When Jack and Joan Armitage of Levittown got the startling call that they'd reached the top of a senior housing waiting list much sooner than expected -- and learned that their move would coincide with hip replacement surgery for Joan -- their intended future abruptly became their present.
Fortunately, Jack, 83, and Joan, 80, had made some smart choices well before Joan needed surgery. So the hectic transition from their 10-room house to a three-room apartment marked the beginning of this couple's happily ever after in a home suited for their changing needs: a sunny first-floor end unit with a roomy parking spot for easy walker maneuvering, in an affordable senior community in East Meadow, close to family and friends.
House-hunting seniors hoping for a similarly bright future should follow the Armitages' example -- starting with scoping out potential new digs in advance, says Diane Landau, the East Meadow-based senior relocation specialist who helped the couple find their home and make the move. Landau owns Memories on the Move, which assists seniors and their families with the challenges associated with downsizing and relocating, or modifying, a home.
Landau recommends starting a search while you're still in good health, as early as age 60, and inquiring about waiting lists up to five years before a move.
Successful senior living will largely boil down to finding a place that offers things like transportation options, opportunities to socialize and a selection of homes that are set up for, or can be adapted to, declining physical abilities.
A number of Long Island communities fit the bill -- including some neighborhoods previously highlighted in the Best Places to Live series, such as Huntington, Great Neck and Stony Brook -- with perks for all ages such as walkability, cultural arts and parks, as well as senior-specific housing, clubs and services.
Here, we shine a light on some senior hot spots you may not have heard about, along with a sampling of what you can get for the county's median sales price (or close to it): $435,000 for Nassau and $335,000 for Suffolk as of July, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island.
NEW HYDE PARK
New Hyde Park was the birthplace of Project Independence, an aging-in-place program launched in 2005 that has grown to serve all 50,000 or so senior adults residing in the Town of North Hempstead. The program was the first of its kind to be sponsored by a local government in New York State, according to the town council.
Among the benefits for residents 60 and older are free weekday transportation to designated shopping centers and discounted taxi service to nonemergency medical and dental appointments. The program also connects seniors to exercise classes, social events and even handyman and yard work services.
Within the Town of North Hempstead, senior real estate specialist Lynne Kleinman says she especially likes the housing stock in New Hyde Park for seniors. For those who don't want the responsibility of outdoor maintenance, she recommends the apartment buildings, many of which are equipped with elevators. And those who still prefer a house will find an ample stock of Capes, which usually have one or two bedrooms and a full bathroom on the first floor -- "so, as you're aging, you don't have to navigate steps," says Kleinman, who co-owns a senior move management business with Ellen Blank. She also recommends nearby Great Neck Village for its walkability to cultural and retail centers.
Proximity to local hospitals such as Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park is also a comfort to older adults. "A lot of people ask where the nearest hospital is" when seeking a home to spend their retirement years, says Diane Landau, a founding member of the L.I. chapter of the nonprofit National Aging in Place Council, which promotes independent living for seniors who want to remain in their homes as they age.
$440,000 in New Hyde Park
This three-bedroom, one-bathroom Cape has the master bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor. It's listed with Thomas Schrafel and Jane Schrafel of Coach Realtors. Prices for single-family homes in New Hyde Park range from $175,000 for a one-bedroom co-op to $1.199 million for a six-bedroom Colonial.
Riverhead is a hot spot for the active 55-and-over set, says Kathleen Mazza, owner of the senior relocation service Island Transitions in East Setauket. "Over the last 15 or 20 years, they have put a bunch of planned communities north of Route 58," she says, citing condo developments such as Saddle Lakes, Stoneleigh Woods, Willow Ponds and Mill Ponds.
Condos with amenities such as grounds maintenance, pools, fitness facilities and social activities appeal to seniors like Bob Kiernan, 64. Kiernan moved into the Stoneleigh Woods 55-and-over community late last year because he says he liked the layout, the price and the amenities. "It's nice that I don't have to mow the lawn anymore, take care of my pool anymore," says Kiernan. He adds that the community has social activities such as card and trivia games, movie nights and happy hours.
Active retirees like Kiernan can indulge a golf passion at a number of golf courses in Riverhead, including 18-hole courses at Cherry Creek Golf Links, the Woods at Cherry Creek or the Suffolk County- owned and -operated Indian Island Country Club, or a nine-hole course at Sandy Pond Par 3. "I play a lot of golf," says Kiernan, a former high schoolteacher and golf coach. "It's nice that Cherry Creek is only six or seven minutes away. I play in a senior league."
Riverhead also has a walkable downtown offering shopping, dining and cultural arts such as the Suffolk Theatre, which has live performances, and East End Arts, which has art exhibits, poetry readings and more. And grandparents know it'll be easy to persuade the grandkids to visit with attractions nearby such as the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead and Splish Splash Water Park in Calverton. The Hilton Garden Inn and the Hyatt Place Hotel mean even those who choose to retire in smaller homes can have extended family come to town.
$329,000 in Riverhead
This two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the Sunken Pond adult community is listed with Joan Waggoner of Bagshaw Real Estate LLC. Home prices in Riverhead range from $15,900 for a two-bedroom mobile home to $2.9 million for a four-bedroom Craftsman Cape on a 7.4-acre estate with a water view.
Seniors seeking seniors for neighbors will find plenty in West Babylon, which has the highest over-60 population in Suffolk County -- more than 8,300 residents in that age group, according to the latest available U.S. census data. "Socialization is a big issue for seniors," says Barbara Feldman, owner of Manhasset-based A Nu Start, a senior relocation service. It's important to have peers nearby, because even healthy, active older adults can be at risk for becoming isolated. "They lose a spouse, or friends have died. . . . That's a big issue," she says.
