If someone were to mention The Villages to you, what comes to mind? You may have heard a story or two or read a news article about the largest active adult community in the world. With almost 80,000 people—according to Data USA—in a community that spans three counties, three zip codes, and over 20,000 acres, there are bound to be some interesting developments.
But are those stories you’ve heard actually true? Or is truth stranger than fiction? We've rooted up the rumors, gathered up the gossip, and mucked around in the myths to find out if this Central Florida 55+ haven is really as wild as some people have made it out to be.
1. The Villages Is the 'STD Capital of the World'
The number one rumor that gets mentioned when people start talking about The Villages is that sexually transmitted diseases run rampant here in a sordid bacchanal of unrepressed inhibitions. This seems to have been born out of a culmination of interviews and articles, including a New York Post article published in 2009 and titled “Retire to the Bedroom” that hyped up concerns of rising STD rates in the community.
Given The Villages’ reputation as “a college town for seniors,” residents do need to be mindful of issues like this. However, by all accounts, it appears that the “STD Capital of the World” claim is overblown. According to statistics provided by the Florida Department of Health, the three counties which make up The Villages—Sumter, Lake, and Marion—all have bacterial STD infection rates well below the state average for adults over the age of 55. That’s not to say the issue isn’t one of concern, it’s just likely that those concerns are more anecdotal than they are factual.
As for some of the other sordid stories you might have heard, well, as the saying goes, if there’s a drink named after it, then it probably happened.
2. There Are Sinkholes Everywhere
When it comes to sinkholes in The Villages, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is, yes, sinkholes do appear in The Villages from time to time. The good news is this isn’t a problem specific to this community. Wherever you go in Florida, you’re probably going to have to deal with sinkholes at some point. (Okay, so this isn’t actually good news.)
Sinkholes are so prevalent because much of the state is limestone and natural caverns. The extreme mixture of rain and heat that Florida gets does a number on that limestone, eating away at it until it dissolves, creating a hole in the ground that can do some damage.
You can always consider sinkhole insurance, and there are pros and cons to that. But otherwise, sinkholes are an unfortunate fact of life in Central Florida, no matter where you live.
3. Businesses Keep Failing Because Rents Are Too High
In August 2017, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar opened at a prime spot in Lake Sumter Landing. One year later, it shuttered for good. That might be surprising given the name recognition that Fieri brought with him. However, that same spot has also developed a reputation for short-lived businesses as both TGI Fridays and Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions closed down there previously. It all seems to point to the notion that business rents in The Villages are too high and forcing national brands to consider going elsewhere.
Not so, says Villages Commercial Sales and Leasing Director Scott Renick. He told The Villages Daily Sun that it’s simply a case of business-as-usual. “The [restaurant] industry as a whole is known for high failure rates,” said Renick. “However, the last time we did a study of our market the restaurant turnover here was a fraction of the national averages.”
As for unreasonable rents, Renick says that there are plenty of nearby towns with higher rents and even some properties within the community owned by others that charge higher rents than The Villages.
Ultimately, it’s likely that the “disappointing” experience at Guy Fieri’s had a lot more to do with its closing than any rent concerns.
4. No One Ever Sees the Developer
The history of The Villages is a fascinating one. It starts in the 1970s when Harold Schwartz started the Orange Blossom Gardens mobile home park. A decade later, he convinced son H. Gary Morse to join him, and the two built a golf course that residents could use for free. From there, they expanded the number of homes, the number of golf courses, and the number of everything else until you get to the monolith that is The Villages today.
While Schwartz was said to be personable and friendly before he passed away, and Morse garnered a reputation akin to The Wizard of Oz. All-powerful and all-knowing but never seen. Morse died in 2014 and his son Mark Morse became CEO. To his credit, Mark does make himself a bit more available to residents.
If you want to see a Morse live and in person, your best bet is the annual “An Evening with the Developer” event. Morse hosts the event, and sometimes even invites the rest of the family on stage for Q&A sessions. This year's event has been delayed by the coronavirus and is now planning to take place sometime in September or October, according to Villages-News.com.
5. The Villages Is a Gated Community
No one would be blamed for thinking The Villages is a gated community that outsiders can't access. There are plenty of security checkpoints and gates (90 to be specific) you need to pass through in order to get to specific areas and subdivisions.
However, all of the roadways in The Villages were built by the county and are, therefore, accessible to the public. Access to any part of the community cannot be restricted, regardless of who lives where.
