Looking at 55-plus communities? The questions you should ask

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Nearly 20 percent of the US population is going to be 65 or older by 2030, according to Rodney Harrell, who runs a group that provides leadership, research, and analytics on livable communities for AARP.

That’s more than 70 million people.

Harrell’s job is to make sure that communities are prepared to accommodate people of all ages and incomes. “Unlike a toothbrush that doesn’t work . . . you can’t throw out a community,’’ he said. “It takes years to change.’’

According to AARP, the vast majority of older adults want to stay in their homes and communities, Harrell said, but for those who are ready for a change, moving into a 55-plus development can be an opportunity to make new friends, try activities, and find a place that can meet their needs as they age.

Susan Gustin, creative director and public relations manager for Peabody Properties, said her company wants to create communities that better suit the needs of people age 55 and older. Peabody Properties has more than 25 communities, most of them in Massachusetts, that cater to the needs of that population.

Samantha Reid, communications manager at, said her company has a similar goal. The real estate brokerage finds homes for active older adults all over the country.

We asked Harrell, Gustin, and Reid the same question: What should seniors ask before they move into a 55-plus community. Here is what they said:


This may sound obvious. People of all ages want to enjoy the community they live in and have it be one in which they can make friends. This can be especially important for people who are leaving the community they have called home for decades.

“The number one question that is on the minds of active-adult buyers is: Will I be able to make friends here?’’ Reid said. “They should know if the community is a welcoming place.’’

She offered a few questions to ask: Does the ­homeowner’s association host activities? What kind of social clubs are there? Are there physical activities or things to enrich the mind happening in the community?

“Finding that perfect community is important,’’ Reid added. You can find a home that meets the requirements for bedrooms and bathrooms, she said, but it might not be the lifestyle they are looking for.

She said it is key to visit a community to get a feel for what the other residents are like and their lifestyles.

Gustin said Peabody Properties’ newest community for renters 55 and older, The Residences at Lincoln Park in Dartmouth, offers indoor and outdoor activities.

“They feel a sense of neighborhood’’ there, Gustin said. “A lot of times [the residents] have similar likes and interests, and they develop friends. They are not just neighbors. In this particular property, they have a community room and fitness center, which is important to many of them.’’

Rules, rules, and more rules

Buyers should also look into the community’s regulations and restrictions. Some, for example, require only one of the residents to be at least 55 years old.

“Pet restrictions are common,’’ Reid added. For example, a community may allow residents to have only two pets with a 50-pound weight limit.

“Also, some [communities] have different rules regarding how long adult children can live with residents,’’ Reid added. “Even if this doesn’t apply right away, you are going to want to know.’’

Buyers should also look into the community’s finances, Reid said, and ask how the homeowner’s association fees are being spent.

“Ask if the HOA is financially solvent,’’ Reid said. “Do residents pay maintenance? Does the HOA manage the budget well?’’

She said the buyer’s real estate agent might know the answers to these questions.

Finding a realtor

You should work with an agent who lives in the area in which you are looking, Reid said. “Some agents will try to cover a large area, and the larger [area] you cover it’s impossible to know the ins and outs.’’

Not only may the agent know things to do, places to eat, and hospitals nearby, but he or she might also have the inside track on the 55-plus community itself.

“If you are asking [questions] and the agent doesn’t know the answer, it can be a red flag that agent doesn’t know the area well. Maybe they haven’t spent enough time there,’’ Reid said.

Reid said people pepper agents with “hyper-specific’’ questions about flooring and countertops “and forget to ask lifestyle specific questions,’’ she said. She also said that it can be easy to get hooked on online listings.

“Go to communities,’’ Reid said. “What are people like here? Sometimes you will realize no one goes to the clubhouse. You wouldn’t know [unless] you went there.’’

Think ahead

One downside to some 55-plus communities is that they don’t have “universal design features’’ that allow someone with any physical ability to use the space.

“In a house, it’s like having wider doorways that you could get through if you are walking or as someone with a wheelchair,’’ Harrell said.

He said AARP often hears about people who move into a community only to find out 10 years later that their needs have changed.

Gustin agreed: “They should think about the longer term, not just immediate needs. In a lot of cases this home is where they may end up aging in place.’’

Some long-term things to thing about, she said, are public transit in case the resident can no longer drive and how close the community is to relatives.

“Anticipate future needs,’’ Harrell said, as he reiterated that people can be short-sighted. “You may be living in that place longer than you thought originally.’’

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