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"Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise again." ~Victor Hugo

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Community Review:

Sunflower - Continental Ranch

Marana, Arizona

Outside of Tucson in southern Arizona, Marana is the site of Sunflower, an established 55+ community within the gates of Continental Ranch. Single level, Mediterranean-style homes are for sale, and amenities include a village center, tennis courts, a putting green, walking trails and a packed social events calendar.

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Previous Reviews:

Elms of Charleston, North Charleston, South Carolina

Outside of charming Charleston on the mid-South Carolina coast, the Elms of Charleston is a gated 55+ community with single family homes and town homes in a wooded setting. Amenities include a clubhouse, a swimming pool, tennis courts, walking paths, an activities director and more.

Alamanda Key, Melbourne, Florida

On the eastern Florida coast, Melbourne is the site of Alamanda Key, a colorful Key West-inspired 55+ community with single family homes and duplexes. Amenities include two lakes and an "island-style" clubhouse.

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Reynolds Lake Oconee, Greensboro, Georgia

Along the shores of pretty Lake Oconee in northern Georgia, rambling Reynolds Lake Oconee has four marinas, 374 miles of shoreline, six golf courses, 16 tennis courts, nature trails and home prices in a wide range. Many of its residents are baby boomers and empty nesters.

Kissing Tree, San Marcos, Texas

San Marcos is in the Texas Hill Country and is the site of Kissing Tree, a large 55+ single family home community with a golf course, a putting green, a clubhouse, a swimming pool, a restaurant, a bar and a variety of architectural styles.

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Age Restricted Communities 101

The kids have moved out. They have launched themselves into a career, parenthood, home ownership. You decide it's time to downsize. But how? Into where? You're still healthy, active. You're not ready for a continuing care community. The decision can be daunting.

A 55-plus or active-adult community is one option. The only legal exception to non-discriminatory fair housing laws, an age restricted community is run by a homeowners association that offers some exterior maintenance and amenities to its members. Amenities could include a private golf course, sizable clubhouse, 24/7 security, or transportation to and from local hospitals or shopping malls. Housing in such a community can range from modest condominiums to attached homes to luxury estates.

How will you decide? Are you ready for the time it might take? Demand for homes in active-adult communities is on the rise. You'll be competing against other baby boomers, maybe even some Gen-Xers. Start your research a few years before your retirement date. Find a real estate agent that specializes in master-planned communities or senior home purchases. The National Association of Realtors does offer training and certification for senior specialists.

Look at the location. Does it have the right weather? Is it close enough to family? Is downtown too far away or not far away enough? Will you have acclimate? What are local taxes like? Check out the neighbors. Are these the people you want to age with? Make sure you know what services might be available for you as you age. Is your 55-plus community near a hospital, a grocery store, a bank, a pharmacy? Can they get you to the hospital and grocery store once you decide you no longer want to drive? Maybe the community offers grocery delivery? Are there senior fitness classes, personal trainers?

Be sure you understand what amenities you are paying for. Some communities require that you buy an equity membership or hide the cost of that lap pool and golf course in high HOA fees. Inspect your prospective community's activity calendar. Does it have the right mix of leisure and lecture? Are there too many card tournaments and not enough day trips? Do you hate golf, need 39 shuffleboard courts? Is there an activities director?

Understand your prospective HOA. How long is the list of restrictions? Do the board politics give you pause? Will they force you through a long approval process? Will they ask you for bank records and references?

Investigate the community's financials. Are they solvent? How well did they weather the crisis when the housing bubble burst in 2008? And what about the builder? How long have they worked for seniors? Do they understand aging in place? Do they understand the need for zero step entries, wider hallways? Or have they just gotten into the game? Del Webb is credited with inventing the age-restricted community. Keep your eye on what they're building. Other companies to watch are Lennar, Shea, and Taylor Morrison.

Remember, you're not just buying a new house. You're buying a new way of life.

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