23 December 2008

reader email

I read LEISUREVILLE in less than two days, and enjoyed almost every minute of it. (The sexual exploits of some of the retirees were less than inspiring, realistic though the descriptions may be.) My underlying response was one of sadness at the virtually secular, self-centered life and outlook of the residents.

My husband and I, aged 75 and 67, have lived for almost 30 years in a house built in 1926, in a neighborhood which doesn't change much. We are within walking distance of church, schools, stores, downtown (which still exists despite the existence of a mall and larger shopping area a couple of miles to the north). Two of our children, and three of our grandchildren, live nearby. Two daughters live overseas and visit once a year or so.

While the temperature today is 12 degrees and the week's snow hasn't melted, and more, with high winds, is coming, I would rather be snowbound here than live in a retirement village of any kind. We have a very good senior center, with delicious lunches every weekday, and many activities, and when I am old : - ) I may make use of its offerings.
I think it unwise to live in a cocoon, when we still have so much to share with the world, and our neighborhoods.


10 December 2008

Nice Review in international journal for Architects and Urban Planners ("INTBAU")

Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias

Andrew D. Blechman
Atlantic Monthly Press, New York 2008
244 pages
ISBN 978-0-87113-981-8 (hardback) $25.00

Reviewed by Lauren B. Allsopp, Ph.D. Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Scottsdale, Arizona

...Andrew Blechman has produced a valuable book, which makes every reader ask his/herself: Is this the future of the United States?...

"I don't want the real world anymore. Whatever happens now, you guys have to worry about it — it doesn't affect me", says one resident of The Villages, a gated retirement community in Florida—touted as "Florida's Friendliest Retirement Hometown" (www.thevillages.com). Author Blechman was so intrigued by his neighbours', the Andersons, move to The Villages and in general, this mass-exodus of people 55 years or older from the 'real world' that he decided to examine the phenomenon of retirement utopias. The outcome is Leisureville, a well-written (to the point that a reader will want to read every word), thoroughly researched, yet personal accounting in 14 chapters of The Villages, its predecessors, and the inner-workings — from governance to pleasure — of these "senior citizen playpens".

Initially, the book focuses on what made the Andersons make a snap, life-changing decision. The author visits The Villages for one month, attending events ranging from social clubs to governance meetings to restaurant dinners with "Mr. Midnight", a retiree who looks for sexual activity to overcome boredom. Mr. Blechman paints a community somewhere between "Disney for adults" and the "Stepford Wives", where stress is calmed by music piped through lampposts in the downtowns. His elegant prose keeps the pages turning.

The book quickly becomes more than the engaging rambles of his visit. Blechman's theme is to discover how and why geritopias, particularly The Villages, are so successful. He sets the stage by first delving into the history of retirement utopias, beginning with a visit to the first one in Youngstown, Arizona, and then discussing the explosion of Del Webb Sun Cities across America. Societal and financial issues are also addressed. Do we frown at seniors who step out of society, avoiding their community responsibility? Or, do we see these age-segregated communities as providing a sense of place when the residents' families are dispersed across the nation? Are they havens for redistributing tax dollars from schools to clubs and pools? Or, are they towns where people on fixed incomes can have a decent life after retirement?

The meat of the book is found in the chapters entitled "Government, Inc.", "Necropolis", and "Foreign Policy". Here Blechman uncovers the workings of these retirement utopias, especially The Villages; how developers finagle land and utilities to pursue the almighty dollar... but how easily "projects are abandoned at will" if they are not profitable. "What concerned residents [at Sun City, Arizona] most was the inescapable feeling that as the development reached completion, their progenitor and protector was slowly abandoning the community altogether. And, they were right: Webb had made his money and he was now detaching himself and his company...". Gary Morse owns The Villages, now encompassing the larger part of three counties; his residence is a large, white vacant area in the middle of the complex's map. Residents have little say in The Villages' planning, governance, even the sizes of clubhouses and the program offerings within; their sole responsibility is to pay the annual fees. The Villages has its own newspaper (that reports no bad news), radio station (playing 1950s and 1960s music) — piped into those lampposts - TV station, restaurants, everything one needs to never leave the complex. No stress is part of its success: "[The Villages] has everything I could possibly want... Its just plain fun", cites Betsy Anderson.

Local towns and counties around The Villages cannot support this massive development and supply it with electricity, water and sewage, Blechman discovers. The community, read Morse, is given a Chapter 190 by the governments to allow The Villages, read Morse, to self govern with Oz-like control, a quasi-government if you will. Privatization puts the retirees at the sole mercy of Morse. "Residents are free to complain about these financial arrangements, but they have no leverage in the matter". The voting size of The Villages even impacts the outcome of propositions, taxes, and other voting issues within the rest of the three counties, such that the votes of county residents not within The Villages are negated. The author gives the reader a clear picture of what these Leisureville monocultures are doing to all our resources, from school taxes and natural resources to dictatorships that gobble up land and, if abandoned, the effect such action will have on local government.

Blechman also puts this fast-growing phenomenon in perspective with the rest of the world by attending a developers conference. Attendees include planning representatives from several European governments. After touring select age-segregated communities, they comment that their countries' living patterns are too well established to permit gated utopias. Most of Europe uses "NORCs": naturally occurring retirement communities, such as a single building in a town center.

Leisureville is certainly an eye-opener to yet another development technique to disconnect and bisect our towns and communities, to remove interaction among generations as well as develop our land into cookie-cutter housing and amenities with no consideration for local resources and the natural environment. "Gated planned communities often have about as much in common with the local area and population as a Club Med resort—it doesn't really matter where they're located as long as the weather is nice". Andrew Blechman has produced a valuable book, which makes every reader ask his/herself: Is this the future of the United States? Leisureville is a must-read for everyone from young adult upwards, student or retiree, and readily compliments such books as The Flight of the Creative Class by Richard Florida.


01 December 2008

Economic Smackdown: Age-Segregation Proving to Be a Pipe Dream in "Era of Less"

DECEMBER 1, 2008

Retiree Havens Turn Younger to Combat the Housing Bust

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. -- For Sheldon Behr, buying a condo in Century Village East has meant the chance to live out his retirement years with other older adults who enjoy golf, long walks and comedy nights at the clubhouse. But with the financial crisis deepening and the housing market stalled, a growing number of units at the 55-and-over community are lying vacant.

Some residents are now considering the once unthinkable: letting younger people in -- a proposition that has pitted neighbor against neighbor. "We don't want someone to come in and suddenly have a flock of kids," says Mr. Behr, 65 years old, who opposes the move. "That'll destroy our village forever."

At "active adult" developments across the U.S., residents are debating whether to scrap the age restrictions that have helped define their way of life for almost five decades. Proponents of "age desegregation," as it's known in the industry, say opening the doors to people under 55 is the only way their once-idyllic enclaves can stay afloat amid a worsening economic climate.

From Florida to Arizona, condos are sitting idle as potential buyers find themselves stuck, unable to sell their houses and relocate. Residents of one New Jersey 55-plus development are living next to open foundations, with only 32 of 175 planned homes sold. And with retirement accounts hammered by the investment markets' plunge, people living in these communities are falling behind on homeowners' dues and scaling back on clubhouse activities.

But desegregation is nonetheless a hard sell among some residents of these developments, who say the change would ruin the dream they bought into in the first place. An influx of younger residents could also affect relations with surrounding neighborhoods. Municipalities have long favored developments for retirees because they don't require additional services like schools.

