Age-restricted communities popular, but still a bust in N.J.
Linda Telli, foreground, says of living in adult community at Four Seasons in the Smithville section of Galloway Township, ‘Living here is like camp for adults.’ Her husband, Ron, says their taxes are down about $1,500 to $2,000 compared to when they lived in Bergen County.

Linda Telli needed some convincing when her husband, Ron, first suggested uprooting their lives in Bergen County to retire at the Four Seasons at Historic Smithville, an age-restricted community in Galloway Township.

While Ron liked the idea of being around people their age, Linda preferred being closer to New York City and their family. A lower cost of living in Atlantic County, however, became a major selling point. The couple bought property at the Four Seasons nearly four years ago.

"Our taxes are down about $1,500 to $2,000," said Ron, 67.

As for Linda, "Living here is like camp for adults," said the 60-year-old.

The popularity of adult retirement communities with the baby boomer set has grown through much of the decade, although modestly.

While most households in the U.S. made up of members age 55 and older are not located in age-restricted communities, the number of those that are increased from 2 percent in 2001 to 3 percent in 2007, the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the National Association of Home Builders said in a joint report released in April.

According to the report, those living in age-restricted communities had the highest satisfaction rates among those surveyed.

Excess senior housing

But housing market expert Jeffrey Otteau says boomers may not be so quick to flood those communities now - at least not in New Jersey.

For one, retirees here are choosing to move to lower-cost states, leaving a glut of age-restricted housing in the Garden State equivalent to a 16-year supply, said Otteau, president of Otteau Valuation Group, a real estate research and appraisal firm in East Brunswick.

Legislation now is moving through Trenton that would allow developers to petition municipalities to remove age restrictions on already approved projects, instead favoring more affordable housing.

Otteau added that because of the economic meltdown, seniors may decide to save money by simply "aging in place." So instead of retiring to an age-restricted community, they'll retire in their current home.

The building of age-restricted housing, however, still is appealing to many towns: Seniors contribute to the local tax base without increasing school enrollment.

'Prices are still good'

At Pheasant Run, an adult community in Barnegat Township, Ocean County, about a half-dozen of the 379 homes there are for sale, said Frank Pecci, a former member of the Board of Trustees.

"They go pretty darn quick - maybe in a month-and-a-half to two months," said Pecci, who moved with his wife from Clifton, Passaic County, to Pheasant Run about 11 years ago. "They buy a house here because the prices are still good."

He said homes in the community can cost about $148,000 and run in excess of $200,000.

The nearby Four Seasons at Harbor Bay in Little Egg Harbor Township lists homes starting at about $250,000 and up. K. Hovnanian has developed eight Four Seasons communities in New Jersey.

Beazer Homes, which developed the Gatherings at Cape May, lists its homes in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township between $244,000 and $310,000, according to its Web site.

The Four Seasons at Millville is advertising homes starting at $159,000. "If you're not 55, you'll wish you were!" one newspaper ad says.

Selling a lifestyle

Adult communities are not for everyone. A community is typically governed by a homeowners association that enforces rules, ranging from how tidy the lawns must be to the color of the homes to what type of flag can be flown out front.

At the Four Seasons at Historic Smithville, homeowners also pay a monthly maintenance fee of $175, which goes toward trash pick-up, landscaping and snow shoveling, said Millie McGovern, president of the board of trustees.

But the communities also are selling a lifestyle, and market themselves to "active adults." On a recent afternoon at the Four Seasons in Smithville, the club house was in full swing as women played bridge in a card room, families splashed around in outdoor and indoor pools and teams challenged each other to games of bocce ball.

Frank and Sue Senatore, both in their 60s, had thought about retiring from their home in Camden County to Florida, where property taxes would have been cheaper, but said they were drawn to New Jersey's shore region, and they still have family in the area.

Mike Coster, a former IT manager for JP Morgan Chase & Co. in New York, said he, too, preferred the milder winters along the coast.

Other retirees said moving to an age-restricted community took some readjusting.

"You see people aging and what can happen," said Camille Lally, who moved to the Four Seasons with her husband, Frank, five years ago. "That is one sad thing."

"There is a plus," added Jean Reilly, who lives at the Four Seasons with her husband, Tom. "You grow old with friends."

E-mail Erik Ortiz:

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