Pulling up stakes in your hometown to move to a brand-new community carries some risks.

Not only do you need to find the basics of life such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, a doctor and a dentist, you need to make new friends. For buyers at the new Latitude Margaritaville Watersound active-adult community in the Panama City Beach, Fla., area, socializing began before the first shovel was put in the ground.

“We went to the lottery for home sites at the sales center for Watersound and immediately made friends,” says Sharon McDonald, a 62-year-old retiree who worked with the Cobb County, Ga., voter registration office. “We’re all staying in touch while everyone waits to have their homes built.”

Sharon’s husband Steve, a 58-year-old software company executive who works remotely, says they’ve already hung out with 40 or 50 people who will be their neighbors once their home is completed in late summer next year.

“We first visited the Latitude Margaritaville in Hilton Head and loved the fun people we met there,” says Steve. “We knew this would be a great long-term place for us surrounded by friendly people.”

The couple chose the Panama City Beach location because Sharon grew up vacationing in the area.

Chip and Priscilla Greene, who live in Richmond, were vacationing with friends in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., when they decided to check out the Daytona Beach location of Latitude Margaritaville.

“The place checked every box for our future retirement home, especially the people,” says Chip, 53, a cybersecurity executive who works remotely. “We visited the Hilton Head location and loved it, too. That’s where we heard about Watersound. We rented an Airbnb in that area and checked it out before there was even a sales center.”

The couple has visited Watersound at least a dozen times in the past 18 months even though their home won’t be completed until sometime between March and May next year.

“Every time we come down we meet more people who will be our neighbors,” says Priscilla, 56, who works at the University of Richmond. “We go to happy hour or have dinner with 10 to 20 people, so we feel like we’re already at home here. We’re building lasting relationships with people that love to socialize as much as we do.”

The Greenes are having an attached villa built at Watersound and have already had breakfast with the couple who will be their next-door neighbors.

While the Greenes and the McDonalds are focused on fun, their connections with their future neighbors have an important health benefit, too.

Research into aging and wellness has led to awareness of the importance of being socially engaged with other people as well as physically active, says Tama Duffy Day, the D.C.-based principal and leader of the senior living practice at Gensler, an architecture, design and planning firm.

“Active-adult communities like Margaritaville appeal to empty nesters, people who never had children, people taking early retirement, and those who can work remotely or nearby,” says Day. “Staying active and social are important to health in older people. Some want to stay active in an urban setting and use existing amenities like coffee shops and community spaces to get together with others. Others like an amenity-rich environment where they can live with people with shared interests. Not being lonely can extend your life.”

The Greenes have joined weekly gatherings on Zoom with about 10 of their future neighbors while everyone waits for their homes to be built. The Zoom gatherings, hosted by Watersound, include themed events such as “Name that Cocktail” and “Battle of the Sexes” games, says Priscilla. Watersound provides a live stream of every Jimmy Buffett concert to buyers, which Chip says are joined by at least 20 people each time.

“We’ve made friends with people from D.C., Georgia, Louisiana, California, Colorado and Mississippi who are waiting like we are to have their places built,” says Chip. “These are all like-minded people and we already feel like we’ve known them forever.”

The McDonalds and the Greenes have frequent virtual happy hours and get together in person whenever the Greenes visit Watersound. The couples now join the construction meetings for each other’s homes so they can toast the building progress with champagne.

Chip, a Navy veteran, started an unofficial network of veterans at Watersound for socializing and supporting each other. Priscilla plans to start a group for fans of Hallmark Christmas movies. The couple decided to get their first puppy so they can enjoy the popular events at Margaritaville for dog owners.

“We love the ‘Barkaritaville’ dog park, so we just got a puppy so we can participate in their ‘yappy hours,’ ” says Priscilla.

Both couples look forward to deepening their relationships with new friends and trying new activities when they move into their new homes.

“We don’t own a boat, but we’re planning on knowing someone with a boat,” jokes Steve. “We’ll be able to walk right down the street to the Intracoastal [Waterway] and they’re building a marina, so boating will be a big part of the lifestyle.”

Planning for a new lifestyle

The Greenes, who say they felt right at home in the Panama City Beach area immediately, plan to use their Watersound home as a second home until Priscilla is ready to retire. While they wait for next spring when they can move into their property, they’re spending their time working and saving money so they can enjoy the Margaritaville lifestyle as much as possible in the future.

“We’re glued to the website to watch the progress of the community and we keep in touch with our salesperson to know about the progress on our house,” says Chip.