"Towns see these people as contributing to the tax base but not costing the community so much," says William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "But there is a whole host of ancillary services that go with having lots of young children and teenagers. Then, you're talking about a significant increase in municipal expenses."

No one is predicting that age-restricted living will disappear entirely. But the financial downturn could be the tipping point that forces some places to reinvent themselves.

Many of these communities had already been struggling with declining sales as aging baby boomers either postpone retirement or opt to retire elsewhere. Last year, about 1.1 million households could be found in active-adult settings, down from 1.8 million in 2001, according to the National Association of Home Builders. And in a recent survey by AARP, the membership group for older Americans, almost nine in 10 people said they don't want to move at all in retirement; instead, they want to "age in place."

Retirement communities were popularized in the early 1960s by real-estate entrepreneurs like Del Webb, whose Sun City developments promoted the idea of a leisure-filled lifestyle specifically for older adults. In Arizona, California and Florida, retirees lined up to buy one-story villas bordering golf courses.

Usually run by elected boards of homeowners, these communities have spread to the Midwest and Northeast in recent years. They usually offer activities geared toward retirees, feature strict rules about homes' appearances, and have their own security staff and volunteer "posses" to keep an eye out for violations.

Typically, 80% of residents in active-adult communities must be at least 55 years old to meet federal regulations that allow developments to exclude children. (Many neighborhoods have rules requiring one household member to meet the age requirement.) Some enjoy low taxes. Residents of Sun City, a retirement community in Sun City, Ariz., for instance, don't pay city taxes because the development is technically unincorporated. They also pay relatively low school taxes, making their overall tax burden one-half to two-thirds lower than people in nearby towns, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.

Lower Age Requirement

Last year, residents of the nearby Sun City Grand in Surprise, Ariz., voted to lower their age requirement to 45 from 55 -- though children under age 19 still aren't allowed as permanent residents.

The board of the 9,802-unit development, built in 1996, "felt like it would help our community financially in many areas," says Meda Cates, membership director for the Sun City Grand Community Association. "As people grow older, they stay home more. They don't golf, they don't use the facilities or the restaurants."

John Longabaugh, a city councilman who lives in the development, puts it this way: "If everybody's 80, nobody's using the two weight rooms."

Since Sun City Grand relaxed its age restrictions, the community has drawn people like Tom Butler, 48, a kitchen designer, and his wife, Jill, who is 53. The place popped up on their radar a year ago, when Ms. Butler visited her daughter-in-law's grandparents, who live in the community. She says she was "totally charmed by it," and drawn to the "plethora of activities." This fall, the couple bought one of Sun City Grand's "Casita" models, a ranch-style home with a pool and a guest house. "Sometimes, people look at us and say, 'You're not old enough to be here,' " says Ms. Butler. "But we take it as a compliment."

No one tracks the number of active-adult communities that are lowering their age limits or dropping them altogether. But developers and homeowners' associations say it's becoming the strategy-of-last-resort the longer homes sit vacant. Leisure World in Mesa, Ariz., has loosened its age requirements, and the homeowners' association at Arizona Traditions, another development in Surprise, is mulling whether to lower the minimum age to 45. In New Jersey, the age restrictions have been lowered or dropped for at least nine new projects, while an additional 10 planned developments were scrapped altogether, says Jeffrey Otteau, president of Otteau Valuation Group Inc., a real estate market-analysis firm in East Brunswick, N.J.

Dominoes and Leaf Peeping

At the Esplanade in Hudson, Mass., near Boston, people 55 and older can buy two-bedroom condominiums for about $250,000. Movies play on a big-screen TV in the common area on Saturday nights, regular groups play dominoes, and there are leaf-peeping outings to New Hampshire.

But since it broke ground in 2005, only two-thirds of the Esplanade's 140 units have been sold. The company has recouped $20 million of its $32 million in construction costs, says Joanne Foley, the attorney for MP Development LLC, which built the Esplanade. So last March, MP petitioned the town of Hudson to allow it to sell condos there to younger buyers.

Lou Tagliani, a 67-year-old retired physicist, is among the residents who have spoken out against the plan. He and his wife moved into the Esplanade because "we want to live with people our own age and interests," he says. Bringing in younger people "would change the general complexion of the community."

So far, homeowners in Mr. Tagliani's camp are winning: Hudson's town government in September denied the developer's request, saying that changing the rules would be unfair to residents who already had purchased units. In an effort to stave off an appeal by the developer to state officials, residents are hosting open houses and tours for prospective buyers their own age. Ms. Foley says relaxing the rules wouldn't harm the community, but so far, MP has no plans to appeal.

In Century Village, the three-decades-old retirement development in Deerfield Beach, some units are empty because grown children who inherited them can't sell them. Kenneth Barnett, the treasurer for the village management, says often the families don't pay the insurance or the monthly dues, which amount to about $5,000 a year for each unit.

The community is composed of 254 white stucco condominium buildings, nearly all governed by their own board of directors. Those boards are generally allowed to approve sales to people under age 55. Until recently, such sales were almost unheard of. But with two-bedroom condos that would have sold for $120,000 two years ago now as low as $40,000, younger people living in the area are now trying to move in, and are arguing their cases to condo boards.

Martin Cohen, an 88-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and resident of Century Village, voices common concerns about younger people moving in: "They speed. They use Century Boulevard as a race track," he says. But some buildings have decided they prefer that scenario to empty units.

Roy Landesman, an 89-year-old retired door-hinge salesman from New York, says 10% of the units in his condominium building are vacant. So his building is letting younger families move in; he now has a neighbor in her 20s. Century Village East's Master Management, which maintains the development, including its 16 swimming pools and 765 acres of palm trees and canals, "doesn't like it, but I don't care what they say," Mr. Landesman says.

Donna Capobianco, president of Master Management, says the community is financially viable as it is, and that there are many older retirees who want to move into Century Village, but who are waiting for prices to drop even more.

A 'Natural Way' to Live

Newer retirement communities could go the way of Pine River Village, originally sold as a 55-plus development in Lakewood, N.J. Over the past three years, hundreds of potential buyers had joined the waiting list for Pine River, but by this November, only 32 houses had been sold of the 175 that were planned. The developer, Ralph Zucker, appealed to Pine River's residents a few months ago to agree to let him eliminate age restrictions from the rest of the development, which they did. Now, he is trying to persuade the town to approve the plan.

Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles says that township officials are sympathetic, but they are trying to sort out whether it's legal to change the zoning because the project is part of a redevelopment zone that specifically called for senior housing.

Residents have spoken up at public meetings in favor of the request. They say they realize that Mr. Zucker can't maintain the development, with its fitness center, indoor pool with a retractable roof, and elaborate landscaping, without monthly dues from more residents. They also worry that unless dozens of houses are built on the vast expanse of cleared land they can see out their windows, their property values could slide; they paid between $350,000 and $700,000 for their houses. Their monthly homeowner's association fees of $260 a month, based on 175 houses, could also climb sharply.

Some are tired of living in a construction zone. Mordechai and Hadassah Goodman moved to Pine River in February after retiring from Chicago to be closer to children and grandchildren. But as the finishing touches were being put on their home, construction in the rest of the community was grinding to a halt. Their manicured lawn borders acres of plowed-up dirt, cinder-block outlines of future homes, and 9-foot-deep foundations on otherwise vacant lots.

"I was out here playing football with one of the grandchildren -- and kicked the ball right into [an open] basement," says Mr. Goodman, a 71-year-old retired math professor.

