Many adults eventually reach a point when their current home, however beloved, becomes too much to maintain. Or, the lively neighborhood full of children — which was perfect when you had kids of your own at home — may start to feel too loud. But, if you still have no need for care or personal assistance, it may be too early or unnecessary to move to a community with the type of skilled care you’d find at an assisted living community or nursing home.
55+ communities, also referred to as senior apartments, senior lifestyle communities, retirement communities, or active adult communities, are perfect for adults who find themselves ready to move to a lower-maintenance residence but who are not ready to give up any independence. These age-restricted communities provide a low-stress environment catered to adults of a certain age, making it easier to maintain one’s home and form connections with other older-adult neighbors.
What Are 55+ Communities?
If you’re considering moving to a 55+ community or senior apartment, keep in mind that these residences are very different from other types of senior living communities. Though designed for older adults, senior lifestyle communities typically do not offer any on-site medical care, personal care assistance, or communal dining included in the monthly cost. Rather, residents live a completely independent lifestyle, similar to what they had in their former homes.
The main difference from living in a standard apartment complex or planned community, and the main appeal for many, is that all of your neighbors are around the same age and the same ability level, and likely in the same life stage. Additionally, senior lifestyle communities handle exterior maintenance for residents and may offer assistance with some interior work, relieving some of the stress one would experience with traditional homeownership. Active adult communities are also frequently outfitted with senior-friendly features like grab bars and single-floor living to help residents stay safe without having to modify their homes.
There are several different types of communities and residences that fall under the umbrella of “55+ communities.” Retirement communities each have their own feel and may be composed of apartments or condos, townhomes, single-family homes, or a mix of all of the above. As the size of the individual unit grows, costs typically will too, and community or amenity fees will be higher for more luxurious communities. The good news about this variation in cost between communities is that it gives prospective buyers plenty of options and enables most people to find a 55+ community that fits both their preferences and budgets.
What Are the Different Types of 55+ Communities?
To help you understand the different types of 55+ communities, we’ve broken them down into two categories: senior apartments and senior lifestyle communities. For the purposes of this guide, “senior lifestyle communities” refers to age-restricted communities that include single-family homes or a mix of multiple housing types.
From the outside, senior apartment complexes may look like any other apartment complex. Senior apartments are rental units that are restricted to adults over the age of 55 or, in some cases, age 62 and older. These buildings typically do not have many amenities beyond common areas for residents to socialize or a fitness center, and most do not offer communal dining. However, many do organize social interest groups and on-site social events for residents to make it easier for them to form friendships with their neighbors, and may also coordinate transportation for group shopping trips or other outings. Housekeeping services may also be available for an extra fee.
Unless the community receives subsidies to offer lower rents to low-income seniors, the cost of living in a senior apartment will be similar to standard apartment rental costs in your area. But with the benefit of having neighbors around the same age and units designed with helpful features such as wide doorways and no-slip flooring, many older adults may find that they’re more comfortable in a senior apartment than they would be in a standard unit.
Senior Lifestyle Communities
These planned communities differ from senior apartments in that the community contains a mix of housing styles, from single-family homes to duplexes to condos. Rather than occupying a single building, senior lifestyle communities may span several acres and contain recreational facilities such as a pool or tennis court. The homes and community grounds are designed with older adults in mind and may feature a secure gate, well-lit sidewalks, and wheelchair ramps where necessary. Though some residents may have their own yards, outdoor maintenance is typically handled by the community, still providing older adults with a low-maintenance lifestyle.
Because the units in these communities are typically larger than apartments, expect to pay more than you would for a senior apartment. Some senior lifestyle communities are also homeownership communities rather than rentals, and may have a “buy-in” and/or monthly HOA fee for which residents are responsible.
Is a Retirement Community Right for Me?
Who Is a Good Fit for a 55+ Community
55+ communities offer a low-maintenance lifestyle for older adults who wish to be surrounded by people in a similar life stage. As there is no on-site medical care or personal care assistance, these communities are intended for those who do not yet need any type of assistance. Under the umbrella of 55+ communities, there are many different types of developments, neighborhoods, and homes for people to choose from.
The descriptions below can give you an idea of whether your current lifestyle and activity level is the right fit for a retirement community. You may want to consider a 55+ active adult community if the following statements apply to you.
You are still active and completely independent
While 55+ communities are designed with older adults in mind, they are not the best fit for those with any medical or personal care assistance needs. Residents of 55+ communities are expected to care for themselves, be able to complete all of their activities of daily living (ADLs) without assistance, cook or otherwise obtain their own meals, provide their own transportation, and move throughout the community without assistance. Most communities do allow residents to hire their own personal aides if the need arises, but if it becomes a regular need, it will likely be much easier and less expensive to live in a community that makes these services available for residents, such as assisted living.
