Just so you know where I’m coming from, or in this case, where I’m at, I live in a retirement community. They are often called grey ghettos, but I beg to differ. And since I reside in one I hereby appoint myself an expert on the pros and cons of living in a 55+ retirement community.
My Pros and Cons
First pro: “community.” To me, this is a place where people have some kind of common identify. But by “common,” I don’t mean “unified.” My community is made up of 3000 homes – that’s over 5000 people with diverse points of view.
The common identify is age. They call this a “senior” community because at least one person in the household has to be over 55. At that age, we have all been around the block more than once. But it has been an incredibly varied block. All religions and races. Every type of career – government, the military, healthcare, law, manufacturing, construction – you name it, people living here have done it.
Everyone has an interesting back story. I write for the community magazine and I’ve been fortunate enough to interview many of those fascinating people – a doctor, a cop, a nursery owner, and a stunt man to name a few. What’s more, some people still work – both full and part time. So “retirement” is not actually the common denominator of the community.
The “con” is that this is not a mixed community. That would be a place with single, married, and cohabitating people who work full time, as well as children and retired people. But that was something I was not looking for. Friends who worked could visit, I thought. My children could visit since they lived just a short plane flight away. If I had grandchildren they too could visit and stay for a few weeks. I like younger people, I just didn’t want to live with them.
Next pro: “friendliness.” When I’m walking to the mailbox, the people I pass say hello. I’ve also seen people greeting each other when they are walking their dogs or biking down the street. I recognize people at events. And although I don’t think of myself as a social butterfly, I find it easier to strike up a conversation at an event or club meeting.
People living here typically know who lives at least on either side of them, across the street, and sometimes everyone on the block. I know my neighbors on all sides of me – even the seasonal renters next to me. That’s called a neighborhood.
On the “con” side, some of the neighbors I know may only live here part time. Snowbirds are people who live in two communities – here and the place they go when it’s summer. But since it gets to be 110 degrees in the desert in the summer, I can hardly blame them for disappearing. Come next September, their RVs will again be parked in the street as they move back in and renew friendships.
Next pro: “lifestyle.” Lifestyle is a marketing work. What it means to me, however, is how people actually live day to day. I have heard complaints about retirement communities because people think of them as places where everyone sits around silently waiting to die. But in reality the community is called “active adult” because the people here are actively engaged in things they like to do based on their interests.
On the sporting side, there’s a golf course. I don’t golf, but I think the rolling greens and small lakes make the place more attractive. Then there’s tennis, ping-pong, and even bocce ball. On the craft side there’s painting, ceramics, jewelry making, and many more options. I have seen residents’ work on display and it’s definitely beyond amateur. On the intellectual side there are reading and discussion clubs.
I’m in the computer club and have seen the technologically savvy quite willingly teach the newbies what they know. For retired writers, like myself, there’s a Writer’s Club, monthly community magazine, and place to post your writing on our website.
Lifestyle includes having options. If you want to sit in your backyard and read, you do it. But when you want to get up and do something, there are choices.
Another part of what I call lifestyle is the existence of centralized amenities. In other words, I don’t have to build and maintain my own pool in my backyard. I simply go over to one of the two available pools which my maintenance fees pay for and swim.
Then there are clubhouses that provide rooms for all those activities I talked about before. And where you have “active” adults, there are also available fitness centers. I don’t need to fill my spare bedroom with exercise equipment. I just go over to the fitness center and have a choice of equipment – complete with TV screens on the walls so I won’t miss what’s happening in the stock market.
And speaking of something centralized, all the main grounds are cared for by a landscaping company, again paid for through homeowner’s association dues. The place is cleaned, trimmed, and colorful, which is better gardening than I would ever do around my own home. But if gardening was an interest of mine I could still dig around in my back yard.
The “con” is that having all these amenities costs money. Hence the maintenance fees. I think they’re reasonable. But it’s another piece of my Social Security dollar I have to account for. Good advice for those not yet retired: Save your money now because you’re going to need it in retirement.
Neither pro nor con is the ongoing mix of power and politics. Yes, there are always politics because, as with any large gated community, there is a Homeowner’s Association. As you would expect, put any large group of people together in one community and you will have disagreements. Especially when you have printed rules, there will be people who agree with them and some who do not. Arguments with the Design Review committee are constant. How high off the ground can you place your swamp cooler? Can you put a sculpture on your front wall? Which colors can you paint your house? Artificial turf – Never!
On the plus side, it puts homeowners up close and personal with democracy in action. You will be involved whether you want to or not. Whether that’s a pro or a con depends on your personality.
So What’s the Alternative?
If you don’t move to a retirement community, the other popular option now is “retiring in place” which means staying where you are and not going anywhere. You know the neighborhood, you know the people, you know the house you live in. This is comforting to some seniors whereas moving to a retirement community is a little like starting over. I looked at starting over as a challenge – an opportunity to begin a new phase of my life. So for me, moving in was a plus.
People who stay in place are the same ones who call the over 55 retirement communities “gray ghettos.” If this is a ghetto, it is a very pleasant ghetto with friends of my own age, and activities that engage my mind and body. And my community has many different opinions and interests just as if I chose to live in place with younger people.
Is it for you? Here’s more advice. First, figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. Next, decide where it best can be done.
Then maybe I’ll be seeing you inside the gates of my grey ghetto.