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“Yup, I Moved into an Active Living Community”

Ever wondered what it’s like to move into a 55+ community? Learn the truth from one bold woman (and her husband) who made the leap – and never looked back

Once you become a “woman of a certain age” (aka an older adult), you and all your friends begin thinking out loud about what your retirement (or semi-retirement) might look like. A micro-home in Tucson? A condo in Milwaukee or perhaps a place in Portugal? Of the current 76.4 million Boomers, plenty are moving into our nation’s 2,000-plus active adult communities, which target those age 55 or older.

If you’ve been curious about this option, listen to what Susanne Routh, who’s in her early 60s, has to say about her decision to buy into one of these active living communities with her husband Chris – and what daily life is like.

Susanne and Chris Routh loving their active adult community life.
Susanne and Chris Routh loving their active adult community life.

Q: How did you approach the idea of where you’d retire? Where were you living prior?

A: I was a high school English teacher and Chris worked for Delta. We were living in Peachtree City, Georgia, and knew we wanted to move when we both retired. I wanted to head back to the Northeast and have four seasons – get me away from the summer heat. Chris wanted to stay in the South and be warm. We researched our options for about 10 years prior, and landed on wanting to move to a Del Webb community, because it seemed like the best bang for our buck. We were really drawn to all the activities they have, so location was our focus.

Q: So where did you land?

A: When push came to shove, we decided on Wilmington, North Carolina. We moved in a little over two years ago, and it’s the right fit for both of us. We’re just a 15-minute drive to the beach. We can go in the morning for a couple of hours or pack sandwiches and head over around 5 PM and hang out. Plus, Fort Fisher Park here is a state park with a beach, so it’s free parking. 

Q: What’s your house at the active living community like?

A: This was a big change for us. We used to be on about three-quarters of an acre, with privacy and our own pool. Now, we’re on a corner lot, with just an alleyway of space between us and the neighbors. You can see into other people’s houses and across their yards. So that’s something I’ve had to get used to. 

“If you don’t want to live under a homeowner’s association, with the rules that keep it looking like a pleasing, cookie-cutter beach community, you’ll probably have a hard time.”

I love our house (though I can’t say it’s quite the same quality as you’d find in a house you built on your own lot) and especially the sunroom off the back. But this is important: If you don’t want to live under a homeowner’s association, with the rules and regulations that keep it looking like an aesthetically pleasing beach community, you’ll probably have a hard time. I personally like the cookie-cutter houses with little differences. And I love that they do the maintenance for you – the mowing, the edging – while you can sit and read or do whatever.

Q: So tell us about the activities – pickleball, anyone?

A: They have everything: sports, bocce, pickleball – of course, tennis courts, arts and crafts, creative groups, book clubs for people like me who have never done a sport in their life. There is something to do daily, and everyone who lives in the community gets involved, whether it’s a group for card, tile, or board games or something else. I say it’s like summer camp for people our age!  

When I first moved in, I said to myself, “I’m going to try everything and see what falls out.” That’s how you make friends, finding common interests and chatting. Here’s what’s stuck: I love playing canasta for three hours once a week, and I’m learning mahjongg and will stay with that once I figure out what on earth is going on in that game. I also love what’s called  Dining Divas, which is all about cooking and entertaining. About 40 of us go to different houses in groups of five or six, each person makes one course, and you wind up with a gourmet meal. 

Susanne at a painting class at her Del Webb community.
Susanne at a painting class at her Del Webb community.

“When I first moved in, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to try everything and see what falls out.”

I also joined the Jewish group, Shalom Y’all, which isn’t only for those who are Jewish. It’s taught me a lot about a religion I didn’t know much about, and we celebrate the major holidays at the clubhouse together.

Q: Can you thrive in these communities if you’re not an activities kind of a person?  

A: Not really. I mean, what would be the point? You’re paying $300 a month or so in HOA fees, so you might as well take advantage of it. Some activities are included – for instance, the pool is amazing, just to grab a float and chit-chat with people, or there’s always something happening on the weekend, like a party with a live band and food and ice cream trucks. Others you pay extra for, like an exercise class for $5 or a big concert or theater outing for $100.  

Q: So do you feel like you’ve clicked with the other residents of the active adult community?

A: We have found our people – we have made friends for life even if we picked up and moved tomorrow. The awesome thing is that everyone is in the same boat. We’re all retired, and you find your niche fast here based on interests and meeting neighbors. It’s a mix of couples and singles (mainly women), and everyone is from somewhere else. Lots of people from New York and New Jersey, for instance.

“We have made friends for life here, even if we picked up and moved tomorrow.”

Q: Does the active living community get clique-y at all?

A: I don’t find it to be, but I have heard people complain a bit. For instance, the people who have been here since the very beginning seem to be more stand-offish, but I think that ‘s because they’ve already found their friend groups and really don’t like too much change. 

Q: No obnoxious characters to rat out?

A: Well, when we got here, there was a self-proclaimed “Governor” who rode around with a poster saying so on his golf cart. He was actually very instrumental in getting things done, but, to be honest, did not have the best people skills. Anyway, as the community has grown and new people have moved in, he’s become less of an issue.

Q: What are your big-picture thoughts on this move you made?

A: Of course, many people at this life stage would rather move closer to their kids or other family members. I understand that. We have two grown kids, one living in Europe and one in NYC, so moving here, we weren’t exactly any closer to them than if we’d stayed put in Georgia. We’re very good friends with a couple two doors down – they moved here, a good distance away from their grown kids in Rhode Island. We’re all finally at the “you do you and do what you want” stage of life…and loving it.

By Janet Siroto


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