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Today’s active-adult communities are stepping up their games

Mike Krattli and his wife Rembie, both 68, enjoy the Two Tides lap pool at Trilogy at Tehaleh, an active adult community in Bonney Lake, Wash. The pool is equipped with a Hydrofloor that can be raised to differing depths or be brought up entirely to transform the room into an event space. (Lindsey Wasson/For The Washington Post)

Remember the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when the retractable floor over the gym swimming pool slides open during a dance? Residents at Trilogy at Tehaleh, an active-adult community near Seattle, might be able to reenact the moment when the dancers slip into the water, now that they have an indoor lap pool that transforms into an event space at the push of a button.

“We have a cohort of active swimmers in the community who mostly do their laps in the morning,” says Jeff McQueen, president of Trilogy by Shea Homes in Phoenix. “The Seattle weather means it’s best to have an indoor pool, but this is one of our smaller communities, so we looked for a way to easily convert the space for concerts, dances and parties.”

The technology, which uses a hydraulic lift to move the floor from the bottom of the pool to the surface, has been used by Cirque du Soleil in its Las Vegas shows. The floor covers the pool within minutes, after which it’s wiped dry and ready for an event.

Although not all communities restricted to residents 55 and older have an amenity as cool as that one, many have developed unusual features for homeowners or chosen a location that offers something that most other active-adult communities lack.

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“For the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a huge shift in buyers’ expectations,” said Dan Kingsbury, vice president of sales and marketing for St. James Plantation, an active-adult community in Southport, N.C. “People used to take everything on faith that amenities would be built and that a community would have what they wanted. Today, buyers do a lot of research and have higher expectations for active-adult communities.”

Unlike retirement communities of the past, golf courses are less of a priority.

“There’s a race to meet the expectations of younger buyers in active-adult communities,” said Sean Keeley, content strategist for in Chicago. “Their top priorities are wellness, cooking and experiences. We’ve noticed that things that used to be unique even a year or two ago, such as demonstration kitchens and good restaurants with chefs, are almost expected at larger active-adult communities.”

Vineyards and 'man caves'

At St. James Plantation, a 6,000-acre active-adult community developed by Homer Wright that has nearly 5,000 residents, a private beach club on nearby Oak Island and a marina are among the development’s attractions.

“New regulations that went into effect after we built our private beach club mean that ours is the last one on the island,” Kingsbury said. “The beach club is about a mile or two from one of our entrances, and a little farther for some other residents.”

The beach club includes a swimming pool and a pavilion with picnic areas, changing rooms and bathrooms.

“Our marina, which has space for about 450 boats, includes a waterfront restaurant and tiki bar, plus a store where people can buy provisions for their boat trips,” Kingsbury said.

At Trilogy at Verde River near Scottsdale, Ariz., the Outfitter store provides an array of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for residents, along with a cycling shop and guided excursions into the adjacent Tonto National Forest. The Outfitter at Trilogy at Lake Norman near Charlotte, N.C., includes kayaks and bike repair supplies, as well as shuttle service to the Boat Club at Lake Norman, which offers boating lessons and rentals.

“People meet at the Outfitter for coffee and pastries, and then they can rent bikes or kayaks or meet up to walk on the trails,” McQueen said.

Although the Four Seasons at New Kent Vineyard in New Kent, Va., where K. Hovnanian is building homes, isn’t near a lake or the ocean, its location within a vineyard stands out as one of the more unusual amenities in a 55-plus community, Keeley said.

“Residents get special discounts on the wine and can spend time in the tasting room,” he said.

McQueen said about 15 to 22 percent of residents at Trilogy communities are golfers. Kingsbury said golf is less popular than it was in the past, primarily because people have less time. Trilogy installs golf simulators in their communities that don’t have a golf course, McQueen said.

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“The technology of the golf simulators is amazing,” McQueen said. “You hit a real golf ball off a real tee, and you can play 300 different courses. You can play individually or as a twosome or foursome, just like in real golf. You can also use this for coaching, so we can bring in a golf pro and book appointments to work on your swing.”

