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Issue Date: November 2006 Issue


The New ‘Old-fashioned’ Neighborhoods

Active adult communities welcome seniors into tightly knit neighborhoods full of activity and new friends their own age


Jennifer Tolhurst

After a year of frustrated house-hunting, Joyce Bobonik found her newest dream home in a newspaper ad: a cozy ranch with access to a pool and workout facility, hundreds of friendly neighbors around her own age, and best of all, no maintenance required. In the new active adult community in North Ridgeville, Pioneer Ridge, Bobonik has finally found a place she can call home.

Instead of spending her retirement in sun-soaked Florida, far from her family, Bobonik, who turns 69 this month, wanted to stay near her two kids. But she still wanted to meet new people and keep active.

“I didn’t know this kind of thing existed,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Now, as a homeowner in Pioneer Ridge, Bobonik thinks every senior should know about this trend. Active adult communities are popping up all over, and they’re poised to attract the first baby boomers as they near retirement.

Active adult communities are usually made up of smaller, one-story homes or condominiums, but what sets them apart for most people are the extras they offer. Pioneer Ridge, by developer Del Webb, is built around a 15,000-square-foot community center with an indoor pool, exercise facility and meeting rooms for the residents’ clubs and social groups.

“It’s like college for older adults,” describes Mary Giuliano, sales manager for Pioneer Ridge. Most active adult communities require that all residents be 55 and over and not have children or grandchildren living with them full time.

Residents can help shape their day-to-day lives, since their input helps determine the kinds of activities the community offers. Fitness buffs can lift weights in the exercise facilities, sunbathers can lay out by the pool, and crafters can share their talents in one of the neighborhood’s many clubs.

Several active adult communities have sprung up in Northeast Ohio in recent years. They’ve been around for years in Sun Belt states such as Florida and Arizona, but they’re spreading north, says Brian Zuccaro, director of marketing for Oster Homes’ Morningside at Martin’s Run development in Lorain.

“People don’t want to move away from their families,” he says.

Don and Libby Vickers, both 69, didn’t come far for their new home. They moved only a few miles north from Spencer in Medina County. They decided on Pioneer Ridge, though many of their friends had gone to Florida or Arizona, because, Don says, “Eight [months] out of the year, Ohio is the best place to be.”

Like many couples buying into active adult communities, the Vickerses are “snowbirds” who travel south for winter. The couple likes that they can leave their house for a few months without worrying about security or maintenance while they’re away. Jonelle Sear, marketing and design manager for SDC Homes and Neighborhoods, which owns Avenbury Lakes in Avon and NorthBorough in North Ridgeville, calls this idea “turnkey ownership.”

“You can just turn the key and leave,” she explains.

Like many of his neighbors, Don Vickers is not yet retired (though he plans to be soon). Libby takes advantage of the fitness center and social activities while her husband travels for work. She says the chance to meet new people and stay busy was a major factor in their choosing an active adult community.

“In fact, on the way over here, a neighbor stopped us and invited us over for chili later,” Don laughs during a conversation at Pioneer Ridge’s sales center, just down the street from the Vickerses’ house.

Bobonik says she enjoys every moment living in Pioneer Ridge. After she was diagnosed recently with Ménière’s disease (a disorder of the inner ear), she was determined to get the most out of her remaining years. Now, she’s helping others do the same as a member of the neighborhood’s welcoming committee. She hopes others her age will see the benefits of making their retirement years as fulfilling as their younger days.

“It was someplace I could mingle with others in my age group, instead of sitting at home twiddling my thumbs,” she says.

 

Today’s retirees are definitely not interested in sitting at home. They’re demanding social opportunities — and while they’re at it, they’d like someone to take care of life’s little inconveniences, such as yard work and home maintenance.

“I like to work out in the yard,” says Don Vickers. “But I was spending three or four hours mowing at our other place.”

Active adult communities take care of maintenance so homeowners can spend their time traveling, exercising or learning a new hobby.

“Retirement is doing what you want to do when you want to do it. It becomes an opportunity to shape the next years of your life,” says Giuliano, explaining Pioneer Ridge’s philosophy.

Mary Buynak, a resident of Greenbriar in North Royalton, teaches a ceramics class in her community and has learned to knit. She and her husband, Cy, participate in Greenbriar events such as Oktoberfest and the annual clambake.

“It really brings people together,” says Mary.

Active adult communities ease residents’ minds by prioritizing safety. Greenbriar is a gated community with a guardhouse staffed by security personnel 24 hours a day, year-round.

“The two most important things to people here are the lifestyle and the gated community,” says Angie Malleo, association manager and activities director at Greenbriar. “People feel safer.”

There’s also the informal security system of a closely knit community. Residents in active adult developments often act as a neighborhood watch, with so many people — often retired and spending their days at home — living in a close network.

That’s what makes Greenbriar home for Jan and Bob Coatney. Jan says they can’t make it around the block without running into several new friends and neighbors.

“When we go for a walk, it takes an hour and a half to get halfway down the street,” Coatney says. Such closeness is a benefit when she needs help or just wants company.

At Avenbury Lakes, the community feel is a draw for homebuyers. Sear says the development was built around open space, with half the acreage devoted to parks and walking trails.

“We’re striving to create unique communities with traditionally designed neighborhoods,” she says. NorthBorough, the company’s newest development, was built to resemble a neighborhood that many residents would recognize from their childhoods, with architectural designs that foster a sense of community: homes inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, with large porches and a mews, or large grassy field, in front of each group of homes.

“That way, the grandkids can play while people sit on their porches,” Sear says.

 

 

Cleveland-area real estate agents say prospective homebuyers should think about what they want in a home before deciding on any place to live, and this is especially true when considering active adult communities. Buying a home at any age is an important investment, says Kathy Kolesar of Realty One, and while these communities have undeniable perks, there is a limited market for resale in an age-restricted community. Also, residents should consider how accessible medical facilities are from the community’s location, compared to assisted-living communities, where medical care is already available.

But for many seniors, an active adult community is exactly what they’re looking for, says Carole Conaway, a senior real estate specialist with Howard Hanna Smythe Cramer.

“Some are looking to downsize and get out of their big home,” she says. Others want the benefit of social activities that are within walking distance.

Whatever the reason, Conaway predicts the market for active adult communities will continue to grow, as baby boomers — the first of whom turn 61 next year — make up a larger portion of the buying market.

Baby boomers have worked hard to get where they are, says Zuccaro of Morningside. “They don’t want to compromise their lifestyle.”

While Greater Cleveland’s West Side boasts several new active adult developments, the East Side is startng to catch up. South Franklin Circle, under the auspices of Judson at University Circle, is scheduled to open in Chagrin Falls in 2009, and although it is not considered an active adult community, it will feature similar amenities — a large community center and exercise facilities — plus health-care and limited assisted-living services, says Rob Lucarelli, public relations manager for Judson. Unlike other age-restricted developments, residents will not own their homes, but will pay a fee that covers housing, maintenance, clubhouse membership and some social activities.

“There have never been these kinds of options for retirement living,” says Mary Giuliano of Pioneer Ridge.

Above all, residents advise, look for a place that feels like home, where you can explore your interests or discover a new passion.

“This home feels more like home than the one I moved from and lived in for 30 years,” says Bobonik. Many retirees around the area are finding that same feeling in their new neighborhoods.


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