Priscilla points out that they’re not ready to retire or slow down, they just want to live with people like themselves who want to “love every bit of the life they have.”

The McDonalds were so eager to get their new life started that they sold their home in Georgia in April and purchased a condo in Panama City Beach.

“We wanted to sell our house while the market was hot and we thought we’d rent a place until our house is ready next summer,” says Steve. “But we ended up buying this condo and plan to keep it as a guesthouse for our friends and family when they come visit us.”

Beaches are less than 10 miles from Latitude Margaritaville Watersound, one of three Jimmy Buffett-themed active-adult communities known as Latitude Margaritaville. All are restricted to households with at least one owner age 55 or older.

The first two communities, open in Daytona Beach, Fla., and near Hilton Head, S.C., are being developed by Minto Communities USA and Margaritaville Holdings. The Panama City Beach community includes those two partners and the St. Joe Company.

The attraction for the Greenes and others drawn to Watersound is the social life.

“We don’t golf, so we don’t care about being in a golf-course community,” says Priscilla. “We love to socialize, so we’re excited about the pool, the restaurant and the very young vibe of Margaritaville.”

For Steve and Sharon McDonald, music and the beach are the primary enticements of Watersound.

“I always came to the Emerald Coast of Florida for vacation, so being close to the beach is a big draw,” says Sharon. “To me, a beach isn’t a beach without pure white sand like you see here.”

Before the pandemic, the couple used to attend two or three concerts every month.

Live music, dancing and entertainment are available nearly every night at the Latitude Margaritaville locations says Jim Wiseman, president of Margaritaville Development in Orlando.

When complete, Watersound will be largest active-adult community in the United States, with 150,000 homes on approximately 110,000 acres with 15 miles of land along the Intracoastal Waterway. That compares to Florida’s well-known active-adult community, the Villages, which has 79,000 residents and covers approximately 20,500 acres.

“We’re fortunate that the St. Joe Company already owns this land on the Florida Panhandle, so we have plenty of runway to build Watersound over the next 30 years,” says Wiseman. “We can offer a wide spectrum of housing options and may include everything from apartments to luxury housing in the future.”

One benefit of a larger community is that it provides more opportunities for diversity, says Duffy Day.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all design for an active-adult community,” says Day. “Some people thrive in a big community with lots of activity, while others like being part of a smaller community with more intimate groups.”

More than 360,000 people are registered as Latitude Margaritaville Paradise Club members, which means they’ll receive information about existing and planned communities.

“Demand exceeds the supply of homes in Latitude Margaritaville communities, so we expect to build them in more locations in the Carolinas, Texas, Phoenix and Las Vegas,” Wiseman says.

The average age of Latitude Margaritaville residents is 63, with an estimated 10 to 15 percent still working, according to Wiseman.

“Our buyers come from all over the country, but at Daytona Beach about 40 percent already lived in Florida,” he says.

Fun as the focal point

Planned recreational amenities at Watersound besides the dog park include a town center with a thatched roof bandshell over a full-size concert stage with a jumbo screen and a dance floor. The community will have an indoor pool and spa, an outdoor pool with a beach-style entry, a restaurant and bar that overlook the pool and the Intracoastal, tennis courts, pickleball courts, and nature trails.

St. Joe has plans for a marina and a retail village adjacent to the Watersound Margaritaville development, as well as a health-care campus with an inpatient facility and research facilities on aging and senior living technology.

Monthly homeowner association fees at Watersound range from $230 to $274 now and are estimated to rise to $274 to $317 when the community is complete, depending on the type of home purchased.

The McDonalds purchased a “Breeze Bay” single-family house that includes a covered lanai and a two-car garage.

“It’s got the perfect layout with an open floor plan and a den in the front that will be our bar and football-watching area,” says Steve. “The kitchen and great room have an island that’s so big we call it a continent.”

The homes at Watersound, which have from 1,204 to 2,568 square feet, are base priced from the mid-$200,000s to the low $400,000s. Like the other Latitude Margaritaville locations, the houses have a tropical vibe with pastel and bright exterior colors.

“The mix of housing at Watersound is a little different than the other Margaritaville locations,” says Wiseman. “Buyers really like the ‘Conch’ collection of homes, which are two attached cottages, so we’re building more of those in phase two.” The attached cottages, which are clustered in twos similar to a duplex, are available in four models named Aloha, Bamboo, Camellia and Dreamsicle.

Approximately 3,500 houses will be built in the initial phase of Watersound, with more to come over the next decade.