Rose Pollard, 55, had enough of caring for her lawn in the summer, shoveling snow in the winter and maintaining a home year-round. After a lifetime of working as a computer operator for Westinghouse, she decided it was time to play. That was the case with Joan and Pete Ferger as well. They sought relief from Beltway rush-hour traffic by moving to Ocean City. But they encountered beach-goer traffic jams and a year-round vacation atmosphere.
So they packed their home again and, like Pollard, settled in an active-adult community on the Eastern Shore. Pollard and the Fergers are part of a nationwide trend of baby boomers (those who are now 40 to 58 years old) and older adults who are buying into active-adult communities even though many of them aren't ready to hang up their business suits for good.
The real estate industry has been moving to meet an expected growing demand for communities catering to the baby boomers and others. Now that the kids aren't around to be persuaded to mow the lawn or clean the gutters, builders are finding that more buyers want maintenance-free communities. And with the recent price appreciation of most homes, many older homeowners can afford luxury communities.
Builders enjoy dealing with sophisticated buyers who can afford to add several amenities to their homes. A recent survey by builder Del Webb, which constructs communities nationwide for older Americans, found that customers for this kind of housing are getting younger and continuing to work.
The survey, conducted in April and May, showed that 36 percent of boomers will move to a new home once their children move out. Another 26 percent are considering purchasing a home in an active-adult community, which in most cases requires one resident to be older than 55 and doesn't allow anyone younger than 19 to live there. The survey polled 1,174 residents age 40 to 70 and had a error rate of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Active-adult communities don't have assisted-living programs and have a sweeter ring to them than the term "retirement community," according to builders. Residents pay monthly maintenance or homeowners association fees, which usually are less than $200 a month. "When you think of a retirement community, you're there to retire and die -- that's the mentality," said Joan Ferger. "With an active-adult community, you're moving into a community where there's a lot of socializing." A clubhouse, monthly newsletter and activities director keeps residents informed and busy at the Fergers' community.
Not having to deal with maintenance lets residents put their jobs and activities on the top of their priority list. However, Del Webb, which has a community in Easton, where the Fergers reside, and is opening one in Taneytown, also found that many boomers' nests will be only half-empty. The builder's survey found that 24 percent of boomers expect their parents or in-laws to move in with them eventually, and 25 percent expect their grown children to move back home.
So although boomers want a resort-like lifestyle, many want it without having to move to Florida or Arizona, according to the survey. They want proximity to metropolitan regions and the grandchildren. Developers are responding by building communities on the outskirts of big cities.
One such new community is Symphony Village at Centreville on the Eastern Shore, where the house styles are named after the likes of Mozart and Vivaldi and where residents cruise through Harmony Way and Encore Court. Pollard, the first to buy a home in the development, opted for the Strauss model, paying $250,000. She moved in April.
Bob Karen, president of Symphony Development Group LLC, has been building active-adult homes for 30 years, and Symphony Village is his newest project. He said the community's proximity to Washington and Annapolis makes it attractive to boomers who want a recreational lifestyle but still have to make it to the office once or twice a week. "A lot of our customers want to be easily accessible to their grandchildren," Karen said. "They have many social ties to the area and don't want to go far away from it."
Pollard is 40 minutes away from her grandchild and two children who live in Anne Arundel County. Her children were supportive of her move from a home in Gambrills to Symphony Village at Centreville. "They thought it would suit my lifestyle because I like to travel, and this way I can leave my house, I can lock it up and take off and not worry about it," she said.
Andy Cochera, an AARP spokesman, said the organization has found that the rate of moving for those over 55 is minimal -- 5 percent. But the strong housing market gives the impression that everyone is moving. "We don't necessarily know if boomers have, as a generation, made this move to active-adult retirement communities," Cochera said. "Part of the problem is that we've had a very active housing market over the past few years."
The Fergers were attracted to an active-adult community where Pete, 62, is in full retirement from his job in procurement and inventory control. Joan, 58, wasn't ready to retire fully and has found a job as design coordinator for Del Webb's Easton community. There is plenty of room for the kids to visit, Joan Ferger said. But she and her husband swore never to climb another step to get to their bedroom and bathroom. And with the design of homes in active-adult communities -- where most include first-floor master suites -- they don't have to.
Once they decided to downsize, the Fergers had the trying task of sorting through all the stuff they had accumulated over the years. They moved in April 2003. "We had to discipline ourselves to let go," Joan Ferger said.
The National Association of Realtors recognized the difficulty people face when downsizing from a residence they've called home for so long. To help with the transition, the association created a "senior specialists" designation for real estate agents who undergo courses to sensitize them to the needs of relocating seniors. With so many seniors expected to move during the coming years, the industry is working to accommodate them.
David McIlvaine, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Ellicott City, has a senior real estate specialist designation. Dealing with seniors who are downsizing means working with concerned sons and daughters who don't want their parents to move. It also means helping to weed through piles of items that have accumulated through the years. "There's an emotional tie," McIlvaine said. "This is the next stage of their life and there is a genuine concern, 'Am I doing the right thing, am I not? Is this going to reduce my independence?'"
McIlvaine said he sees a growing trend of the younger boomers who want to move into a retirement community or condominium so they can travel more and spend less time maintaining their homes and yards. The maintenance-free aspect of living in such a community and abundant social activities ease the transition by baby boomers to the next stage in their lives, experts said.
Karen said a former customer of his compared living in an active-adult community to the playful, worry-free days of summer camp. "They used to send their children to sleepover camp," Karen said. "Now they have it 365 days a year."
© 2004, The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
Author: Beth Bresnahan