The resort lifestyle is in full swing on Long Island. Just ask Paul and Vera Valentino. Four years ago, the couple bought a home in a luxury enclave for residents who are 55 and older. The Valentinos had grown weary of maintaining their waterfront house in Wantagh, and they wanted to duplicate the leisurely lifestyle they enjoy in Florida, where they have a second home.
Homeowners association fees, commonly called HOAs, cover the cost of keeping up the grounds year-round, including the pools and tennis courts. Happy hours, movie nights and a range of clubs within the community make The Greens, in Melville, a place where the Valentinos love to live. “It’s an adult camp — all about fun and meeting people without the responsibility of your deck,” said Paul Valentino, 76, a retired building materials broker. “It’s very easy to get into the social whirl.”
According to 55places.com, a website that lists active adult retirement communities throughout the United States, Long Island has a wide range of age-restricted, market-rate developments for homeowners 55 and older. For example, Leisure Glen in Ridge with 1,500 units, ranging in price from below $100,000 to mid-$200,000; Dutchgate in Valley Stream — a 348-unit community where prices go from the high $200,000s to low-$300,000s; The Villas at Narragansett in Lindenhurst, a smaller enclave of 138 units, with resales in the $300,000s; the 240-unit Encore Atlantic Shores in Eastport where resales run from the low-$500,000s to low-$700,000s. And there are many new developments opening or under construction, some with prices in the millions.
Newsday interviewed several couples — veterans in their communities and newer residents — who were willing to share their lifestyle experiences in age-restricted communities.
Throughout Long Island, retirees and those nearing that stage in life have sold the single-family homes where they raised their kids to make the next chapter of their life as carefree as possible. Many have purchased a smaller house, co-op or a condominium in an amenity-filled, market-rate development for the 55-and-over-set. These gated communities, residents say, enable them to remain on Long Island near their families and friends, while freeing them from property upkeep, and no fretting about their home’s security when on an extended vacation.
“You can go anywhere and travel and don’t worry, because there’s always someone to watch your place,” said Alice Mandel, 62, who moved into an age-restricted community last December called The Club at Melville. The couple had owned a home in Plainview for 35 years but decided to move after her husband, Boaz, 66, sold his cookie retail and distribution business in Hicksville.
An enclave specifically for older adults means living among people close in age, with similar life experiences. For many, that’s a special treat after residing in neighborhoods that increasingly attract young families with whom they had little in common. “It’s like being in college again,” Mandel said of her new address. “We’re all in the same age bracket, give or take a few years here and there, and we’re all at the same point in our lives.”
With on-site clubhouses, residents can meet and befriend one another at a wide range of events — wine and cheese parties; holiday gatherings; bridge, poker or mah-jongg games; or special interest groups. Many of these communities have fitness rooms and swimming pools.
Age-restricted properties also score big with developers, according to Mitchell Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute. Because of “pent-up demand” for this type of housing among graying baby boomers, developers don’t have a hard time selling residences. What’s more, local governments generally welcome the over-55 communities because they pay local taxes without burdening schools with an influx of new students.
Although no statistics exist on the number of people who have purchased homes in a Long Island age-restricted community, Pally estimated that “thousands of units have been built in the last couple of years or are in the process of being built.”
Depending on the enclave’s locale and amenities, as well as the individual residential unit’s location, size and features, prices — and monthly charges — can vary widely. A recent listing in Manorville’s Greenwood Village was asking $25,000 for a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom modular home with an attached garage, and such amenities as lawn care, snow removal and a swimming pool. At Greenwood, homeowner’s monthly charges include $1,000 to lease the land on which the home is situated and $30 for water.
On the luxury side, a spacious waterfront penthouse with three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths in the Knickerbocker Bay Club, Port Washington, was listed for $3 million. The community, restricted to residents age 62 and older, offers communal facilities such as a private dock, a gym, putting green and a rooftop terrace; monthly common charges are $3,656.
But some may feel that living in a gated community isn’t all fun and games. After having owned a single-family house where they called the shots, denizens must adjust to policies that dictate what they can and cannot do in the very place they call home.
