Seniors see age-restricted housing as a chance for freedom
Retired high school teachers John and Judy Woffington are trading their home on a three-acre lot in Marshall, Pa., near Pittsburgh, for one that sits on about a third of an acre – not because they don't like the house they've owned for 34 years, but because the whole idea of mowing the lawn and shoveling snow has become too much.
Their new home is under construction in a development in Ohio Township called Sewickley Ridge, a single-family housing community catering to residents who are at least 55 years old and seek a lifestyle free of the hassles commonly associated with homeownership, such as lawn maintenance.
"We don't want to leave Pittsburgh, but we like to see other parts of the world and this lifestyle is the best of both worlds," Woffington said.
Sewickley Ridge is being developed by Philadelphia-based Traditions of America, a company that has been building 55-and-older communities for 20 years on the East Coast. Seven years ago, the company introduced the concept to the Pittsburgh region with a 71-acre age-restricted community in Freedom, Pa., called Liberty Hills.
While home sales in Liberty Hills were encouraging, the newest age-restricted community in this region has been wildly successful.
"We are up to 86 sales to date in the Ohio Township development. That's a record for us," said Nathan Jameson, one of the company's three owners. "We've never had so many sales in a community prior to opening the model homes. What that tells us is that demand for these style communities and our specific concept is really just beginning."
Jameson said about 70 percent of the buyers in both age-restricted communities come from the Pittsburgh region. The other 30 percent are people from all over the country – places like Wisconsin, California, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Often, they move because they are originally from Pittsburgh. Others came because their children or grandchildren now live in Pittsburgh.
Age-restricted or deed-restricted communities are a form of homeownership that has been popular for several decades in Sunbelt states like Florida, Arizona and California. Deed-restricted communities use governing documents created by the developers to outline what is and is not permitted. By purchasing a home there, all buyers – current and future – agree to abide by the governing documents.
Deed-restricted communities can restrict an owner's ability to paint, renovate or alter the appearance of the home. They can also limit the number of vehicles on site by requiring all cars be parked inside the garage.
The rules are contractual agreements. Residents who break the rules can be punished by the homeowners association, which has the power to impose fines, place liens against homes for non-payment of fees and fines, and potentially confiscate homes through court action.
The Foundation for Community Association Research, based in Falls Church, Va., reports 65 million Americans are now living in almost 330,000 U.S. condominiums and homeowners associations, compared to 51.8 million people living in 260,000 condos and homeowners associations in 2004.
Frank Rathbun, a spokesman for the foundation, said one reason many Northern cities were late to the trend of homeowner association-run communities is that the growth of such communities started in the 1970s and 1980s in states that were gaining population at that time like Florida and California. Northern communities like Pittsburgh were losing population, and there was not as much new home growth.
During the 20 years they lived in Moon Township, Pa., Rich and Kathy Jucha spent several years searching for a place to relocate where living conditions would be more favorable as they get older.
They visited the Liberty Hills development two years ago and considered moving there. But they chose not to live in Beaver County, deciding instead to stay in touch with the developers and wait for the next Pittsburgh-area community. The Juchas placed a deposit on a Sewickley Ridge home six months ago, and like the Woffingtons expect to move in when it's finished in August.
Home prices in Sewickley Ridge range from about $260,000 to $340,000. The development will have 241 homes when it is completely built out over the next three or four years. The 224-home Liberty Hills development is sold out except for three model homes for sale.
The monthly homeowner association fee at Sewickley Ridge is $150, which covers maintenance of the clubhouse, landscaping, snow removal, roof and siding repairs.
At Liberty Hills, the monthly homeowner association fee is higher – $200 – mainly because residents own and maintain the community's roads. Liberty Hills also is a condominium community with higher insurance costs. The Sewickley Ridge community is 70 percent single-family dwellings and 30 percent twin homes attached to each other.
In age-restricted communities, the rules require at least 80 percent of the households have at least one person be at least 55 years old. The other 20 percent of residents can be younger than 55. No children living in the household can be younger than 19. The Fair Housing Act permits age discrimination in age-restricted communities under the Housing for Older Persons Act.
Other rules are intended to establish community standards and maintain property values.
Homeowners in Liberty Hills, for example, cannot leave their garage doors open unless they are inside the garage. They are not permitted to park cars on the streets overnight. There can be no garage sales on the front lawn. And they cannot hang Christmas lights on the front of their homes – only on the front yard shrubs.
But those rules and others suit Joe and Dee Antoline just fine.
The high school sweethearts, now married 42 years, were born and raised in New Sewickley, Pa. Joe Antoline worked 33 years for U.S. Steel, retiring as a manager. The couple relocated years ago to Dallas, where Antoline ran an advertising agency with his son.
In 2010, they came back for the Freedom High School 40-year reunion. A former math teacher and football coach mentioned that he was buying a house in Liberty Hills, which prompted the Antolines to also look into it.
"It's a community where you can rely on a lot of neighbors who are generally in the same circumstances age-wise and income-wise," said Joe Antoline, 63, who moved in nearly two years ago. "We are peers. We are similar in background and age. It's quite a neat place."
He said it's nice to be able to go away for a month and come home to find the yard is in good shape.
Even beyond the developers' efforts to create a community, the residents at Liberty Hill have taken things to another level.
They have established a caring committee to look after anyone who is ill or in the hospital by cooking meals, visiting them and sending flowers. There's a bicycle club, an eating-out club, a book club, men's night out, and wine and cheese on Friday nights at the clubhouse. The residents also have traveled together to Europe for up to a month and have a committee of volunteers to transport people to and from the airport.
"If we take the dog for a walk, it could take an hour and a half to get around this neighborhood because people talk and we talk and everybody knows everybody here," said Dee Antoline, 62. "Several people have lost a spouse after they moved here and they say, 'That's why we moved here – for the support of you all.' "
Jameson said Traditions of America is starting its 20th community this fall in Bethlehem, Pa. He said its communities are places where homeowners find relationships.
"Our residents frequently compare it to going off to college together where everyone's moving into the dorm for the first time and they're meeting people from different walks of life, from different places, with different experiences," he said. "They're doing all this together, and in that they build relationships and form community in a way that they can't have in their current home."
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