In addition to golf simulators, many of Trilogy’s communities include “sports escape” spaces, which McQueen said are meant to be “modern man caves” to lure male homeowners out to socialize. The “man caves” include billiards, darts, shuffleboard, poker and sports on flat-panel TVs.

“Our research shows that women are most often the drivers of the decision to move into an active-adult community, and they’re also often more socially outgoing,” McQueen said. “One way to move more men to socialize is to offer them these modern man caves outside their homes. But, of course, they’re very popular with women, too.”

Because about four-fifths of residents at Trilogy communities are not golfers, Trilogy introduced the Li’l Wick and Watering Hole at Trilogy at Wickenburg Ranch in Arizona.

“The Watering Hole is super-popular because it has a small, short golf course built around a bar and restaurant,” McQueen said. “You can play one, three, five or nine holes, but probably about half of the people are there just to watch others play. We have music at all the holes, mostly ’70s and ’80s music, plus outdoor games, fire pits and nine TVs that show big games like the Super Bowl. People bring their kids and grandkids just to enjoy the outdoors.”

Horses, riding lessons

The Villages in Central Florida, an active-adult community with more than 115,000 residents, has more than 40 golf courses, three libraries and even its own polo team, Keeley said.

“One of the standout amenities at the Villages is their enrichment academy, which is almost like their own community college for residents,” Keeley said. “In a survey, our readers said continuing education is a big interest, so this amenity addresses that. They offer 155 different courses on all kinds of topics, so residents can pursue their interests and learn new skills.”

About 18,500 residents live at Laguna Woods Village in Orange County, Calif. Although the location about 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean is certainly a draw, this community stands out from the crowd because of its equestrian amenities, Keeley said.

“They have stables for residents to board their own horses or rent horses, riding lessons, group rides and horse shows, plus miles of trails,” Keeley said.

In addition, Laguna Woods Village has its own cable TV network, two golf courses and seven clubhouses, including one with an 814-seat theater.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of size is Shepherd Village, a senior co-housing community for 30 households in Shepherdstown, W.Va., that have developed their own community, as well as Sage Place Commons, an adjacent 55-plus community for 20 households. A co-housing community is one in which privately owned houses cluster around shared spaces such as a common house with a kitchen and large dining area for shared meals, as well as community rooms for meetings and activities.

“We built our community within the existing amenity of Shepherdstown,” said Phil Baker-Shenk, part of the co-housing community. “We can walk to theaters for movies and plays, to film festivals and to all the activities at Shepherd University. There’s a fitness center and plenty of shops and restaurants.”

For those who prefer outdoor activities, Shepherdstown’s location on the Potomac is great for kayaking, said Kay Schultz, a Shepherd Village homeowner. The area also has miles of trails for hiking and walking. In addition to the 30 houses, Shepherd Village has a common house with a kitchen and dining area where residents can share meals three times a week, plus gathering rooms for meetings and events. It also has a community garden and a toolshed.

“We’re here for the community more than for amenities, and we love that we already know our neighbors,” said Leslie Miller, a Shepherd Village homeowner. “All the houses, which are duplexes and triplexes, are built with universal design features.”

At Sage Place, 12 of the 20 lots are already sold, and some of the buyers are friends who want to live near one another.

Zoning requirements for the 19-acre site require 80 percent of the homeowners to be 55 and older. Many homeowners are working, so the homes have been designed to accommodate home offices.

“We haven’t really farmed out much of the work in developing Shepherd Village,” said Charlotte Baker-Shenk, another homeowner.

“We organized ourselves in work groups, bought the land, got the approvals, and managed the engineers, architects and construction crews,” she said. “We made sure to include green building materials and techniques and universal design, so the homes continue to be accessible in our later years. We’re encouraging buyers at Sage Place to build accessible homes, too, so we created four representational designs and have recommended builders to them.”