To ease residents' concerns, Mr. Zucker has agreed to group younger buyers on one side of the village, create separate entrances, and plant shrubbery -- or even build a fence -- in between, if the plan is approved.

Some of Pine River's residents acknowledge that they're having to adjust their expectations for retirement. Mrs. Goodman, 64, says she's now looking forward to having younger neighbors: "It seems like a more natural way to live."

Write to Kelly Greene at kelly.greene@wsj.com and Jennifer Levitz at jennifer.levitz@wsj.com


Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

10 November 2008

Leisureville reviewed by Villages' Blog

Leisureville: An Inside Look at The Villages

November 6, 2008 by thevillagesfloridabook

"If you’re seriously considering moving to The Villages, I recommend to folks that they read one other book (besides mine) before making the plunge.

Leisureville, by Andrew Blechman, provides a very accurate (and often humorous) account of what life is really like in The Villages. While Mr. Blechman focuses on some of the more…uh, let’s just call them “extreme”… characters you may encounter in The Villages, Leisureville provides a lot of insight that you could really only otherwise gather from living amongst it yourself.

You may see on a lot of forums or blogs about The Villages that there has been some backlash towards Mr. Blechman and Leisureville, especially from Villagers who feel like they need to defend the community and lifestyle they have chosen. While everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, you shouldn’t let this stop you from reading this book.

As long as you read Leisureville with an open mind, you’ll pick up on a lot of things you may have never known about the U.S.’s most talked about retirement community. Some you may like, some things you might not like, but I do guarantee the book will make you laugh.

With the holiday’s coming up, now is the perfect time to catch up on some reading. Be sure to add Leisureville to your list."

07 November 2008

*** OBAMA win likely to add fuel to IRS investigation of The Villages ***

Not sure how Obama's win will affect the future of age-segregated housing -- it probably won't -- but one thing is more likely: The IRS' investigation of The Villages is likely to be given more breathing room and actually result in an enforceable finding.... The developer, Mr. Morse, is a major contributor to the Republican Party. I suspect a McCain win would have been the deathknell of the IRS investigation. But a Democratic administration is likely to allow the investigation to continue. Still not known: has The Villages broken any laws?

Here are the two posts about the IRS investigation:


Nice letter from an older reader

Mr. Blechman: Thank you for writing the book Leisureville. At the age of 74 it has given me a whole new perspective of “retirement utopias”. The one sentence in your book “More often than not, enrichment requires struggle and effort” has given me much thought of values we place upon lives and the contributions we can make to society as we age. Your brought the illustrious individuals in The Villages “to life” when reading your book. Thank you for such an excellent read. Karen S.

13 October 2008

"Develop a sense of community where you live."

[below is an email I've just received from a reader]

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I just finished your wonderful book, Leisureville.

My brother lives in rural Vermont. He purchased land, and applied for a house permit. People actually opposed it, right in front of his face, at town meetings. They told him that their kids were through with the system, and they (the retirees) don't want to pay for other peoples kids to be educated. They want to be the last ones in, and have the door close once their haven is built. Who do they think is going to drive the ambulance to pick them up when they code?

I live in the large town in New Hampshire. The municipality surveyed other towns of its size, and determined most had more police officers. They put out a special election to vote for more officers -- and poof! -- town taxes have to go up to pay for it. Families cannot afford to live in my town anymore due to taxes to pay for the services the selfserving town thinks it needs.

I have lived many places, and I want to congratulate you on your recommend solution: Develop a sense of community where you live. Talk with your neighbors and share your lives. Community is whoever is right in front of you. Thanks for writing such a great book, I loved it. No contrived lifestyle for me!

-- NH

05 October 2008

Short Profile on "Mystery Man" developer of The Villages, by the Orlando Sentinel

Villages' Morse acts as magnet for GOP
Christine Show
Sentinel Staff Writer
October 5, 2008

THE VILLAGES -- Presidential elections often thrust this retiree playground into the national spotlight. And this election isn't any different.

Republican stars such as Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who campaigned here last month, bask in the adoration showered by throngs of Villagers.

Villages developer H. Gary Morse is a major GOP contributor who draws the rich and powerful to his community of about 70,000 residents. But Morse prefers to shun attention.

"Very few people have had contact with him," said Villages resident Charles Fredricksen, 73. "He's just a man in the shadows. It's difficult to find anyone who has talked to him face to face."

GOP mecca

On the heels of the Sept. 21 Palin visit, which attracted tens of thousands of supporters to a rally at Lake Sumter Landing, Morse held a private fundraiser at his home for the Republican National Committee. Those who attended the Sept. 24 soiree rubbed shoulders with former Gov. Jeb Bush, a longtime favorite of Villagers.

"It was a fine event," Bush wrote in an e-mail last week.

The Republican National Committee would not provide details of the fundraiser or how much money was raised. Gary Lester, Villages spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment.

While that event was out of view, The Villages is a must-stop spot for many Republican hopefuls seeking to make it to the White House. The primary season brought Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and the man who would become the party's standard-bearer, John McCain.

They join an impressive list of visitors that includes President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Mystery man

Morse, 71, began crafting the development when he entered the family business in 1983. His father, the late Harold Schwartz, bought the land in Lake and Sumter counties during the 1960s and '70s to turn it into mobile-home parks.

Now, Morse's children help run the company. They include son Mark, vice president of operations, and daughter Jennifer Parr, who has worked as director of sales. Morse's late wife, Sharon, worked as director of design.

In his years as developer, Morse's clout has been displayed in landing projects to make life more convenient for Villagers. These include The Villages Regional Hospital, a Florida's Turnpike interchange directly into the development and a regional Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in the development scheduled to open in spring 2010.

Joe Gorman, president of the development's Property Owners Association, said he wishes Morse's connection to residents was more like his father's. Although Schwartz was known to walk around The Villages talking to residents, Morse is more of a mystery man, he said.

"I've never met the man, never seen him, never had any contact with him," said Gorman, who compared Morse to Howard Hughes. "It's disappointing that he's so elusive. Gary created a beautiful, beautiful facility. People would like to pat him on the back sometimes. Unfortunately, he's very elusive."

'Warm and friendly'

Chico Mir, 70, said he has met Morse and credits the developer with helping find locations for AARP tax-aid volunteers.

"He's a quiet, reserved guy," Mir said. "He doesn't need to socialize to do his job."

Those who know Morse see a generous man who enjoys a private life, said former state Rep. Everett Kelly, a friend of Morse. Kelly played a key role in helping The Villages overcome state regulatory and financial hurdles to open up a $1 million golf-cart bridge over U.S. Highway 27/441 dubbed "The Everett Kelly Causeway."

When asked to describe Morse, Kelly said, "Two words: warm and friendly. I think he's one of the finest men that I know."

Kelly, who lives just outside The Villages in Lady Lake, thinks the entertainment and medical services Morse developed in the area have created a positive environment.

"They're great neighbors to us," he said.

Government an obstacle

In a 2003 interview for a builder publication, Morse said there's only one obstacle for continued growth in The Villages.

"Government," he told BuilderOnline. "Excessive and inefficient regulation is an expensive, continuing challenge. For a country built by free enterprise, we sure make it tough on ourselves."

(text below was allegedly cut from online version)

Bush family ties
Morse was a top fundraiser for George W.Bush in 2000 & 2004, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He was also a top supporter of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Picking the president
Morse's power doesn't stop at his bank account of his ability to get people to dip into theirs. He was one of the 538 electors nationwide who formally chose George W. Bush as president. Electors are nominated by their political parties and chosen by each state legislature.

