mature woman lounging in outdoor pool

Retirement should be all about living the best life you can

We spend countless hours every day doing research on active adult communities around the country. In every community that we visit and every salesperson that we talk to, we always ask the same thing, "What is it that makes your community unique that no other retirement community around can offer?" Without fail, 99 percent of the time the response we hear is, "It's the lifestyle. We offer the best lifestyle of any retirement community in the area."

First off, there can only be one "best" lifestyle community in the area. But what is more disturbing is that most salespeople will tell you their active retirement community offers the best lifestyle without even taking the time to understand what is most important to you. After all, how can a community that offers the best lifestyle for golfers and tennis players possibly attract someone interested in bridge and woodworking?

The truth is that most salespeople will tell you their lifestyle is the best around without ever taking the time to see how they stack up against the competition. Informed buyers can often read right through this sales spiel because they have taken the time to research their options.

Still, if you are just starting the search process, beware of the lifestyle pitch. You will hear it from every community you speak with. Lifestyle is a major component of why most people choose to live in active adult communities. But the lifestyle can only be "the best" if it fits what you want it to be. No two buyers are the same, and fortunately, no two communities are the same either. But in order to find the ideal community that fits your lifestyle, you need to do more than simply ask the sales associate "What makes your community unique?" You need to dig deeper.

If you plan to spend many years in your next community, it is important you do your research. To help you, we have organized a list of eleven things to do and questions to ask to determine if a community will match your lifestyle.

Does the community offer an activities director?

In order to truly be an active community, the community should have a full-time activities director. The activities director will ensure there is no shortage of things to do. If the community does not have an activities director, it does not mean the community will not still have various events and clubs, but they are likely arranged by residents and probably not as well-coordinated.

How many clubs and interest groups does the community offer?

And better yet, do any of them interest you? Most active adult communities will have a list that allows you to see the different clubs you can join. Ask to see the list.

Ask to see a list of activities

Some communities offer five activities per day, while others barely offer five activities per month. Take a look at the activities, events and trips offered by the community and see if there are any that pique your interest.

Does the community offer a newsletter or website for residents?

If so, ask to see it. The newsletter or website is often the best and only way you will stay informed of what is going on in the community.

How complete is the community?

If it is a brand new community, there are likely fewer activities in the beginning, but the first residents get to be pioneers that will help shape the lifestyle of the community. If the community is fully complete, there are likely to be more clubs and activities that have already been established.

How large is the community?

Larger communities are likely to offer more clubs, amenities and activities than smaller communities simply because their size allows them to do so. But if you are looking for a quieter lifestyle, a smaller community may suit you better.

Meet the residents

Are you looking for a younger or older crowd? Do you want softball and tennis or cards and knitting? Often, though not always, the newer the community, the younger the crowd. As the community gets older, so typically do the residents. Be certain to talk to many residents. Do not let your visit with one resident sway your opinion of the entire community.

Visit the clubhouse

See what kind of amenities the community offers and if they are being utilized by the residents. Amenities that are in full-use by residents likely indicate a very active lifestyle in the community. Also, be sure to visit the community at different times of the day and days of the week. Many people are alarmed if they visit the clubhouse at the wrong time of day or day of the week and find that the clubhouse is empty or that the activities taking place do not meet their needs.

Ask to meet with the activities director

Tell him or her the kind of lifestyle you desire and find out if the activities in the community will meet your needs.

Ask to partake in activities before buying

Many active adult communities will let non-residents participate in trips, activities and events before buying. This is a great way to try out the lifestyle before you commit to purchasing.

Work with an independent agent

Real estate agents have no vested interest in which community you choose. If you find an agent who is an expert with all active adult retirement communities in the area, he or she can likely give you an unbiased opinion of which community matches your lifestyle best.