Commentary

Life in an Over-55 Community: As Good as It Gets?

By TOM MEREDITH | Feb 07, 2018

When the college years of your children are over, the last one is finally out of the house and able to make it living on his or her own, the weddings are over or at least prepared for, it is time to look seriously at the holy grail of retirement.

Retirement, or at least semi-retirement, is the next phase of life to be enjoyed – if you can. It is accompanied by the realization that the generation just before us is likely the last to enjoy an employer-subsidized retirement. You might be OK, of course, if you were smart enough all those years ago to become a public service employee who put up with not a small amount of inconvenience during your working life in service of others to earn a “softer landing” retirement. Even if you cannot afford to retire yet, it may be time to sell your home and reap the lifetime profits of home ownership, downsize and relocate to a place cheaper to live.

You realize over-55 communities might be a good decision. The homes are well built and brand new, and you can continue to be among people at the same stage of life, with similar interests, as was the case with first-time homebuyers, child-rearing families. Now you can enjoy the brass ring of all those trials and tribulations – relaxation.

My wife and I decided this would be a good path for us. We both now work from home and were hoping to begin scaling down. We found a community on the mainland with beautiful homes, a large clubhouse, lots of activities and very friendly people. It seemed a pleasant place to settle, even if a little “Stepfordish.”

We made the all-in effort required to clean up and sell a home that saw three children grow to adulthood. We signed a purchase agreement for a newly built home and were excited as kids at Christmas to watch the construction and installation of our chosen amenities. We moved in during what felt like the biggest heat wave ever, and spent the first year hemorrhaging money to get the home set up just right: painted, furnished and the other details not taken care of by our builder.

We made many new friends and attended a lot of events at our clubhouse, which has a very active social committee to plan activities. Some of these activities are typical cruise ship-styled entertainment, which is not my personal favorite, but there is something for everyone. You are under no obligation to attend events beyond the perceived social pressure of wanting to support your friends who have gone to the trouble to organize and plan something for the community.

Our community, like most others, has a homeowners association to oversee such things as upkeep of grounds owned by the community, known as common property, architectural consistency of the homes within the development, the above-mentioned social events and the various and sundry needs of a planned community. In our case, we are fortunate to have an indoor and outdoor pool, which require a committee for oversight.

Part of our association dues goes to complete landscaping services including snow removal of the streets, driveways, sidewalks and front walks to our door. Woo-hoo! Just when we have nowhere to go, and no longer enjoy driving in snow, we can get out easily. It’s a great benefit nonetheless.

There is an active women’s club that does wonderful things for the local community and schools: food pantry work, monetary donations to schools and children as well as involvement with Toys for Tots at Christmas due to efforts of former Marine Corps neighbors. A fishing club, bocce, ping pong, and of course a pickleball league keep us active. There is no bingo due to regulatory hurdles, and no men’s club, which seems odd as the women’s club is so active, but a wide array of clubs and offerings: poker night, mah jongg, genealogy, aerobics, chorus, photography and many organized trips.

As you might imagine, all of these events and committees themselves need supervision, and the expenditures required need stewardship. Enter the board of trustees, a group of people elected by community members to provide for the best interests of all.

Let’s step back a minute and look at the overall makeup of our over-55 community. You must be over age 55 to purchase a home here. The average age is somewhere in the late 60s to early 70s. The majority of people are retired, which these days means forced into retirement as part of cost-cutting measures of businesses, not necessarily at a mandatory retirement age or even mindset.

While most residents seem to have some financial stability at least for the present, some struggle with this change of life. I call it the “I Used to Be Somebody Syndrome.” Many people, particularly the men, spend a lot of time talking about their expertise and business acumen gained from 30-plus years of a career. Retired life is supposed to be a new one – why do we continue to brag about the old one so much?

To fill the executive void, many of these community members join committees or the board to take a leadership role. Without insights and self-awareness, this can be a minefield of problems, real and imagined.

As with so many things in our society, the impact of unintended consequences and of no good deed going unpunished is rampant. People all have good intentions when running for election to a board. They bring with them a lot of good ideas and energy. They also bring their business experiences and learned management styles. Collisions of the two do not take long.

In our community there was a board in the beginning that I did not experience, but stories circulate of heavy-handed decision making and handing down of edicts not involving the whole community in the decision making process. A new board was elected and seemed to work quietly and effectively as the community grew to the point in two years of needing to elect more board members. This was a perfect opportunity for the successful committee chairmen of larger committees to move up the ladder, which they were able to do. The community voted using an age-old adage: Past performance should predict future performance. Should is such a dangerous word.

As our community grows to completion, more is required of the board, and more members will be elected again in the near future. Unfortunately, now the same quiet complaints about the past board are circulating regarding the present one: heavy-handed, micro-management; ego; and power going to their heads. Power? These complaints are getting loud.

We live in a planned community of 300-plus homes. What kind of power is there? An ability to influence who gets to play ping pong and when? Turn a neighbor down for a storm door because you don’t like the color?

While I personally do not agree with many of the ways the board executes its responsibilities, I have not yet ascribed to the power-drunk mentality. I attribute it to individual management styles and personality traits coming together in men who are a few years beyond their prime leadership abilities.

The road to discontent is paved with good intentions.

While living in a 55-plus community under the rule of a homeowners association has many positives, it is clearly not for everyone. Yet here we are.

Is this as good as it gets? Maybe. It is up to each person to allow his or her life to be enjoyable. So if we are going to be here, let’s have some fun!

Cheers!

Tom Meredith lives in Little Egg Harbor.

 

 

 

 

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