Going for a ride
It has become common for politicians to accept free jet rides from Morse. In seven years, The Villages gave the GOP in-kind contributions of $475,000, mostly from complimentary flights. Morse also has a 147-foot, two Caterpillar diesel-engine yacht called the Cracker Bay, which has traveled to Australia, Canada and Alaska since 2007.

McCain's man
In the primary, Morse supported former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who named Morse to his state campaign finance steering committee. Morse then jumped on the McCain bandwagon, adding $100,000 to $250,000 to the effort, according to campaign records.
Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel

24 September 2008

Letter from a Reader who has lived in The Villages

Dear Mr. Blechman,

I started reading your book, "Leisureville..." tonight and am amazed at how correctly you described life in The Villages. My husband and I lived there six months of every year for nine years. We left because I just couldn't stand the place any more. I felt I was being intellectually and culturally smothered to death. You cannot imagine, or maybe you can, how small and petty people think and behave there. I had to get out.

The Villages is NOT a gated community. The roads are maintained by the counties, not The Villages, so anyone can gain access to any "village" at any time. We lived in Santo Domingo (Yes, it was spelled correctly when we bought there.) and there were two entrances. One for residents where we could swipe our card to have the gate open. The other lane was for visitors and a gate attendant was available. However, anyone could get into any area of our village at any time. In fact, we had three robberies within a few weeks on our block. No one was ever arrested. The place is full of workers all the time. The idea of a "secure" place to live is ludicrous. The Villages newspaper rarely reported any problems and if they did, it was just a paragraph or two on a back page. Did you know that only in recent years they printed death notices? That's how crazy it is down there.

I loved your description of the music played on the radio station. I never had it on in our home but soon before we decided to get out of there my husband and I were riding our bikes to Barnes and Noble in the new town square. As we were riding by the "lake Sumter" I heard the radio station broadcast coming out of a lightpost. As we entered Barnes and Noble the same radio broadcast was coming out of a pole by the entrance to the store. I looked at my husband and said, "We're out of here. This place is too much." I'd always said I felt like I had to behave like a Stepford wife but I wasn't proud of that. Your friend IS proud of that. Frankly, I think that's pitiful.

So now we live back north full time near our children and grandchildren. There are three small children living next door to us and I'm fully appreciating how "normal" life can be so enriching. We're scheduled to go back to The Villages this coming March. We've rented a small villa to spend some time with the many friends we have back there. But a month is enough. In fact, I don't know if I can stand being there for an entire month. We shall see.

You were right when you said they're segregated communities. I did see some "oriental" (funny word) couples there but they always socialized together. The few black couples we knew did seem to socialize with the 97% white population. But little racial jokes were always thrown out there when the black couples weren't around. It was disgusting. Also, if you aren't a conservative Republican you don't fit in. Gary Morse is one of the biggest contributors to that party and all the media reflects his political philosophy.

I tried all the activities. I was a cheerleader, line danced, clogged, golfed, played tennis, pickleball, mah jong and bridge. My favorite activity was the Friday afternoon Philosophy Club meetings. I actually met some thinking, intelligent people there. But it finally came down to this -- I dreaded going there in the autumn and was thrilled to leave there in the spring. And that was with three trips back home to see family during that six-month time period.

I'm worried about this country and how we have so many retirees who think that is the greatest lifestyle. It points out how shallow and self-centered we've become. As far as we're concerned there's never a "beautiful day in The Villages."


22 September 2008

Massive Turnout for Palin in The Villages

No real surprise here. The Villages is a must-visit Republican bastion of veteran-voters on the Republican Whistle-stop Tour each year. The developer, Gary Morse, is one of the biggest donors to the Republican Party in the nation.

Here's an account of the event, as presented by The Villages' developer-owned daily newspaper:


20 September 2008

"Active Adult’ Housing Loses Luster" -- NYTs

I find this paragraph particularly interesting because it shows what happens when your community is "governed" by a developer -- anything. In this case, with the housing market cratering, developers are starting to drop age-restrictions on existing communities. -- Otherwise known as Buyer Beware....

"[He] cited several recent instances in which developers had asked local authorities to lift, or at least ease, age restrictions for projects approved as 'active adult.' In consideration of poor market conditions, he said, restrictions were dropped at [several] projects."
September 14, 2008
‘Active Adult’ Housing Loses Luster

A FEW years ago in New Jersey, housing complexes for those 55 and older were proliferating, with new projects seeming to pop up and sprawl out nearly anyplace with acreage — be it urban, suburban or rural.

As the housing slump persists, however, the bloom is off the rose for the “active adult” sector — perhaps even more so than for the overall market. One factor may be the disinclination of would-be buyers to lower their price expectations on the houses they have lived in for decades.

Jeffrey Otteau of the Otteau Appraisal Group is offering brokers and developers new data showing reduced demand for such housing around the state, and a large inventory of unsold units.

At the Rivervue at Hoffman’s Marina project in Brielle, the original price range on 14 new units was $900,000 to $2.2 million. But earlier this year, after half had been sold, the remaining seven were made available in the $675,000 to $1.2 million range.

Last month at Rivervue, a “live free for one year” deal was instituted and led to three quick sales of remaining units, said Tom Neumaier, the marketing director for the builder, the Robertson Douglas Group. Under the program, buyers who provide a down payment of 25 percent are guaranteed that their mortgage payments, taxes, association fees and all other costs will be paid for the following 12 months, he said.

“Given the problem of purchasers who have an existing home to sell in a slow market, and who are trying to avoid a double mortgage payment, we came up with this idea to give them peace of mind,” Mr. Neumaier said.

Right now, he said, would-be buyers with a house on the market are advised that “an existing home that is priced right will sell.”

“We have found a lot of people struggling with what has happened to the value of an existing home over the past two years, making them reluctant to make the move as empty nesters,” he said. “But what we try to help them understand is that prices are also down on the new house they will buy, and they will really come out O.K.”

Douglas Fenichel, a spokesman for the developer K. Hovnanian Homes, said that since buyers over 55 had most likely owned their homes for a long time, they should have built up enough equity to “price it competitively when they put it up for sale, and still make some money.”

Paul Schneier, the president of Pulte Homes’ metropolitan New York-New Jersey division, made the same point in explaining why sales this year at his company’s Wanaque Reserve by Del Webb complex, in Bergen County, had exceeded 2007 levels.

“This community attracts many buyers from Bergen County and Rockland County,” Mr. Schneier said. “These are affluent areas where people already own homes in prime locations, and have probably built a lot of equity in those homes, and won’t have as much of a problem selling them to move to Wanaque.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Otteau said it was clear that virtually all developers of age-restricted housing had significantly reduced asking prices for their units over the last two years. Several developers — although not K. Hovnanian — conceded that to be true.

Market reports indicate that sales are lagging, inventory is swollen and an increasing number of older home owners are choosing to “age in place,” as Mr. Otteau put it, meaning they will remain in their homes awhile longer with the hope that the market will shift and values will again rise.

Mr. Otteau said he knew of nine planned projects that had been scrapped because of weak market conditions.

Of course, developers and builders may tend to disagree about whether their individual projects might be in trouble, and some can point to certain projects where sales are hot.

Just last month, said Don Bompensa, a Lennar company executive, there were people sleeping in the parking lot overnight to be the first to make offers on 25 new units being built alongside the golf course at Greenbriar Oceanaire in Waretown.