Social seniors can get together at the Friends of West Babylon Library events, such as the annual Spring Senior Citizens Party and monthly Atlantic City bus excursions. The library also periodically offers programs dealing with important topics such as senior scams, medication management, fall prevention and safe driving. There's also a gentle exercise class to help arthritis sufferers improve their flexibility, coordination, balance and strength.
West Babylon is in the Town of Babylon, which has four senior centers in nearby Amityville, Copiague, Wyandanch and North Babylon. All four offer recreational, cultural and health programs for adults over age 60. Resident seniors can get help with household repairs and free transportation to senior centers. Activities include arts and crafts, computer instruction, dance classes, parties and trips.
Senior-friendly housing options in West Babylon include 55-and-over communities run by Fairfield Properties and Conifer Living, and Sunrise of West Babylon, an assisted-living facility. Seniors can find similar-aged pals in nearby Fairfield Harbor at Babylon Village, a 55-and-over community.
$339,000 in West Babylon
This three-bedroom, one-bath split-level is on a 75-by-95-foot lot. It's listed with Joseph Ferraro of Assist 2 Sell US Home & Realty. Home prices in West Babylon range from $90,000 for a co-op to $849,000 for a three-bedroom Postmodern.
Seniors on a budget can still enjoy the carefree co-op lifestyle in East Meadow. The Town of Hempstead created a Golden Age Zoning district to provide affordable housing to income-qualified seniors. This includes The Knolls -- that's where the Armitages live -- and The Meadows, both in East Meadow. "They're all really nice . . . and you have your own little co-op in a little development of seniors for the average Joe," says Diane Landau, an East Meadow-based senior relocation specialist. Both have swimming pools and other recreational facilities. The town also offers a selection of affordable rental apartments for residents over age 62.
The area boasts plenty of enrichment opportunities for seniors. "East Meadow is a great place to retire because it has Eisenhower Park, which has golf, senior exercise programs, swimming programs, and there are concerts in the evening," says Landau. One of the Town of Hempstead's 16 senior centers is in East Meadow, offering social, recreational and educational activities. Nearby Hofstra University has a stimulating 55-and-over program called PEIR: Personal Enrichment in Retirement. Scheduled programs, monthly meetings and informal lunches give seniors the opportunity to engage in intellectual discussions and teach and learn from one another.
Landau recommends nearby North Bellmore for those who still prefer a house, but could do without the stairs. "North Bellmore has a whole group of ranches that are really nice," she says. "Everything is on one level."
And you don't have far to travel for social and educational enrichment, she adds. "The continuing education is really good in Merrick-
Bellmore for seniors and for everybody. They have a lot of day programs as well as night" -- a plus for some older adults who prefer to be home before dark. This fall's schedule includes seniors-only dance and fitness classes such as Country Western Line Dance and Heart Healthy Aerobics for Fifty Plus, as well as a variety of courses in arts and crafts, computers, language arts and defensive driving.
$435,000 in East Meadow
This two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo has a balcony. It's in The Seasons, a 55-and-over community with indoor and outdoor pools. The home is listed with Joseph DeVito of Keller Williams Realty Landmark. Prices for single-family homes in East Meadow range from $264,900 for a four-bedroom expanded Cape on a 60- by-99-foot lot to $949,000 for a four-bedroom Colonial on a 61-by-290-foot lot.
There's an impressive array of community activities, services and resources for senior citizens in Plainview. At the Mid-Island Y JCC, a community center, you'll find seniors-only social events, lectures, group discussions and educational activities. Some are for ages 60 or 65 and up, while others are reserved for those who've reached or passed the milestone of their 75th birthday.
There are two over-60 service programs here: Plainview-Old Bethpage Cares (POB Cares) offers free services and resources to senior residents of Plainview and Old Bethpage who live east of the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, while Project Plainview Assisting Community Elders (Project PACE) does the same for those who reside in Plainview west of the expressway. Both offer free assistance with health care, such as in-home assistance with a registered nurse and transportation to medical appointments. They also provide help with food shopping and minor home repairs, as well as social activities.
The library is another big draw for retired folks. "Bethpage-Plainview Library is excellent, with many, many activities," says senior relocation specialist Diane Landau. The library's programs include senior enrichment and fitness classes, a mature driving course and bus trips to Atlantic City and other destinations. It's also the meeting place of the 50+ Ski Club -- a sports activities club for seniors.
Plainview is in the Town of Oyster Bay, which gives residents access to all the recreational programs provided by the town's Senior Citizens Services, including luncheons, day trips, crafts, exercise classes, card games and other activities at various locations throughout the town. Plainview-Old Bethpage Community Park offers an aquatic program for seniors as part of the town's Senior Summer Program.
For senior-friendly, low-maintenance living, check out Plainview's condo communities, such as the Villas or The Seasons at Plainview. For high-end, resort-style living, try The Hamlet on Olde Oyster Bay. For affordable senior housing elsewhere in the town, Town of Oyster Bay residents can apply for Golden Age Housing communities in Bethpage, Woodbury or Massapequa.
$429,000 in Plainview
This three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo is in The Hamlet on Olde Oyster Bay, an all-ages homeowners' association. It's listed with Fern Altman of Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes & Estates. Home prices in Plainview range from $259,000 for a two-bedroom condo to $1.399 million for a five-bedroom contemporary.