- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

When Raymond and Anita McFarlane, both in their 70s, moved into a retirement community a dozen years ago, it wasn’t because they craved a slower pace or had medical needs.

“We wanted to stay active both physically and mentally,” Mr. McFarlane says. “We looked around and discovered Leisure World. It has 100 different activities, a golf course, a fitness center.”

Leisure World in Silver Spring is an active adult community, meaning it is age-restricted to people age 55 and older. It is one type of a growing number of senior housing options, including senior apartments, independent living communities, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), assisted living residences and nursing homes.

Sound complicated?

It can be difficult to navigate the senior housing market, says Don Redfoot, a senior policy adviser with AARP.

“On the one hand, we’re seeing more and more innovation and choice. The downside is there’s a lot to find out about,” Mr. Redfoot says. “There is no one best choice. It’s so individual.”

Senior apartments and independent living communities along with active adult communities generally don’t provide medical and care assistance, while the CCRCs, assisted living residences and nursing homes do, says Ken Preede, vice president for the American Seniors Housing Association, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

“[An active adult community] is like a cruise ship on land,” Mr. Preede says. “There are coordinated activities, … and you can be as active or inactive as you want to be.”

Mr. Preede says active adult communities and other senior communities are a growing market.

“The number of senior apartments and independent living communities has increased by almost 10 percent in the last eight years,” he says. “You can’t find another real estate type with that kind of growth.”

There has been no consistent tracking over time for active adult communities, according to the National Association of Home Builders, a District-based trade association.

Yet Mr. Preede says his sense is that the increase in active adult communities is at least as sharp as for the other two types.

“It has to do with the amenities and the view of the family — people don’t move in with their families anymore,” he says.

Still, just about 5 to 10 percent of persons 65 and older live in senior housing of some type, Mr. Preede says.

The McFarlanes say for people like themselves, who have few medical and care needs but want to live in a community with other seniors, the active adult community makes most sense.

“We have a lot of choice. We can go to the restaurants on campus, or we can go out and eat,” Mr. McFarlane says.

“We have our own condo, but we have no maintenance and no gardening,” Mrs. McFarlane says, adding that that makes it easy to go on long visits to their daughters in New Jersey and Georgia without having to worry.

Types of communities

The description of an active adult community can make it sound more like a resort than a retirement community, and that’s part of the appeal, says Elizabeth Armstrong, assistant managing editor of Where to Retire, a Houston-based seniors magazine with about 500,000 subscribers.

“People want resort-style homes with a lot of amenities,” Ms. Armstrong says. “With people retiring earlier and moving into active adult communities … we’re starting to see more amenities like hiking trails, art studios, basketball courts and cyber-cafes.”

The difference between choosing an active adult community and simply living in a golf-course community is the age restriction, Mr. Preede says. Federal law mandates that 80 percent of the community’s units have at least one person who is at least 55 years old.

In deciding whether to move and what type of community to call home, seniors and their families should assess their needs and wishes, Mr. Redfoot says.

“Things to consider are: What are your interests? Do you want to stay in your home? What are your needs? What are your resources? And how important are social interactions?” he says.

If a senior needs help with activities of daily living, an assisted living community or a CCRC can be a good choice, he says. Nursing homes are for seniors who need help 24 hours a day.

In communities that offer care and medical components, Medicare will cover some of the expenses, Mr. Preede says. As for active adult communities, all expenses are out-of-pocket, he says.

At Leisure World, homes sell from about $60,000 for an efficiency to about $650,000 for the largest single family homes, says Charles Dusterhoff, a real estate agent with Cathy Gilmour Real Estate Inc., which has an office in Leisure World.

“Many homes sell in a day,” Mr. Dusterhoff says.

At Heritage Hunt, a new active adult community in Gainesville, Va., homes sell for about $300,000 to close to $700,000, says Blair Diseati, vice president of sales and marketing in Virginia for Lennar, the builder and developer of Heritage Hunt, which still is adding units.

“We have such a large demand that when we do a release of 25 home sites, we have to hold a lottery to decide who is going to purchase here,” he says. “We may have over 100 people interested in those 25 units.”

Amenities at Heritage Hunt, just like Leisure World, include a golf course, clubhouses with activities, fitness facilities, an aquatic center and a restaurant.

Mr. Diseati says the popularity of Heritage Hunt and other active adult communities represents a new trend in which the Sunbelt no longer has a monopoly on resort-type active adult communities.

“It’s just a booming market. As the baby boomers get older, this is the type of community they are looking for,” he says, “and they can stay close to their families if they live here.”

Ms. Armstrong agrees.

“More and more master-planned communities are built close to large metropolitan areas, like Washington,” she says.

Activities galore

The McFarlanes decided to move from their 3,000-square-foot Gaithersburg home to a 1,500-square-foot condo in an active adult community because their old neighborhood was turning over. Older residents were moving away, and young families were moving in, they say.

“We just didn’t have a lot in common with them, and we weren’t included in their activities,” Mrs. McFarlane says.

Mr. Preede says neighborhood turnover is a common reason seniors move into active adult communities.

At Leisure World, on the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. McFarlane say they can participate in as many activities as they can handle, or more. They say they also feel that their opinions matter and are heard, which is important to them.

“Leisure World has a voter turnout of about 85 to 90 percent, and there are at least 7,500 residents here,” Mr. McFarlane says. “So, politicians pay attention to us — they have to.”

Mrs. McFarlane has been busy all fall and winter with charity work at her Catholic church on Leisure World’s campus. She’s the outreach chairwoman.