“We are honestly not surprised,” said Mr. Bompensa, president of Lennar’s New Jersey division. “We’ve been developing this premier active-adult community since 2001, and have sold more than 900 of the 1,400 single-family homes to date — including 27 in the month of August alone.”

Also, K. Hovnanian, which developed the Four Seasons brand of over-55 condominiums, announced last week that it had begun construction of several dozen new two-bedroom two-bath units at the Four Seasons at Great Notch community.

The announcement had been preceded by another less positive one from the publicly held K. Hovnanian: On Sept. 3, it reported its eighth consecutive quarterly loss. But at Great Notch, sales have continued to be relatively lively, said Sean Mulhall, the community manager.

Other K. Hovnanian executives cited a pent-up demand for over-55 housing priced in the low $400,000’s, particularly at Great Notch, which is only 12 miles from Manhattan.

“Active-adult communities is one of the only segments of the market where we are adding units,” said Mr. Fenichel of K. Hovnanian, “because they’re selling.”

But that optimism aside, Mr. Otteau cited several recent instances in which developers had asked local authorities to lift, or at least ease, age restrictions for projects approved as “active adult.” In consideration of poor market conditions, he said, restrictions were dropped at projects in Bound Brook, Hackettstown, Maplewood, Fort Lee and Morris Township.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

11 September 2008

IRS investigating Villages' financing -- PART TWO


Special report COMMENTARY
Before accruing more debt, Villages residents need a voice
Lauren Ritchie
September 10, 2008

(Second of two parts.)

On Sunday, this column looked at an IRS examination of whether bonds issued by the government behind The Villages retirement community should be tax-exempt.

One of the main questions the IRS is trying to answer is whether the Village Center Community Development District, which is controlled by the developer, should be allowed to issue the same kind of bonds that cities and counties do.

To be qualified, the entity must be a genuine government, not just a sham way for the developer to make money.

There is no question that The Villages developer by law is allowed to create governments -- he has set up a dozen of them so far.

Those governments, called community development districts, can have varying powers, but the law allows them to do almost anything that a city or county can, short of operating their own police departments and approving their own growth plans.

A community development district can issue unlimited numbers of bonds, and the Village Center district hasn't been shy about using that power.

That district and a second similar one in the Sumter County portion of the 77,000-resident mega-community on Aug. 31 together owed $281.5 million worth of outstanding loans in the form of recreational revenue bonds.

Board of supervisors

Most of the cash went to Villages developer Gary Morse and his companies. In exchange, the district got real property, such as pools and clubhouses and golf courses. But the majority of the bond money bought something intangible -- a revenue stream. Morse sold the rights to collect amenity fees from homeowners in The Villages. The monthly fee for those buying today is $130, and it is to rise to $135 on Oct. 1.

The IRS agent who has been asking questions about how the district runs quickly homed in on The Villages' way of using the law that governs the districts.

Florida Statutes, Chapter 190, says that a board of supervisors is to run the districts. The first board is chosen by the landowners, which is to say, the developer.

But as the community grows to either 250 or 500 "qualified electors," (depending on the type of district), the five supervisors are to be elected by voters, just as city council members or county commissioners are. This makes sense, considering that the supervisors have the power to levy special assessments, impose property taxes and take private property through eminent domain.

However, the transition to voters didn't happen in the Village Center district, which in April had only 17 landowners. The district still is run by a board of supervisors chosen by the landholders, and the developer has interests in or connections to enough landholders and acreage to control the majority of votes, the district's tax attorney said in a June 12 letter to the IRS.

Today, those supervisors are Gary Moyer, vice president of development for The Villages; W. Thomas Brooks, corporate treasurer of The Villages; John Wise, chief financial officer of The Villages; Stephen J. Drake, purchasing director of The Villages; and Charles Smith, a Morgan Stanley broker with offices in The Villages.

In defense of board, bonds

The power of these men extends far beyond the geographical confines of the Village Center district.

The big money comes from Villages homeowners who each month pay an amenity fee to the Village Center district but who live in other parts of the retirement community. That means they have no say on the board that decides whether to issue bonds.

No wonder the old cry of "taxation without representation" comes to mind.

Janet Tutt, manager of the district, bristled at the statement that the district is controlled by the developer.

She said it's a pure illustration of the city council-city manager form of government.

"I don't answer to H.G. Morse or any of the Morses," she said. "I don't take my directions from them."

Tutt said the bonds were perfectly legitimate and the business of issuing them is conducted by the most reputable of companies, including Citigroup Inc. All of the district's supervisors are upstanding people in the community who wouldn't risk their reputations by participating in anything improper.

"In these bond transactions, we're making sure that we're only paying what the appropriate amount is," she said.

If the developer doesn't like the price, "he can sell it to someone else," Tutt added.

Asked if she had ever suggested the district do anything that was in the best interest of the residents but not in the best interest of the developer, Tutt said no.

"My problem is I don't know what that issue would be," she said.

Debt deprives residents

I can solve that problem.

Because I am not drinking Villages Kool-Aid, I can easily imagine several such scenarios. Here's the most obvious:

Let's say the district board was filled with people who don't work for The Villages and aren't in any way obligated to Morse.

Such independent supervisors might not see any good reason to buy the rights to collect amenity fees for 30 years into the future, thereby saddling residents with almost unconscionable debt. (For example, Villages residents will shell out $134.7 million -- that includes interest -- to pay off the $64 million in bonds the IRS is examining right now.)

If district supervisors had never bought the golf courses or clubhouses or pools -- or the rights to amenity fees -- the developer still would be obligated to provide those things, the district's lawyer said.

But there wouldn't be any bond debt.

Consider that last year, roughly $33 million was collected in amenity fees, and nearly $16 million of it went to pay bond debt, leaving the other $17 million for maintenance and operation of recreational facilities.

Without bonds, that $16 million annually could be going into building and operating even more fun stuff for Villages residents instead of paying off the loans that made Morse rich.

How about free drive-through carwash facilities for residents? Would that be cool or what?

Or community-wide wireless Internet?

Or perhaps the money could go toward eliminating the cost residents have to pay to drive their golf carts on the paths around the courses so they can play that "free" golf for life.

Stay tuned

One thing is clear -- more bond debt is not in the best interest of Villages residents, who already are on the hook to repay $709 million in outstanding loans.

The IRS audit has been going on since Jan. 7, and the district sent its most recent responses to the agent's questions on Aug. 20.

Now it's a waiting game.

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918.
Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel

*** The Villages under IRS investigation ***


COMMENTARY Special report
IRS trying to get to bottom of Villages bond-financing history
Lauren Ritchie
September 7, 2008

Sixty-two pages of questions and answers tell the tale: The Villages retirement community is on the verge of making an IRS agent's head implode. Soon, his brain will begin to drain out his ears.

An agent auditing tax-exempt bonds sold by the mirror government behind The Villages first began asking questions on Jan. 7 as part of what he described as a routine examination.

Since then, his questions about $64 million worth of "recreational" revenue bonds -- sold in 2003 to buy golf courses, cart paths, ball washers, a clubhouse sound system, pool tables, guardhouses, postal facilities, pump houses and more -- have grown more complex and pointed.

You can see what the agent is thinking by the questions and can almost picture him turning this Rubik's cube of financing genius over and over as he tries to wrap his mind around the most clever scheme since carpetbaggers realized they could charge old ladies in Jersey $10 a month for swamp lots. It's like he just can't believe it's true.

Welcome to Florida, Agent Dominick Servadio Jr. Sit back and marvel about how business is done in a state where we affix our lips to every developer fanny within reach.

