After living in Prince George’s County, Maryland for 36 years, John and Theresa Leeke sold their five-bedroom house and moved in 2016 to a three-bedroom home, part of an age-restricted community for people 55 and older in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
“We had been looking for several years for a one-level home. We wanted to downsize but not go very far,” says John Leeke, 78, a retired management and human resources consultant.
The Leekes found their single-floor dwelling in Two Rivers, a community in Odenton, Maryland, where about 830 of the 2,090 houses being constructed are designated for residents age 55 and older. John Leeke says living there offers numerous advantages. “I no longer have to cut the grass and shovel snow. There is a wonderful clubhouse for fitness and social activities.”
Five days a week, Leeke works out in the community exercise room and swims laps in the indoor pool, just a short walk from his home. “I’m in pretty decent shape,” he says.
The demand for such amenities and programs promoting physical, mental and social health is on the rise in age-restricted communities like Two Rivers, where the Leekes and their neighbors live independently.
Housing expert Gregg Logan of the real estate firm RCLCO in Orlando, says the emphasis on healthy living is part of a change in these communities in response to the boomer retirement wave.
The trend in 55-plus communities, Logan and others say, is away from the golf courses, formal clubhouses and cookie-cutter homes.
Now seniors are being accommodated with fitness facilities, walking trails and casual spaces for gatherings, dining and classes, plus a variety of housing - attached villas, condominiums and single-family models.
These new homes typically offer open floor plans, gourmet kitchens, ground-floor master suites and smaller secondary bedrooms “big enough for visiting kids but not so big,” Logan says. Buyers of these dwellings, he notes, are spending on average about the same amount or 20 percent less than the value of their former homes.
About 80 percent of boomers are retiring where they currently live to be near children and grandchildren, Logan says, rather than moving to the Sun Belt. The small percentage who opt to move to local retirement communities are seeking opportunities to exercise, learn and socialize.
“People buy community first,” Logan says. “They want access to amenities and educational programs, and to pursue activities they’ve always wanted to try, like photography, gardening or cooking.”
Essential to senior-centered developments are “clubhouses with exercise and socializing components, walking trails and agricultural amenities that promote health and wellness opportunities,” says William Gerald, vice president of acquisition and development for the Bethesda, Maryland-based Classic Group, the developer of Two Rivers.
“Over the past 10 years, food and cooking has become a much greater social component of retirement communities,” Gerald says. The 15,000-square-foot clubhouse for seniors at Two Rivers accommodates that need with a culinary center incorporating a demonstration kitchen.
Two Rivers is named for its location between the Patuxent and Little Patuxent rivers. Now being planned for the community is an agricultural park situated within a 100-acre parcel. The Classic Group is working with the University of Maryland to develop garden plots for the residents, greenhouses and a community farm operation.
Says Gerald: “The agricultural activity will be incorporated into the demonstration kitchen that can be used by residents for classes and restaurateurs in the area to promote healthy cooking and eating.”
In addition to the agricultural park, 135 acres will be reclaimed from a prior sand and gravel operation to create a recreational park with wetlands, a pond, forest conservation areas and walking trails.
“Access to nature is important to these communities,” Logan says. “Trails for walking, jogging and biking are at the top of the amenity list.”
The age 55-plus Birchwood at Brambleton development near Ashburn, Virginia, is now working its way through the Loudoun County approvals process. Like Two Rivers, Birchwood is envisioned as an enclave within a larger intergenerational community - another trend in local retirement living as increasing density from regional growth limits the number of age-restricted colonies built independently on greenfield sites.
The gated, 1,502-home Birchwood has been planned by Soave Real Estate of Detroit and Brambleton at the southeastern corner of the existing community to serve the Broad Run stream valley. This reclaimed natural area, called Central Park, will have about four miles of walking trails connected to pedestrian pathways already established within the larger community.
The 20,000-square-foot, two-level clubhouse in Birchwood will include a golf simulation room, yoga studio, pools, game rooms, event venues, demonstration kitchen and exercise spaces for tai chi and Pilates.
At classes held in the clubhouse, residents will have the opportunity to learn from medical experts from nearby StoneSprings Hospital Center in Dulles, Virginia, about nutrition and health topics. A community website, mybramhealth.com, has been launched to provide guidance on quitting smoking, increasing exercise and improving food choices, among other challenges.
“We are trying to hit the refresh button and break the stereotype of the retirement community,” says Kim Adams, director of marketing for Brambleton. “We are trying to get residents to think about their health and lifestyle.”
The Birchwood community, which has yet to start construction, will offer a mix of condos, attached courtyard and bungalow residences, and single-family houses, created by three builders. Prices will range from the mid-$300,000s to about $700,000, according to Adams.
Real estate agent Karen Parker of Keller Williams in Vienna, Virginia, who specializes in age-restricted properties, says amenities and parks are important selling points because many residences in newer retirement developments are attached villas or townhouses. “There’s not much there past your patio, since there are no big yards,” Parker says.
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Access to nature and health-conscious amenities is a growing part of community care retirement communities, where seniors can transition into assisted living and nursing facilities. This emphasis on wellness helps residents live independently longer and fits with boomers’ interest in an individualized approach to managing their health.
Retirees Dan and Mary Pence, both 72, who currently live in Washington’s Chevy Chase neighborhood, say that healthy emphasis led them to decide to move to nearby Creekside, a 105-unit retirement community now being constructed by Ingleside in Washington.
The Pences said they expect to downsize from their three-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment in 2019 or 2020. “I will be able to care for Dan and be with him as we get older. We like being able to stay in our neighborhood and having ready access to Rock Creek Park,” says Mary Pence, a retired attorney.
For now, the Pences are still active and intend to stay that way. “I still walk a lot and Dan plays tennis, and we expect to be more active with all the facilities in the community.”
Monthly fees at Creekside range from $3,695 to $8,345 per unit and include a 24-hour emergency response service, a flexible meal plan, utilities, weekly housekeeping, maintenance, garage parking and amenities.
Creekside residents will have access to the Center for Healthy Living, a 31,000-square-foot complex planned with a fitness room, yoga studio, wellness clinic, classrooms, dining venues, computer labs, hair salon, game room, ballroom and health-related facilities. A smaller Center for Healthy Living will be built at Gardenside, the planned 125-unit addition to Ingleside’s continuing care community at King Farm in Rockville.
Monique Eliezer, chief sales marketing officer at Ingleside, says the design and development of the wellness centers are based on intensive consumer research.
“The senior industry is changing to accommodate baby boomers’ demands for healthy living, continuous intellectual growth, cultural diversity and longevity,” Eliezer says. “For boomers, wellness is a must.”