That said, there's a purpose to the gate facilities. They exist to slow down the traffic in and out of The Villages. With so many pedestrians, cyclists, golf carts, and motor vehicles sharing the roads, it’s an extra deterrent to speedsters flying through the neighborhood. It’s also a way for visitors to get directions or help in finding their way in the sprawling community.
6. Crime Is a Problem in The Villages
In 2017, The Villages made unfortunate headlines when a police raid uncovered a drug ring and golf cart chop shop inside a resident's home. A lot of people started wondering what other deviant activities might be happening inside the community and whether or not The Villages has a crime problem.
The thing to remember is that The Villages is home to almost 80,000 people. That puts it on par with small cities across the country, all of which have to deal with the same kind of issues. It’s impossible to put that many people in one place and think there won’t be any problems. However, according to Sperling's Best Places, both property crime and violent crime rates are below the state and national average.
7. There Are More Women Than Men
You may have heard this rumor thrown around when it comes to the atmosphere at The Villages. It likely gained traction because of the salacious details in a Daily Mail article published in 2014 which claimed there are "ten women to every man." But is it true? Not even close.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the roughly 80,000 people living in The Villages, 53.65 percent are female, and 46.35 percent are male. That makes the actual ratio much closer to five women for every four men—a much more accurate representation.
However, this number includes married couples. If marital status is taken into account, then according to the World Population Review, 81.9 percent of males are married whereas 68.6 percent of females are married. That leaves 18.1 percent of males unmarried and 31.4 percent of females unmarried. By rounding the numbers, we come to a similar ratio again of three single women to every two single men.
8. There Is a Viagra Black Market
One of the most salacious rumors floating around about The Villages is the supposed black market that exists to sell cheap Viagra. Like many of these rumors, it was initially mentioned in the same New York Post article that hyped up the community's STD rates. Though statements in that article were from questionable sources or later recanted, that hasn’t stopped people from spreading it as proof of the out-of-control lifestyle habits of residents.
What’s the truth? Well, for starters, forms of Viagra and rival brand Sildenafil are expected to be available over the counter in the U.S. soon, which will likely eliminate the need for any kind of black market. And sure, while there probably was a bit of pill-swapping going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to make a strong case that it was causing the rise of some kind of criminal enterprise.
Like so many rumors and myths about The Villages, it sounds like someone took a bit of truth, mixed it with a whole lot of innuendo, and let people believe what they wanted to believe.
9. Residents of The Villages Support One Political Party
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency and during most of the 2020 election, it seemed like The Villages made headlines every week. A picture was painted of lines being drawn in the sand, neighbor turning against neighbor, and even some threats of violence. But how representative are these incidents of the community as a whole?
Currently, The Villages hosts a number of active political clubs, including the Democratic Women’s Club, the Republican Federated Women, The Villages Republican Club, The Villages Democratic Club, The Villages Democratic Sunday Forum, and even Moderates Discussion. Also, according to election results released by the Sumter County Supervisor of Elections, Sumter County (which houses a majority of The Villages) 67.76 percent of residents voted Republican while 31.68 percent of residents voted Democrat in the 2020 election.
While this indicates a political majority in the region, it proves that The Villages does not support a single political party but is home to residents with varying opinions.
10. The Villages Is Handling COVID Poorly
While this is a recent myth, it’s worth exploring. According to the Daily Sun, in the new five-year American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, researchers calculated the median age of residents in The Villages to be 67.4 years. Unfortunately, this makes many residents five times more likely to be hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, according to data released by the CDC in August of 2020.
So the risk is high, and how is The Villages responding? When the spread of COVID-19 began gaining ground in March of 2020, The Villages canceled festivals and closed town squares to limit the spread. However, those town squares reopened in October of 2020 and are currently hosting festivals for residents, according to Villages-News.com. This may be less of a concern with the recent rollout of the COVID vaccines, but according to a recent interview on NPR, Meta Minton of Villages-News.com reported that the community of nearly 80,000 people is having difficulty getting residents vaccinated. While testing for the virus has reportedly increased, cases spiked earlier this month.
The Bottom Line
The Villages is an expansive community—more of a self-sustaining city in its own right—and there are bound to be a number of issues among such a large population. However, as we've seen through diving into these myths and rumors, some claims are blatantly false, some are outdated, and others only have a grain of truth to them.
When it comes to your own homebuying experience and you're wondering if The Villages is right for you, we have a number of resources to help you can continue your research or you can schedule a tour with one of our real estate experts to experience The Villages for yourself.