The inception

Here's the short version of how The Villages developed -- with the help of a state law that spurs growth:

The developer builds a community. The law lets him create his very own government, which has the power to borrow breathtaking sums of cash by selling bonds. The developer-controlled government uses the bond money -- bonds are nothing more than loans -- to buy the developer's investment in amenities such as golf courses and pools. But the biggest percentage of the cash from recreational bonds goes to purchase the right to collect fees every month from residents. For example, of the $64 million worth of bonds the IRS is examining, $53.1 million bought nothing concrete. It went to purchase the rights to the future amenity fees.

As of Aug. 31, 10 of the 12 governments in The Villages owed a stunning $709 million on outstanding loans they took out partly to pay developer Gary Morse for everything from future fee collections to retention ponds, sewer plants, clubhouses, swimming pools and golf courses. A developer typically wraps the cost of amenities and infrastructure such as sewer lines into the price of a house. Morse didn't do that, which is why residents are paying now, according to the manager of The Villages' governments.

Well, at least that's the theory. If so, residents should have gotten pretty sweet deals on the prices of their homes, shouldn't they?

Morse becomes almost unfathomably rich from the bond proceeds. And residents are saddled with 30 years of payments on $709 million worth of loans.

Was this legitimate?

Now, along comes the IRS in a quest to answer just a single question: Was this one particular developer-controlled government, the Village Center Community Development District, qualified to issue tax-exempt bonds? In other words, is this a cross-your-heart legitimate government? Or just a fiendishly brilliant legal dodge designed to enrich the developer?

The answer could rock the municipal bond world if the ruling goes against The Villages governments. Aside from the Village Center district, another 578 of these governments operate in Florida. If the IRS were to impose a different interpretation than in the past, bond buyers could end up having to fork over income tax on the interest from their investment, which they don't have to do now.

So who are these buyers? That isn't easy to discern. But administrators at the districts say some bonds are owned by Villages residents themselves.

The Village Center district has hired a California lawyer to get it through this IRS examination. However, the district's manager is itching to pick up the phone and call Servadio. She thinks if she can just talk to the agent, he'll understand -- and go quietly away, satisfied that everything is on the up-and-up.

"Our frustration is that we don't see it any differently than a utility purchase. The questions he's asking -- he's getting pieces of the pyramid," said Janet Tutt, the manager. "If we all just sat down in a room and created the big picture, and he could see the whole picture, it would be easier."

However, this is not the first time the Village Center district has faced off with the feds over whether its bonds should be tax-exempt and whether it's adhering to the law.

Earlier concerns

Here's what W. Mark Scott, director of the IRS' tax-exempt bond division, wrote to the district on Jan. 29, 2003, when the bonds got a thumbs up after an earlier audit.

"Our closing of these cases, however, should not be construed as an approval of your method of operations. We have concerns regarding: the amount of control the developer has over the issuer; the questions of value of the assets sold by the developer to the issuer as these are not arm's length [transactions]; the treatment of income and expenses (whether income is properly reported and expenses deducted only once); compliance with state law."

Other than that, everything was just peachy. The fact that the IRS thought the deal smelled funky didn't slow down the district when it wanted to issue more bonds. Several months later, it sold the $64 million worth of bonds that the IRS now is looking into.

On Wednesday, we'll take a deeper look at this particular IRS probe and where it might be headed.

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918.
First of two parts
Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel

Fox News now pumped out of The Villages' lampposts

The Villages media is owned by and controlled by conservative developer Gary Morse, who has now decided to supply headlines on his radio station via Fox News (replacing headlines from the Associated Press). All hourly news updates will now by handled by Fox .... and that means it will be pumped out of the lampposts and fake rocks in The Villages' two downtowns.

27 August 2008

Interesting comments from a Leisureville reader

As posted on amazon.com:

Blechman raises three issues that are of paramount importance, all of which make it worthwhile reading for anyone -- especially in the Northeast -- who is grappling with generational issues in local government; it should also be of interest to those who are concerned about the long-term physical and resource impact of age-restrictd communities.

First, if we do value our seniors, why aren't we doing more on a local level to encourage them to stay in integrated communities? The cost of public education, health and other benefits, and an aging infrastructure are clobbering the tax base, but we may need to find the extra money in strained municipal budget to better support programs that make life in the communities in which they've lived for decades easier and more rewarding for them. That said, seniors have hardly helped their cause -- it is tiresome to hear well-heeled retirees complain that they shouldn't shoulder some of the burden for the exact same municipal services that previous generations willingly provided them when they were raising children.

Second, what is going to happen to The Villages and Sun City as they decay? These are not particularly well-constructed or sustainable communities. If the people who live there do not invest in their future -- by repairing infrastructure and building a strong team of municipal employees -- the housing stock and streets will eventually decline. These seniors are fleeing that very problem, but it will follow them if they live long enough. Local communities may yet wind up paying for these developments.

Third, Florida and especially Arizona are already in serious trouble with water usage. These seniors may not be around when water shortages become a fact of daily life, but their children will be.

09 August 2008

A rather interesting reader email about Sun City

From a reader who has lived and worked next door to Sun City for decades. She is now in her early 60s. I found her observations rather interesting and honest.

Years ago as a much younger woman working in the banking industry, I was transferred to a branch located in Sun City West. I had been to Sun City before and we visitors always marveled at how neat and tidy everything was there - much unlike our "lived-in" communities - and Sun City West was no different, just newer.

By that time Sun City was 20 years old and the original residents were by now, 20 years older. Patterns were already becoming evident. People who had retied in the beginning with good health and good resources had experienced some unsettling changes over time. They had often developed life-altering illnesses and because of unforeseen economic conditions, their solid economic base had eroded and they no longer has very solid financial setting. For some, their illnesses required very costly treatment and medication that they hadn't anticipated on.

The young crop of retirees in their late 50s who were healthy, wealthy and active, were drawn to the new Sun City West. They didn't want to live in Sun City which was much slower and too insulated. It was interesting to observe that about-to-be-oldsters didn't and do not want to hang out with official oldsters because they see what the future will be bringing to them and they don't want to face it or to know the realities.

Therefore, since Sun City did not draw or attract newer retirees to replenish the fading popluation, the aging population continues to grow. It is a downward spiral. Add that to the fact that they don't want to invest in the future. Why should they when it won't benefit them? And they need their money now. The fact that spending money today will help forestall some unpleasant realities down the road, eludes them. They bought a false reality. They had earned their money. It was their's. If they lived in a walled-in complex and separated themselves from the outsiders, then they wouldn't have to be paying for things like elementary schools since they didn't have any in their complexes. There would be no loud noises like the ones that kids make and no messes like kids make. It is really like a warped "Stepford" like existence. There was even a horrible quote from one oldster-ette in a recent newspaper article, "All the taxes we do pay, we want to keep and spend on ourselves".

28 July 2008

the Real reason why folks move into age-segregated communities

Sure, they say they love kids, they have special social needs, their grandkids love to visit, they deserve this, but the real reason is the exclusivity -- most of the world is kept at bay; life's frictions are edited out....

This from an Active Adult web forum:

"I went to the pool today in my relatively new 55+ community in Sacramento. There was not one single person in the clubhouse or pool. The water was sparkling clear and the silence was beautiful. I swam laps in a peace and quiet that is rare in today's world. While I was drying out in the sun, I couldn't help smile that it was a "private" pool, but I didn't have to do any of the maintenance. Maybe this isn't the social mixing intent of an "active adult community", but I have to tell you, it's like being on Walden Pond with all the amenities."