Many 55+ communities are very similar to other planned communities, just with an age requirement. In order to best take advantage of the amenities that these communities offer, such as pools, tennis courts, or a location within walking distance of local shops and restaurants, residents need to still be active. These people will be able to make the most of living in a 55+ community without risking their health or safety.
You want to live in a community of your peers
The age requirement of retirement communities coupled with the independent, active lifestyle means that most residents of these communities are in the same life stage. Residents may be newly retired and looking to live in a more resort-like environment with amenities on-site, or they may have begun to feel as though they aren’t able to connect with their neighbors in their current home.
Regardless of the reason one chooses to move, the social aspect of 55+ communities is a big draw for many people. Living in a neighborhood of other people in the same life stage and sharing amenities with them allows residents of retirement communities to form lifelong friendships and strong bonds with their neighbors. If you’re hoping to connect with other older adults and live close to friends, a 55+ community is likely a good fit.
You no longer want to be responsible for exterior home maintenance
For some older adults, handling all of the exterior maintenance that comes with homeownership becomes too much to manage even though they are still active and independent. 55+ communities can be the perfect place for anyone who falls into this category, as most provide exterior maintenance services throughout the community. This typically includes cutting grass, gardening, and other landscaping services throughout the property; cleaning of pools, tennis courts, or other communal spaces; ensuring that sidewalks and driveways are free of cracks or holes; and more.
Though interior maintenance is not an included service at most retirement communities, the community may have existing relationships with trusted contractors who residents can contact for quick assistance when needs for interior maintenance or repairs arise. Adults who are burnt out on the maintenance responsibilities that come with traditional homeownership will be relieved by the labor-free lifestyle offered at 55+ communities.
Different communities will have different policies regarding what maintenance duties they handle and whether residents need to pay an extra fee for the services. Be sure to check with the community’s HOA or management team prior to purchasing your home to confirm that you understand all of the expenses involved.
You are recently retired but not ready to slow down
If you’ve recently retired, you have more time on your hands than you have in years. And, just because you made the decision to retire from your profession doesn’t mean you’re ready to slow down altogether. Active adult communities are an ideal environment for people who are newly retired but want to stay social, active, and busy.
Moving to a 55+ community with amenities can make it easier than ever to try new hobbies. You may spend your afternoons at the on-site tennis court, or meeting up with your neighbors in the communal lounge. On-site amenities and ample opportunities to socialize with neighbors allows newly retired adults to take full advantage of their free time, without adding many of the stresses of homeownership.
Who Isn’t a Good Fit for a 55+ Community
55+ communities offer the least assistance of any type of residential senior community, making them appealing for active adults. Still, retirement communities are not without their limitations and are not the right choice for everyone. You’re likely better off choosing another type of community if:
- You need regular medical care: Because 55+ communities are designed for active and independent seniors, medical care is not available on-site or included in one’s monthly fees. Those who need regular medical care are better suited for nursing homes, where around-the-clock care is readily available.
- You want an all-inclusive lifestyle: Though some 55+ communities are resort-like and feature luxe amenities, these communities typically do not offer residents transportation, prepared meals, or regular interior housekeeping included in the monthly cost. If you’re still capable of living independently but want to utilize these services and amenities regularly, consider an independent living community instead.
- You need some personal care assistance: Personal care assistance such as transferring, help with hygiene, and cleaning is not available at 55+ communities, though some may allow residents to hire and bring in their own care. Still, if you need regular assistance with any activities of daily living, an assisted living facility will be a better fit for your needs.
- You have adult children who live with you: Even if your children are adults now, they will not be permitted to live in your active adult community unless they are also over the age of 55. If you have children who live with you or you want them to have the option to live with you if need be, you should not move to a 55+ community. Of course, friends and family members of all ages can still visit and enjoy the communal spaces and amenities, they just will not be permitted to live there with you full-time.
- You’re hoping to move into your forever home: If you anticipate having increased care needs in the future, you most likely will not be able to age in place in your active adult community unless the community allows for residents to hire outside care. Even so, many seniors prefer to move to an environment where care is readily available when the need arises. If you want to avoid having to move again in the future, a continuing care retirement community will be your best option.
What Amenities and Services Do 55+ Retirement Communities Provide?
55+ retirement communities are designed for seniors who are completely independent, and thus do not offer as many services as other senior living options. Independent living, which is also a setting for seniors who do not need assistance, offers an all-inclusive lifestyle, and has more amenities and services even though residents are independent.
That’s not to say that retirement communities do not provide amenities and other benefits for residents, though. 55+ communities offer an environment of people who are in the same life stage as one another and are often designed to be conducive for socializing, with communal areas or an HOA board that schedules community get-togethers. Many 55+ communities are also ADA-compliant and feature senior-friendly modifications like wide doorways and handrails in the bathroom to make the homes safer for older adults.