Rules abound on a vast number of issues, including the placement of lawn furniture, barbecue grills and garbage cans; hours that young children can cool off in the pool (an issue that can raise the ire of grandparents hosting their beloved grandchildren); and the places where guests can park. Those who love yard work may need to scale back their green thumb ambitions since there are sometimes prohibitions about where and what owners can garden. Oftentimes, there is also limited space for personal plantings, residents say.
And depending on the market-rate development, ownership of the units may be passed onto adult heirs, but they must meet the development’s minimum age requirements to live in it. “Obviously, you don’t have the flexibility as living in your own single-family house, but those restrictions are not impeding the growth of the market,” Pally said.
Fern Karhu, broker/owner of Woodbury-based Realty Connect USA, a real estate agency that handles sales in age-restricted market-rate communities, urges buyers to not only enlist a lawyer to carefully read the development’s prospectus, which details its do’s and don’ts, but to personally review it, too. “A third party isn’t going to have the same perspective on life as you do,” she cautioned. “It is important for you to know what you are getting into.”
Still, the offering plan doesn’t cover all the issues owners could face in their new digs. When the cold weather months approach, for example, many residents may flee to warmer climes, leaving behind neighbors in a community that suddenly feels desolate — and with less well-attended social events. That same atmosphere could prevail — at least at the outset — in a brand-new community, as residents wait for more people to move into the development and for clubs and other activities to take shape.
And while residents in new communities hail them for their friendliness — since everyone is moving in around the same time — the reverse can be true at established communities, where cliques may have already formed and newcomers may feel like outsiders — at least temporarily, according to real estate experts.
To that end, when Joe and Millie McDonald moved into the Waterways at Moriches 20 years ago, the condo development was 10 years old and had 212 units, but the addition of 118 units 15 years ago brought with it a strained “new guys versus old guys” atmosphere, he said.
The new residents “by and large were at the younger end of the spectrum,” said McDonald, 80, a retired electrical engineer, past board president and now president emeritus of Waterways. So, in a conscious effort to integrate the two sides and create a shared sense of community, the board reached out to the new residents and encouraged longtime residents to do the same. “Within a year or two, the divide was all gone,” he said.
A social rift could surface once again, though, McDonald said. After more than a decade in litigation that held up the developer’s plans, a trio of three-story residential buildings may break ground next year.
A development that has been built in stages has the potential to divide residents in other ways. At the Waterways, all residents share the cost to repair, improve or maintain grounds, communal facilities and building exteriors. But not long after moving into the community, people in its newest area resented having to pay for the extra work that the older part of the development required.
McDonald said that the newer owners fell in line after the board pointed out that “their turn would come” when the new area needed work, and as soon as that happened, the board kept to its word “and we jumped on it.”
From his vantage point, living among peers can be a mixed bag. It means “that there’s a large segment of the community closer to the end than anywhere else, and there are a lot more wakes and funerals,” said McDonald. But, on the upside, “a lot of neighbors are in the same boat, and as you get older, everyone is looking out for everyone else,” he noted. On a personal level, McDonald is impressed with his own community’s vitality, adding that he is not much younger than his fellow tennis players.
“We’re very happy here,” said McDonald, speaking for himself and his wife. “It’s a style of living we never envisioned, but it’s a style of living we’ve embraced.”
Pros and Cons
With their convenient amenities, Long Island’s market-rate, age-restricted communities have many of the quintessential markings of the good life for 55-plus owners. But, housing experts caution, these developments also have a downside that should be considered before buying.
- Crews to maintain common facilities and grounds, including shoveling snow
- A clubhouse with recreational and fitness facilities
- Organized social activities that help foster friendships
- Neighbors close in age and with things in common
- Electronic and/or security personnel at gatehouse and throughout enclave
- Many rules, including whether barbecue grills are permissible, the placement of lawn furniture and when young children can use the pool
- A potentially desolate atmosphere in winter after snowbirds leave
- Frequency of wakes, funerals and shivas for neighbors
- Limited space for personal gardening
- Potential for newcomers to feel like outsiders among longtime residents
— CARA S. TRAGER