(fellow bloggers response) -- "I see your point!!"

My response: Walden's Pond with all the amenities? You CAN'T make this shit up. Folks in age-segregated communities have something else in common with Thoreau. The great American philosopher/writer didn't want his taxes to fund the current war at the time (us taking on the Mexicans) and today's Active Adults also want to decide where their taxes go -- to themselves.

26 July 2008

Quick: Buy irresponsibly before the government says you can't!

Now here's an honest mailing: This is from Pulte Homes, the corporate parent of Del Webb's sprawling age-segregated communities. The gist? -- Quick! act now and sign up for an economy-destroying irresponsible mortgage before the government puts a halt to this unethical practice -- Better yet, act now so you can sneak in a dubious mortgage that the American Taxpayers will soon be forced to bail out with billions of dollars this sort of wink-wink business practice. . . .

Dear Andrew,

Thank you for your continued interest in Pulte Homes, Del Webb and DiVosta. We’ve been monitoring some exciting housing news and wanted to share it with you. Congress is currently working to pass a new housing reform bill to help stimulate the recovery of the housing industry. Before this formally goes into effect, NOW is the time to take advantage of existing home buying assistance programs that may be going away.

Two proposed changes are:
1. All government-sponsored zero-down-payment assistance programs would be eliminated as of October 1, 2008. To be eligible for these programs, all home loans would need to be approved by September 30, 2008.

2. The minimum down payment for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, the largest purchaser of mortgages in the United States, would increase from 3 percent to 3.5 percent.

Although these changes are not final, they are highly likely to happen. Given the number of our homeowners who have benefited from these programs in the past, we wanted to get this news out to you now so you can take advantage of these programs before the changes are enacted.

In addition, the proposed bill includes a government incentive program for first time homebuyers who close on their home by July 1, 2009. This benefit would be retroactive to April 9, 2008, so if you act now, you might qualify for an added benefit should the new law come to pass.

To find out about the program that works best for your personal home-buying situation, we encourage you to contact your sales associate today. It could make a big difference in fulfilling your new home dream.

Learn more about the exciting development here.


Pulte Homes, Inc.
100 Bloomfield Hills Parkway | Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48304


Why not use the above information to contact Pulte Homes and lambast them for their encouragement of questionable lending practices for which we will all soon have to foot the bill to bail this crap out?

With assholes like this, who needs . . . more assholes?

This is a published letter to the editor in response to an op-ed that I wrote for the Viewpoints section of the Arizona Republic's sunday paper. My favorite parts are his attacking of my name -- that hasn't happened since grade school -- and his equating of children with all that is bad in the world (somehow his grandchildren, who are only allowed to visit up to 30 days a year, don't fall into this offensive description, at least not yet. I I wonder how his grandkids might feel about this letter... Bunker up, baby!

I'm not sure what qualification Andrew Blechman has for foisting his egalitarian claptrap off on us ("Living in a world of exclusion," Viewpoints, Sunday), or just how he bamboozled you into accepting him as knowledgeable authority with no ax to grind, but, in a word: BLECH!

We live in an active-adult community. We're tired of the rat race. We enjoy the peace and quiet here; no screaming kids, no vandalism, lower insurance rates for home and auto. There's no graffiti - except political posters. No items mysteriously missing from our garages or yards or porches, no more broken windows, no wild parties, no exhibitionists speeding on local streets, no drag-racing. In short, no more kids!

We live in Sun City Grand, and it is grand! We love it. Our children love it. Our grandchildren love it! Our friends love it. Blechman is the only one who hates it, perhaps because he can't push egalitarianism here.

When our children were of age, my wife and I helped implement or manage or coach Pony League, AAA Little League, Little League, Senior Little League, Jr. and Sr. Babe Ruth Leagues and American Legion Sandlot League baseball teams. We coached at all of these levels, and I managed the entire Little League program for our town of 15,000 people.

My wife and I are trained Family-to-Family instructors and group leaders with the National Association for the Mentally Ill. I will be training in September to join our fire department's Civilian Emergency Response Team. We're in our 70s but still contributing to society.

So, Blechman, don't you dare tell us we haven't earned our peace and quiet. We earned it when you were still in diapers. - Joel Finkel, Surprise

Hey Joe "FINK" Finkel -- don't forget to lock the door to your bunker when your neighbor's grandkids come to visit.

23 July 2008

How to Get Reluctant Boomers to Buy into Age-Segregated Communities in a Crashing Economy . . . .

A recent advertisement to industry insiders from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB):

Registration Now Open for NAHB's Audio Seminar Get Hesitant Boomers to Buy Now!

If your 50+ consumers are taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to buying a new home in the current market, you won't want to miss this valuable audio seminar! To overcome buyers' reluctance, you need to understand that purchasing a new home remains a discretionary decision for this market segment, and anxiety about selling their existing homes is a major obstacle.

Participate and hear about:

Building value and offering incentives that won't break the bank
Making it easier for your buyers to sell their existing home
Why it's more effective to rely on your strengths to motivate your prospects rather than take a reactive stance to the down market
The psychology of today's consumers and how to conquer their fears about buying in the current market
Ways to educate buyers about their current financial portfolio and why they might not have to wait

The Get Hesitant Boomers to Buy Now! audio seminar features a panel of professionals, including large and small-volume builders, who cater to the unique 50+ market.

Register today at www.nahb.org/boomersbuynow. Participants need no special equipment other than a telephone!


20 July 2008

"Frisky" children? When are newspapers going to start addressing age-discrimination?

Active adult living: Heritage Highlands a nice mix
Friday, July 18, 2008

Retirees traditionally look for a little peace and quiet, away from the noise of frisky children and noisy teenagers. Active adult communities, restricted to residents 55 and older, provide this quieter setting, but with the added bonus of plenty of recreational amenities and activities for the residents.

At Heritage Highlands in Lovettsville in Loudoun County, Lennar Corp. is developing a community with a blend of rural peace, community amenities and easy access to ....

The casual way this newspaper story addresses so-called Active Adult communities strikes me as odd. What would people think if the words "children" and "teenagers" were replaced with an ethnic or racial group? Or maybe an insulting description of "older people"?

14 July 2008

New stats on the Age-Segregated housing market

The "Profile of the 50+ Housing Market" issued by the 50+ Building Council of the National Association of Home Builders includes statistics on everything from median income to average number of bathrooms.

Here are some highlights:

• The median income of households headed by someone age 55 to 64 is $53,000, meaning half of the 55-64 households earn more than $53,000, and half earn less. Judging by median income, households age 55-64 have been the highest earning group in the U.S since 1995.

• Since 1989, the net worth of all households headed by someone 55 or older has increased substantially, particularly among 55-64 households. Within this age bracket, median net worth grew from a little over $150,000 to $250,000 in just three years, from 2001 to 2004.

• At 40.4, Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest percentage of households 55 and older, behind West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii.

• Just under 1 million of the 26 million 55-plus households in the U.S. in 2005 lived in age-qualified, active-adult housing.

• Nearly half of the households in age-qualified, active-adult homes are in the South, compared with only 7.5 percent in the Midwest. The percentage in the Northeast is 19.4.

• More than 72 percent of age-qualified, active-adult communities provide recreational facilities, and 33 percent have open space within half a block. Among newly built communities, however, recreational amenities are nearly ubiquitous. Well over 90 percent of new-home buyers in age-qualified, active-adult neighborhoods report having access to at least one such facility.

