Retirement communities catering to baby boomers

Dropping out -- but not completely

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

NEW YORK -- Steve and Jodie Ostrin moved to a retirement community five years ago, but they're not slowing down just yet. In between rounds of golf, working out and traveling, the couple both work full-time, sometimes out of a home office.

''This place is great. It gives us a lot of things to do,'' said Steve Ostrin, 54, who lives at the Sun Lakes community in Phoenix, which also offers computer classes, hiking and tennis. ''We knew we loved the desert area, so we decided why not go where we want to retire first, and keep working until we're ready?''

As the first wave of boomers begin contemplating retirement, many communities are loading amenities designed to appeal to the generation's nonstop lifestyle.

The new look includes more activities ranging from rock wall climbing to softball to kayaking. His-and-her home offices with Internet access are also on rise, as well as continuing education classes.

''Boomers are a dynamic group. They want choices, they want control, and they want freedom,'' said Ron Geraci, an editor for My Generations, AARP's magazine for baby boomers. ''They have no intention of really stopping their lifestyles, and retirement communities are changing to reflect that very quickly.''

Just ask 55-year-old Nora Timson. For years, she juggled 25 miles of bike riding each day with her job as a legal secretary. Growing weary of her 20-year-old house, Timson visited a friend at Sun City Grand community and was dazzled by the state-of-the-art fitness center with a luxury spa, indoor pool and weight equipment.

Now retired, the triathlete and her 76-year-old husband, Jim House, devote more time to lifting weights, swimming and running. She competes regularly in triathlons and recently won a gold medal in a 40K biking road race in the National Senior Olympics.

''It's like living in a resort,'' said Timson, who says retirement has allowed her to become more active than ever before. ''It's my turn to play.''

Indeed, many developers now avoid the term ''retirement'' to describe these communities, referring them instead as ''active adult'' or ''country club'' properties.

The goal: attract boomers like the Ostrins who aren't ready to quit working just yet, or fitness buffs such as Timson, who won't settle for a quiet game of shuffleboard.

The strategy appears to be working.

Del Webb Corp., the No. 1 U.S. developer of adult communities, says home sales increased 29 percent in the last five years, partly by focusing on boomers. The group now represents up to one-fifth of the properties' residents.

Phoenix-based Robson Communities, another big market player, reported an 11 percent jump from 1998. It and other companies expect additional growth, even amid an economic downturn, as the nation's 76 million boomers become middle-aged.

''It won't be too many years before the term 'retirement community' has lost all meaning,'' said Alan Fox, publisher and editor of Where to Retire magazine. He pointed to the growth of home offices, which he says were unheard of in the adult communities 10 years ago, until graying boomers entered the landscape.

Also popular: continuing education classes from foreign languages to computer literacy to home repair. Sun City Grand, for example, offers courses in conjunction with Arizona State University in a posh education center, complete with a student union and coffeehouse for late-night (or early morning) study sessions.

Still, it's unclear how well boomers will get along with an older population who might prefer a quieter lifestyle. While many developers are loosening requirements to accept more residents under age 55, adult communities which accept federal funding still must have 80 percent of the residents over 55.

Ostrin, who enjoys playing golf with many of the older residents, acknowledges that if they're ''anything like my mother, who's 76, they probably get a little frustrated'' having younger boomers scurrying about all the time.

He playfully adds: ''But some of them shouldn't be driving the car. There's a good size supermarket here, and some days you get the feeling you should be in a Sherman tank.''

House, the 76-year-old who married boomer Timson and bikes 33 miles a day, said he doesn't mind the younger company, which helps keep him active.

''You don't see people sitting on the porch here,'' he said.

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