Explore lifestyle communities

The phenomenon of leisure communities, commonly known as adult lifestyle developments, began in Florida in the 1920s with the establishment of a number of small communities that catered largely to elderly New Yorkers seeking warmer climes. For nearly 50 years, the number of these communities remained relatively static. Then, in the late 1970s, the concept of moving to a neighbourhood devoted primarily to the enjoyment of leisure time really began to take hold.

In Ontario, a number of these communities, modelled after their Florida counterparts, sprang up in the late 1970s — largely prefabricated or manufactured housing with land-lease occupancy. In a land-lease arrangement, residents own their homes but the land itself is owned by the community operator and is subject to monthly rental and maintenance fees.

There were precious few of these communities (about nine by 1987) and the demand for more quickly grew. Most were land-lease operated with a few of the newer ones offering different forms of tenure, such as freehold, with residents owning both their homes and the land outright. 

The real estate boom of the late ’80s helped fuel demand as mature Ontaria realized they could sell their city homes at a huge profit, purchase smaller bungalows with all the bells and whistles and put away a sizable chunk of the proceeds. Not surprisingly, developers took note of this phenomenon and began catering to the mature market, particularly as older people were generally regarded as recession-proof.

An explosion in popularity
The result? An explosion in the development of adult lifestyle communities. In Ontario alone, the market grew from nine such communities to about 250 in just a decade. In no time, there were communities appealing to golfers, skiers, boaters, nature lovers and a host of other leisure pursuits. Buyers weren’t just purchasing a house but a lifestyle.  . 

The most successful adult lifestyle community is a little more than an hour away from a large city and attracts its residents from the city core and the suburbs. The rural setting is ideal as land costs aren’t quite so prohibitive, enabling builders to charge less than for a similar house in an urban setting. In addition, the most successful communities are located close to shopping, good health care facilities and a variety of leisure amenities.

This urban exodus has become so prevalent that the 2000 U.S. Census red flagged it as the largest single migration of America’s white population in history — a 70 per cent increase over the previous decade. The Ontario experience mirrors this population shift: in Toronto alone, more than 10,000 older Canadians move out of the city every year, 65 per cent of whom choose adult lifestyle communities.

Many motivating factors drive this migration. Chief among them is that people in large cities often feel alienated as they age. Granted, cities offer diverse cultural, entertainment, social, commercial and health care amenities but many also serve up a sense of disorder, anxiety, congestion, crime, noise and pollution. Combine these factors with the high cost of living in a large city, and you have a pretty convincing argument for moving.

Is moving to an adult lifestyle community right for you? Only you and your family can answer that question. The three most important considerations are economic, social and family repercussions. 

Do your homework first
Once you’ve decided to relocate to an adult lifestyle community, visit as many as possible. Each and every one has its own unique and individual characteristics. Create a wish list of all the things that you absolutely must have in your new home and another listing all the amenities you’d like to have. Eliminate those communities lacking in the must-have department and you’ll be left with a short list of those that best suit your requirements.

Always bear in mind that you have all the time in the world and you don’t have to make a commitment until it feels right for you.