Is Age Restriction A Plus Or A Minus?

Back in the 1990s, I lived in a retirement community in Arizona. It was the one my parents had moved to years before, and I’d enjoyed visiting them each year and dreamed of living there. I loved the warm weather, the sunshine, how neat the community was, the southwestern flavor of the newer home designs. I especially liked the tropical plants, because they promised a life without winter.

The outward look of the place was delightful to me, but after living there, I did notice drawbacks. Maybe they weren’t all about the age restrictions, but some were. Children were a rarity, and since they visited mostly in summer, you didn’t see them outside a lot in the blistering heat and punishing sun. I realized that everyone looked old. I was in my forties at the time, probably one of the youngest residents thanks to my husband being much older than I was. I’d always liked being around older people, perhaps partly because growing up, I had no close relatives outside of my parents and siblings. And I sure didn’t miss having little kids riding Hot Wheels up and down the sidewalks, yelling and screaming bloody murder. But after a while, I came to feel that having only retired folks gave the community an ossified feel. My own mother used to comment that it was like living in a mausoleum.

And one of the things that hit me as my parents aged is that the older residents get in a bind when they reach a certain age. They can’t drive anymore or have health issues, but their kids live far away and rarely get to visit. So they end up moving into assisted living, downsizing. The snow birds sadly give up the annual migration when they reach that age. Ultimately, many choose to move back nearer their children at some point in time. It becomes a strange cycle that makes it hard to keep a real feeling of family. I was fortunate to live close by my parents, but most had no family nearby to help them.

What About Covenants?

Rules that Homeowners’ Associations make you agree to are intended to preserve the property values and the look and feel of the community. Some are no brainers, but it’s funny how carried away some HOAs get. Even the best-intended ones can lead to conflict. I recall a good friend, a fellow biologist, who lived in a community where the HOA had rules about keeping your yard looking good. He had one portion of his property that had native grasses, a rare commodity in his area, and he let them grow tall and go to seed so they’d come back the following year, like a sort of living museum. But the HOA sent him a notice saying if he didn’t cut his grass, they’d come do it for him. That led to some unpleasantness.

Shouldn’t you be able to do what you want with your property? It’s hard to draw the line between what is best for the community and the personal freedom of the homeowner. A retirement community near the one I lived in was so restrictive, my business partner and I, who owned a landscaping firm, called it “Little Russia,” and we didn’t really like working there. It was surprising how many residents complained to us about the covenants and how stupid and strangling they were–and that was mostly about their plants. Yet they had bought property there.

Golf, Anyone?

Golf seems to be the central theme in most of the retirement communities in the Sun Belt. Yet many residents don’t golf. My parents didn’t. Nor did I. The HOA charges fees that cover the amenities, and early on, the annual fee was surprisingly low. But in the years after I left, my parents were struggling and complaining about the fees, because they had gotten so old, they used few of the amenities, but the price kept going up each year. Water is always a challenge in the desert, and the use of pesticides is pretty high on golf courses, and keeping them resown each winter so that there’s always grass is pretty costly. So even though the residents know when they buy a home what the deal is, they aren’t always happy when prices start creeping up, forcing the HOA fees higher and higher.

My experience with HOAs led me to believe the best HOA is hands off. The fewer restrictions, the better. The lower the fees, the better. But I know that isn’t how everyone sees it. What is your personal opinion about retirement communities? What pluses and minuses have you experienced?

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