take off whenever they want.
“Baby boomers are pushing us to provide even more in our active adult communities,” says Looney. “They’re looking for us to arrange fun, edgy stuff to do within our communities and arrange trips, too. It’s important to them to have a lot of opportunities to connect with other people, too.”
Doesn’t sound like there’s much “retiring” in today’s active adult communities.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.