By Maryalene LaPonsie Feb. 12, 2016 – US news and World Report

When today’s seniors decide to sell the house and move into a community catering to the older adult crowd, they may have high expectations.

“They’re dreaming of living life like they’re on a cruise ship every day,” says Robert Kanjian, sales manager for AV Homes, which operates communities for active adults in four states. That dream lifestyle is one that includes eating fine food, enjoying entertainment and being able to choose from a variety of daily activities.

Fortunately for seniors, AV Homes and a host of other developers are happy to oblige and have created high-end communities that cater to the active 55 and older crowd. Here’s some of what you’ll find offered across the country.

Destination dining. One trend is for destination dining, a concept that allows residents to select from several options located throughout the community. “The dining experience is among the most critical amenities offered,” says Jami Mohlenkamp, principal with OZ Architecture in Denver, a company that has helped design and plan several upscale senior communities. “It’s no longer one dining area in the center of the community.”

At The Clare, a high-rise community in downtown Chicago, there are three restaurants and two bars offering both fine dining and casual fare. “Everyone has a dining program, but ours is on a whole different level,” says Kyle Exline, executive director of The Clare. As part of their monthly fee, residents get credits that can be spent however they like on meals at The Clare.

Senior communities aren’t just adding more dining choices, but they are also revamping the traditionally beige walls and understated décor. “What I’m seeing now is [communities] putting in big impact carpets, wall coverings, big artwork and flowers on the tables,” says Randy Crosby, chief administrative officer for Jewish Senior Living Group in Wisconsin.

Wellness programs go beyond the gym. Active adults aren’t content to move into a community and then sit at home. Senior living experts say upscale communities are meeting residents’ needs by offering pools, walking paths and virtual workouts. What’s more, they’re evolving along with people’s interests.

At Solivita, an AV Homes community in Kissimmee, Florida, the development’s 14 pools and two golf courses are joined by 17 pickleball courts. “We didn’t have pickleball courts when Solivita was built, but times change,” Kanjian says.

Upscale communities also offer the chance for seniors to be active even if the weather doesn’t cooperate or there are space constraints. “It’s not unusual to find a golf simulator as an amenity,” Mohlenkamp says.

For some communities, having a comprehensive wellness program means having medical staff on site, and care might not even cost residents anything extra. “For our communities, it’s important we offer an all-in-one experience,” says Lisa Hardy, president and CEO of Emerald Communities. As a result, the entrance fee paid by residents of Emerald Heights in Redmond, Washington and the under-construction Heron’s Key at Gig Harbor covers all medical expenses for residents, even if they need costly long-term care.

Transportation, entertainment and other perks. While dining and wellness activities are two major priorities for active seniors, the amenities at upscale communities don’t end there.

“Our seniors don’t want to drive,” says Exline. Instead, The Clare has town cars and drivers available to take residents wherever they want to go in the city. In the event they are out and about and need a ride home when a driver is not available, the community maintains a corporate Uber account which makes it easy for residents to call for transportation.

Another perk at The Clare is the concierge who will secure show tickets, make travel plans or otherwise assist residents as needed. “Our concierge is a true concierge,” Exline says. “This is not a receptionist and not someone who opens the door.”

Crosby says other amenities cater to the arts and entertainment scene. “One of the amenities we’re seeing more and more in upscale communities is media rooms,” he says. These may be made up to look like small theaters, complete with a ticket box and marquee outside. When not used for movies, the room may double as a lecture hall.

The amenities don’t stop there either. Other luxury perks available to residents in some communities include the following:

  • Art galleries
  • Performance stages
  • Toy rooms or teen rooms for visiting families
  • Business centers
  • Design centers
  • Niche craft rooms and equipment such as pottery kilns
  • Demonstration kitchens

“I heard about a high-end community recently which hired a full-time musician to put on two shows a week,” Mohlenkamp says. That’s one more example of how creative developments are getting to provide that cruise ship level of service and amenities.

How much does it cost? Upscale communities offer many of their luxury amenities at no additional cost to residents, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t paying for them. At The Clare, entrance fees start at $300,000 for a smaller apartment. That may sound like a lot, but Exline says, “It’s actually quite reasonable based on the cost of condos in the area.” Monthly fees for residents start at $3,500 and cover the cost of weekly housekeeping and all other amenities. Depending on the contract chosen, the entrance fee for The Clare may cover some or all of the cost of any future long-term care needed.

In Washington State, Emerald Communities operates under a similar structure. Entrance fees start at $100,000 for a studio apartment, but Hardy says one or two bedroom units are more popular. Those have starting entrance fees of $250,000, and monthly costs of just under $3,000 for many residents. Like The Clare, long-term care is included in the cost of Emerald Communities.

At AV Homes, there is no entrance fee or long-term care services offered. Properties in Florida sell houses that range from $170,000 to the low $400,000s, and monthly fees run from $300 to $400 for most residents. That amount covers exterior maintenance and all amenities except golf. “It’s a million-dollar lifestyle at a reasonable price,” Kanjian says.

While not everyone can afford to live in an upscale community, the good news is some of these amenities may eventually trickle down to other senior living options. “As word spread about what people are doing, what wasn’t standard yesterday is standard today,” Mohlenkamp notes.


Learn more at Heron’s Key today.