“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.” Thoreau from Walden
My wife Cheryl and I have lived in Sun City Carolina Lakes (just south of Ballantyne) for nine years, moving here when we were 50 and 51 respectively. Oh, and we live two doors down from my wife’s parents, who are now in their 80’s. By law, yes, a small percentage of 55+ community homeowners can be under 55, but must be at least 50. And, yes, we do have our Everybody Loves Raymond moments. Living that close to parents leads to a few unauthorized border crossings, but once the boundaries are defined and understood, there are many more advantages than disadvantages to living in close proximity to aging parents, which is probably a good topic for another article.
But what made us decide to buy a house in an age-restricted community in South Carolina to begin with? What got us all here?
By “here” I mean to Charlotte from the DC metro area. Grandkids is the short answer. For Cheryl and me, our fathers were both career Marine Corps, and I was career Air Force. Because we moved so often as kids and as adults, we barely knew any of our relatives, and I hardly knew my grandparents at all. Whenever I attended family gatherings, my cousin Vicky would stand next to me and discreetly whisper to me who people were and remind me how I was related to them. So, Cheryl and I left our home in Alexandria, Virginia, and moved to Charlotte to be near two of our four granddaughters.
Okay, Bob, very nice, but how did you get two doors down from your in-laws in an age-restricted community? Good question. My wife’s parents lived in New Orleans for two decades after her father retired from the Marine Corp. Then they moved in with us in Virginia post-Katrina, and then south one more time to Charlotte. As they watched hurricane Katrina in their rearview mirror chase them through three states, it made an impression. Their house on the West Bank of New Orleans actually survived intact, but my mother-in-law vowed that would be the last time she evacuated for a storm. Ergo, Alexandria and Charlotte, both places you evacuate to, not run from.
As we were looking at communities in Charlotte, Baxter Village caught our eye at first. There are many good reasons to buy a house there, access to I-77 and the airport being just two. Then we looked at Sun City for Cheryl’s parents without knowing we were age-eligible ourselves.
It was a quick but easy decision for us to sell our four-story townhouse in Alexandria and move to one story in Sun City. My wife and I saw my parents struggle with three stories after my father had a major stroke early in his 70’s. For my mother and father, it was beyond inconvenient. It was dangerous. That isn’t to say you can’t buy a two-story house in Sun City or in another age-restricted community, because you can buy anywhere from between 1100 square feet and 5000 square feet. But after what we witnessed with my folks, there was no way that Cheryl and I were going to put ourselves and our children through that. We are very happy with 2600 square feet on one level.
And now that we have been here a while, we have a more informed opinion as to the backs (good things) and drawbacks (bad things) about buying and living in an age-restricted community.
The good things:
- No skateboard ramps and basketball hoops in driveways. It was okay when we had kids living at home, but now we have grownup furniture and grownup cars, and we have elected to live among grownups.
- Everyone is kind of in the same boat. Although nearly half of the people still work in some capacity, pretty much everyone is completely retired or in the process of retiring.
- The sense of community is essential. Club interests and activities span 30 chronological years, a full generation-and-a-half. From hiking to pottery. Bible Study Club, Shalom Club, Republicans, and Democrats. Folks either find their niche or create their niche.
- A strict and strident homeowner’s association (HOA) protects property values and maintains the culture of a 55+ community. A bunch of us were free-thinking hippies, children of the 60’s and 70’s, but, no, if you live here, you can’t paint your front door purple.
- Whether you work or travel, sell your lawn mower. General yard maintenance is part of the HOA fee. Oh, and leave your snow shovel in the garage in Michigan, New York, or wherever. After a day or two, the snow here melts on its own.
The bad things:
- The population can be kind of homogenous. Sometimes I can’t even pick out my wife of 40+ years in a crowded room. And when someone asks if I know “Paul,” who also lives in our community of 3,400 houses, and describes Paul as “an older white guy with gray hair, glasses, and a bit of a belly,” I tell him that’s pretty much every man in the community. We could definitely use more diversity.
- Some people moved to the community too late in life or stayed too long. This is a tough, personal call. For many of us, when we decided to move here, we planned for this to be our last move and our last house. Some of us may transition to assisted living, but others plan to ride things out as best they can, which means a combination of home healthcare and hospice. Both choices make sense depending on the medical situation.
- The HOA can be a bit intrusive (and aggressive) if you try to fly your freak flag. Wander off the reservation – too many bird feeders in the yard, hang a permanent Ohio State banner on your garage, park a boat in your driveway – and watch how quickly someone from the “Compliance Committee” knocks on your door.
All in all – there are many more good reasons to choose an age-restricted community in Charlotte over living in gen pop (general population) communities, and it’s definitely better than living on the 50 acres in the wilderness you have always dreamed about. It’s that neighborhood of somewhat similar-aged folks (give or take 30+ years) who are tired of yelling at the neighbor kids to get off the newly seeded lawn, but are legitimately concerned that if they break a hip shoveling snow in Jackman, Maine, no one will hear them scream.
For information about age-restricted or age-targeted communities in the Charlotte area, or for any real estate need, please contact Reid Baxter at the RE/MAX Baxter Team (803) 802-9800.
by Bob Poliquin, Managing Editor