When the coronavirus pandemic hit and social distancing measures were put in place, Colleen and Rich Hanck, a retired couple who recently moved to the Sun City Huntley active adult community near Chicago, had different reactions.

“I can’t stand to stay home,” says Colleen. “I’m a joiner and a social butterfly. I love to go bowling with my friends and now that I’ve been retired for a couple of years I realized that I want to live someplace with lots of new activities to try and new people to meet.”

On the other hand, Rich says isolation doesn’t bother him as much.

“I have Type 1 diabetes, so I’ve been extra careful to watch what we’re doing,” he says. “I’m home a lot anyway, so my priority was to move to a place with enough space to be comfortable and quiet. We lived on a busy street and I was tired of the traffic noise and home maintenance projects.”

For Colleen, a 61-year-old retiree from administrative work and the National Guard, and Rich, a 64-year-old who retired from a career as a packaging equipment specialist, moving to an active adult community was the answer to their need during the pandemic. Active adult communities are typically reserved for residents age 55 or older.

“My mother-in-law is moving in with us, so we knew we wanted a place on one level and where we could all stay physically active,” says Rich. “The pandemic pushed us to move faster because we wanted to be together in a place where we all felt safe and could take care of each other.”

The Hancks sold a 2,400-square-foot single-family home with five bedrooms and a basement to move into a 1,680-square-foot single-family home with two bedrooms and a basement.

While not all activities have resumed at Sun City Huntley, Colleen is joining socially distant walking groups and other outdoor activities until all the amenities are available and organized events resume.

As active as you want to be

For Hugh and Joyce Kelly, a married couple in their mid-60s who recently moved into a newly built home at Altis, an active adult community in Beaumont, Calif., the pandemic initially paused their search for a retirement home.

“We’ve been looking at Palm Springs and other locations in Southern California where our friends live and hadn’t decided definitely on where we wanted to be,” says Hugh. “Our first thought when the pandemic hit was that we would put off the move because we were worried about selling our house. But we sold it fast and [we] decided on Altis.”

Hugh, a retired air traffic controller, says Altis looks like a resort, with plenty of events and activities in normal times, lots of places to walk and “just enough of a yard” to enjoy.

“The house we sold had 2,800 square feet and a 20,000-square-foot yard on two levels with a swimming pool,” says Joyce. “That was just way too much to take care of.”

For Joyce, the priority in moving to an active adult community is the social life.

“I just retired from being an HR director and I didn’t intend to retire to stay home,” says Joyce. “I want a different lifestyle. A friend of mine retired to Palm Springs, which is lovely, but her house isn’t in an over-55 neighborhood and they spend a lot of time at home.”

At Altis, says Joyce, some outdoor activities that are socially distant have resumed, along with aquatic exercises and virtual activities.

“But even without activities, it’s great to see neighbors waving and talking to each other from six feet away,” says Joyce. “Even before covid-19, but especially now, people tend to be isolated from each other. It’s nice to be in a neighborhood with people who want to be connected.”

While traditionally organized group activities have paused at most active adult communities, social directors and property managers developed ways to keep residents busy through virtual classes and meetings and socially distant outdoor activities.

“Over the past several years, I’ve noticed that buyers in active adult communities are getting younger,” says Gene McGahan, a real estate agent with Baird and Warner in Algonquin, Ill., and a resident of Sun City Huntley. “Instead of waiting, buyers are downsizing at age 55 so they can enjoy the physical exercise at these communities like golf, tennis, basketball and softball.”

While the pandemic initially paused buyer activity in the spring, McGahan says more buyers than usual were looking at active adult communities in the summer.

“The problem is, we often have people move out of these communities when they’re in their 80s, but very few people wanted to move out during the pandemic so there’s very little available for sale,” says McGahan.

Buyers who were able to find a place to purchase at Sun City Huntley this spring and summer moved in and found some social life through walking groups and the community website, McGahan says.

“At least their neighbors are around and they’re all similar in age,” he says. “We get together outside in front of the house or on the golf course. It’s really important for people who aren’t working and helps them get through this stretch of staying home. It’s a nice substitute for not seeing family.”

Addressing health needs

For Joe and Maureen Brennan, who moved in August into the independent-living section at Vi at Silverstone, a life plan community in Scottsdale, Ariz., the availability of a wide array of activities was an important draw. A life plan community includes an active adult component as well as access to assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing facilities within the development for potential future needs.

“Only about 25 percent of our homes are in the continuing care sections of our communities and they typically will serve the residents who are already living in our community,” says Randy Richardson, president of Vi, which operates 10 life plan communities in the United States and is based in Chicago. “Our residents tend to be in their 70s and like to travel and stay active.”

Programs in Vi communities include exercise classes and a variety of clubs and groups. During the pandemic, classes and activities were held virtually, such as yoga classes and chorus rehearsals.

“The pandemic taught us that it’s good to get out of a rut and to have structured ways to set up your day,” says Joe, 75, who has been retired since 2018. “We think the organized activities will give us an easy opportunity to meet people.”

The Brennans moved from Arizona’s Desert Mountain, a golf-course community where they lived for 20 years.

“We wanted to be closer to our kids and to balance our future possible needs for continuing care,” says Maureen. “We’re also really happy to be somewhere where all our neighbors are really outgoing and friendly.”

The swimming pool and fitness center opened in the summer at limited capacity at Vi at Silverstone.

“The community has really been buttoned down during the virus, which makes us feel very safe,” says Joe. “We like the way they’ve been cautious and yet make it easy to meet people.”

For Ray Handler, an 83-year-old retired dermatologist, and his wife Arlene Handler, a 77-year-old retired school nurse, the activities at Vi at the Glen in Glenview, Ill., enticed them to move out of the home they had lived in for 51 years.

“When the pandemic hit, we were stuck in the house and we realized that if there was anywhere we would want to move it would be the Vi, which we had seen at an open house,” says Ray. “The Vi has its own cable station with exercise classes, movies, lectures and music classes.”

While Arlene is looking forward to all activities reopening, the couple has enjoyed outdoor barbecues and a few socially distant exercise classes.

“The pandemic pushed us to move faster because we’ve seen people move caregivers into their home and then not really do anything with their time,” says Arlene. “We wanted to make sure we see other people and stay active.”

The Handlers’ home is on the first floor, which provides access to outdoor space and the ability to have visitors outside.

“The technology we’ve been able to use during the pandemic has been great because we’ve been able to bring our programs into people’s homes,” says Richardson. “At the same time, it’s been therapeutic for the staff in our communities to keep interpersonal relationships strong with our residents. It’s been a really creative time.”