However, unlike independent living communities, 55+ communities typically do not offer prepared meals as part of one’s room and board, and residents will be expected to cook their own meals or go off-site to eat, rather than receiving meals in a communal dining area. Additionally, while maintenance of outdoor spaces is provided, residents usually are responsible for the interior maintenance of their homes and will need to pay to have things inside of the home taken care of.
What Are the Most Common Retirement Community Amenities?
Despite offering fewer services than independent living communities, retirement communities oftentimes have a “resort-like atmosphere.” Though the amenities and services offered by retirement communities do vary, the following amenities are some of the most common. When looking into a retirement community, be sure to ask for a list of the amenities that that specific community offers.
- Social interest groups and clubs
- Security guards and/or a security gate
- Pool and/or jacuzzi
- Gym and/or on-site fitness classes
- Exterior maintenance services
- Community meeting spaces, such as a clubhouse
- Game room
- Golf course
- Tennis courts
- Covered or uncovered parking
How Much Does it Cost to Live in an Over 55 Community?
Over 55+ communities resemble standard planned communities. Because there is not any medical or personal care assistance included in the monthly cost and typically just a few amenities, costs will resemble the average housing prices in your area. You’ll essentially be paying a standard mortgage or monthly rent, perhaps with added community fees. When trying to gauge how much a 55+ community may cost, look up average home prices in your zip code, being sure to look at the specific type of housing you’re interested in (mobile home, condo, townhouse, or single-family home).
You may face extra costs for amenities and maintenance
Once you see the average price for your preferred style of home in your area, figure an extra 5-10% to account for any fees related to community amenities and exterior maintenance. This added cost may be more or less depending on the type of community you choose and what services and amenities it offers. If you end up in a retirement community with scarce amenities, your cost will likely resemble the average price of a similar style home in your area. If you choose a luxe, resort-like community with extras like pools, tennis courts, or an on-site restaurant, expect the extra costs to be higher.
Pricing structures will vary
Along with having different price points, 55+ communities may have different pricing structures altogether. Occasionally, a community will have a “buy-in” fee in addition to your home payment, but this is rare, and if charged typically covers amenities and maintenance. Some other communities may charge residents a monthly or yearly fee on top of their rent or mortgage, like an HOA fee or resort fee, to cover maintenance and amenities. Or, a community may have the fee built-in to one monthly cost. Always be sure to ask the facility how it manages its fees to ensure that you don’t get hit with any unexpected extra costs.
There are limited options for financial assistance
It’s also important to note that because no medical or personal care assistance is offered, there is no financial assistance program available specifically to cover the cost of rent in these communities. Lower-income adults may be able to access other rent assistance programs in their city, but programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and long-term care insurance cannot be used as a source of payment assistance for retirement communities.
How Do I Find Age 55 Plus Communities Near Me?
Search Caring.com’s database of communities to get started
Like buying any home, choosing a 55 plus community will take time and effort to find the one that’s the best fit. To start your search, enter your zip code on Caring.com’s 55+ Community Directory. Try to narrow down your search to a few communities that appeal to you, noticing the different amenities and price points of the various options. Caring.com’s directory also hosts consumer reviews so you can see what others like you had to say about the retirement community’s offering too.
Schedule tours with your favorite picks
Once you have a list of a few communities that meet your needs and fit your budget, it’s time to schedule tours. While you can get a great sense of a place from its online profile, virtual tours, and photo galleries, it’s still a good idea to try and visit the community in-person if you’re able. You may find that the community you thought was your favorite based on your research is actually located next to a noisy road, or that a community you weren’t as interested in based on aesthetics has the most active social life.
Talk with community representatives AND current residents
In addition to touring with a community representative, see if you can talk to any current residents. This can help you get a feel for if you’ll fit in with your neighbors, and it gives you the opportunity to ask valuable questions about residents’ satisfaction and what day-to-day life is like in the community. When speaking to the community’s manager and with residents, keep these important questions in mind:
- Are there any extra fees for amenities or maintenance? How much are these fees?
- Which amenities does the community have on-site?
- Do you charge an entrance fee to “buy-in” to the community?
- Where is the nearest medical facility or hospital?
- What is the community’s pet policy?
- Does the community organize any regular social events for residents?
- What is the average resident age?
- Are housekeeping services available?
- Does the community have any security guards or a security gate?
If there are any other things that are a priority to you, such as an on-site tennis court or close proximity to the grocery store, be sure to also ask about these specific features. It can be helpful to make a list of your “must-haves” prior to touring communities so that you know exactly which questions you need answered.
Don’t rush into a decision
Most adults who are interested in a 55+ community aren’t in an emergency situation that requires them to move in as soon as possible. If you fall into this category, remember that you have the luxury of time. Don’t rush into deciding on a facility that doesn’t feel totally comfortable. For the sake of your long-term happiness, it’s worth it to continue your research and visits until you find a retirement community that feels like home.