“We collect and deliver school supplies for less-fortunate children and toiletries for their mothers,” she says. Her latest project involved giving less-fortunate women scarves — knit by a woman in the congregation — for Christmas.

Mr. McFarlane is involved in the Foundation of Leisure World, a group of residents that organizes courses, lectures and discussion groups and purchases equipment for the common areas. He also teaches computer skills, works in the woodworking shop, walks three miles a day and is involved in the local chapter of Kiwanis.

Activities were definitely important to the McFarlanes when they chose Leisure World over similar communities a dozen years ago, but they were not the only consideration.

Like most seniors, the McFarlanes rate security very high.

“I would say safety is the most important thing to me. Then convenience — like we don’t have to maintain a house and yard — and then, third, I think the fact that we live among people who have the same things in common,” Mrs. McFarlane says.

Ms. Armstrong suggests that seniors interested in active adult or other types of retirement communities should tour the communities and ask questions about the things that matter most to them.

“Test out the communities, tour the properties, mingle with the current residents,” she says. “Just visit and spend some time, it’s the best thing you can do.”

She suggests bringing a checklist of things that are of particular importance, such as the property tax rates, various fees, number and type of activities and demographics. Retirees who are single might be interested in a community with other singles, she says.

Other checklist items can include whether changes can be made to the condo or other unit and whether the community puts any restrictions on the number of guests a resident can host.

“We have no restrictions, so our daughters can visit us as much as they want to,” Mrs. McFarlane says.

First, though, they have to make sure mom and dad have an opening in their busy schedule.

“It surprises them,” Mr. McFarlane says, “but we have to look at our calendars to see where we can fit them in.”

Senior housing glossary

• Active adult communities: For-sale single-family homes, town houses and condominiums, restricted to adults at least 55 years of age. The communities are not equipped to provide increased care as an individual ages. They can include amenities such as a clubhouse, golf courses and recreational spaces.

• Senior apartments: Multifamily residential rental properties restricted to adults at least 55 years of age. These properties do not have central kitchen facilities and generally do not provide meals to residents but can offer community rooms, social activities and other amenities.

• Independent living communities: Age-restricted multifamily rental properties with central dining facilities that as part of their monthly fee provide residents with access to meals and other services such as housekeeping, linen service, transportation and social and recreational activities. Such properties do not provide, in a majority of the units, assistance with activities of daily living such as supervision of medication, bathing, dressing, toileting, etc. These communities have no licensed skilled nursing beds.

• Continuing care retirement community: Age-restricted properties that include a combination of independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing services (or independent living and skilled nursing) available to residents all on one campus. These communities can feature both condominiums and rental properties. The majority of the units are not licensed skilled nursing beds.

• Assisted living residences: State-regulated rental properties that provide the same services as independent living communities but also provide, in the majority of the units, supportive care from trained employees to residents who are unable to live independently and require assistance with activities of daily living, including management of medications, bathing, dressing, toileting and eating. Many of these properties include wings or floors dedicated to residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

• Nursing homes: Licensed daily-rate or rental properties that are referred to as skilled nursing facilities where the majority of individuals require 24-hour nursing and/or medical care. In most cases, these properties are licensed for Medicaid and/or Medicare reimbursement. These properties can include a minority of assisted living and/or dementia units.

Source: American Senior Housing Association

More info:

Books —

• MyGuide to Communities for Seniors Educational Resource Guide, by Nancy Carman, Cynthia Cullen, Maureen Heckler and Catherine Russell, MyGuide Inc., 2004. This book offers information on a wide range of senior communities, such as independent living communities and continuing care retirement communities.

• National Directory of Age-Restricted Active Adult Communities: Over 700 Master-Planned Communities, by Lisa La Count, Author House, 2004. This book lists active adult properties nationwide. It gives contact information, size of units, price ranges, age restriction specifics and an overview of amenities.

• “Just Pencil Me In: Your Guide to Moving & Getting Settled After 60,” by Wilma Willis Gore, Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, 2002. This book addresses the unique concerns encountered by those older than 60 who face relocating. Strategies include deciding where to move, determining if it’s wise to move near the children, choosing the right type of residence, such as a retirement community, and moving into smaller quarters.

• “America’s 100 Best Places to Retire: The Only Guide You Need to Today’s Top Retirement Towns,” by Elizabeth Armstrong, Vacation Publications, 2002. This book includes information on climate, cost of living, taxes, housing costs, crime rates and health care in popular retirement areas.

Associations —

• AARP, 601 E St. NW, Washington. Phone: 800/687-2277. Web site: www.aarp.org. This leading nonprofit membership organization for people age 50 and older aims to advocate, serve and inform its 35 million members on a wide range of issues, including information on housing choices for seniors. For online information on housing, go to www.aarp. org/life/housingchoices/.

• American Senior Housing Association, 5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 307. Phone: 202/237-0900. Web site: www.seniorshousing.org. This independent nonprofit organization provides information about various housing options for seniors. For online information, go to www.seniorshousing.org/site/housing/index.html.

Online —

• SeniorOutlook.com (www.senioroutlook.com) is a Virginia Beach-based Internet company that provides information on senior housing. It lists more than 3,000 communities nationwide. It also provides a glossary of senior housing terms.

• A Place For Mom (www.aplaceformom.com) is a Seattle-based referral service for seniors who are seeking housing and care options. It provides tips on how to assess needs, what to look for when visiting a retirement community and the terms used to describe various housing choices.

• Seniorhousing.net (www.seniorhousing.net) is part of homestore.com, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based Internet company that lists real estate across the nation. Seniorhousing. net lists a wide range of housing options for seniors, including independent living and assisted living.



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