• Zero percent of age-qualified, active-adult residents rate their communities below 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Sixty-seven percent rate them at 9 or 10, in contrast to only about 52 percent of 55-plus households in general.

• Why people chose an age-qualified active-adult community: 45 percent for the design/looks of it; 24.8 percent to be close to friends/relatives; 22.3 percent to be near leisure activities; and 21.6 percent for the housing unit itself.

About $7.3 billion was spent in 2007 for housing built in age-qualified, active-adult communities, 6 percent of the new construction projected for households headed by someone 55 or older.

• The majority of houses in such neighborhoods have two bedrooms and two baths, and the median size of a new unit is 1,906 square feet.

The joys of reader emails....

How's this for a rant?


Dear Mr. Blechman:

This is in response to an article on "Leisureville" which ran in the LA Times.

I've read your biography on the Web and no where does it say how old you are. That is a crucial item in addressing your criticisms of adult communities. Therefore, based on what little information I have about you and based on your photo, I have to conclude that you are the typical ME FIRST YUPPY who wants the world to pay for his kids education as well as slough off all his parental responsibilities. For you and your YUPPY conspirators, raising children distracts you from self-love and chablis and brie.

In case you didn't know, this country was based on individual freedom which translates into the right of all individuals to live life as they see fit. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that proscribes the value of society over the individual. I don't understand how you concluded that age segregation reinforces negative stereotypes. Further, it's beyond me how you also concluded that age segregation encourages less charitable instincts. I don't even know what that means.

Instead of writing YUPPY thrash like "Leisureville" and " Pidgeons," why don't you write a muckraking book about the corruption in Congress or the greed of Wall Street and mortgage bankers?

Sincerely, Bill Rivera

Feel free to email him a response. My policy is to respond to all reader emails, but this one...well, I think I'll let it slide. Perhaps Mr. Rivera will enjoy hearing from other readers instead....


The Villages still growing at record pace

This is from the businesswire, a public relations wire service, but I suspect much of the information is accurate.

The Villages is a Safe Haven: Retirement Income Supports Largest Growing Community in the U.S.

THE VILLAGES, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In spite of the national home building crisis, The Villages sold over 2,400 homes last year and gained 5,000 new residents. This brought the total population to almost 70,000, which is larger than Daytona Beach.

“This year is running even stronger than last year,” said Gary Morse, CEO of The Villages. “We are averaging 7 ½ homes a day, 7 days a week! This will make The Villages about the size of Melbourne by the end of this year.

The Villages is a self contained Active Retirement Community with 80 restaurants, 4 hotels, 2 movie theaters, 2 town centers, 8 shopping centers, 2.5 million sq ft of retail and commercial space, a daily newspaper, TV news network, radio station, hospital, 225 physicians, 15 pharmacies, 9 softball fields, 187 softball teams with 2,800 players, 42 neighborhood swimming pools at 42 recreation centers and 441 holes of golf in 9 country clubs and 24 executive courses.

Now that the building crisis has spread to commercial real estate, retailers and restaurateurs are moving to The Villages because of continuing growth of affluent retirees. The average Villages’ household has a recession proof income of $81,480.

Golf carts are a prime mode of transportation in The Villages. There are 35,873 homes in The Villages, (growing at a rate of 7 ½ per day) and 37,769 golf carts. Some homes have more than one cart.

09 July 2008

10 years after release of Viagra, good elder sex rising

Although some have called him a letch, I rather like the character Mr. Midnight. I appreciate how he challenges the stereotypes people have of older Americans. He has good sex and is not uncomfortable discussing it. I say: good for him. And it looks like his character is more prescient than ever: 10 years after the introduction of Viagra, a new British study shows that older folks (70+) are having wonderful sex. Kudos to them!

More over 70s 'are enjoying sex' (from the BBC)

"We still have this stereotype of elderly people with their bath chairs and canes, staggering around, who couldn't possibly be having sex - but that isn't the case." -- Dr Petra Boynton University College London

More couples over 70 are having sex - and finding it satisfing - than in previous generations, a British Medical Journal survey suggests.

Swedish researchers asked 1,500 older people across a 30-year period about their sex lives.

The number of people saying they had sex increased - as did the number of women reporting having orgasms.

A UK expert said the older people of today grew up in more sexually liberated eras.

Although there are plenty of studies about sexual "problems" associated with old age, there is relatively little research about "normal" sexual behaviour later in life.

The scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden interviewed 70-year-olds in 1971-2, 1976-7, 1992-3 and 2000-2001.

They found that the number of 70-year-olds reporting sexual intercourse rose in men and women, married and unmarried.

Nearly all - 68% - of married men in the most recent survey said they had sex, an increase from 52%, while the percentage of married women having sex rose from 38% to 56%.

The number of men reporting physical problems, such erectile dysfunction or ejaculation dysfunction increased.

The number of women who said they were highly satisfied with their sex lives rose too.

When sexual intercourse stopped, both men and women tended to blame men, in line with the findings from earlier surveys.

Professor Peggy Kleinplatz, from the University of Ottawa, said that doctors should now be trained to ask all patients - regardless of their age - about any sexual concerns.

She said: "Sex is an important and positive part of the lives of their 70 year old participants, and more so for the current cohort of men and women than for their predecessors in 1971."

Sexual stereotype

Dr Petra Boynton, a specialist in the psychology of sex and relationships at University College London, said it was important to remember that someone turning 70 in the year 2000 would have been influenced by the more free sexual attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s - and also perhaps fitter and healthier than those in their 70s in previous decades.

She said: "We still have this stereotype of elderly people with their bath chairs and canes, staggering around, who couldn't possibly be having sex - but that isn't the case."

She pointed out that the study did not record the frequency of sex for any of those surveyed, simply whether they were having sex at all, and focused on penetrative sex, rather than other types of sex which might be favoured by older people.

"I am slightly concerned that this will be interpreted in a way that suggests that if you're not having sex in your 70s, you are doing something wrong.

"There are still plenty of people who choose not to have sex."

Older men who have more sex will experience fewer erection problems, report Finnish researchers.
A five-year study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, of 989 men aged 55-75 in Pirkanmaa, Finland, showed that having sexual intercourse less than once per week doubled the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), compared to having sex once per week.

08 July 2008

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed


From the Los Angeles Times
An unattractive wrinkle in housing
Fast-growing retirement communities legally practice age discrimination.
By Andrew D. Blechman

July 8, 2008

There's a different kind of discrimination spreading in the United States. Despite all the popular rhetoric about family values, an increasing number of Americans are choosing to live in age-segregated "leisurevilles," where at least one household member must be 55 or older and enjoy living without children. No one under 18 may live there -- ever.

According to conservative industry estimates, more than 12 million Americans in the next decade or so will live in communities that forbid young families. This represents a drastic overhaul in our societal living arrangements.

Age-segregated communities were created half a century ago in the Arizona desert by developers looking for a marketing niche. The first was Youngtown, a modest affair built by Ben Schleifer, an idealistic Russian Jewish immigrant who wanted to construct a kibbutz-like community where older citizens could age affordably and gracefully. Del Webb, who drew from his experience with planned communities -- the Japanese detention camps he built during World War II -- liked the idea and built the much larger and fancier Sun City right next door. Experts on aging assumed that seniors would resist moving away from their families and that those who did so would wither from loneliness and depression.

The experts were wrong, and the two developments were very successful. Now, Youngtown is desegregated and Sun City is getting ratty around the edges. But age segregation has never been more popular. And by 2015, those age 50 and older will represent 45% of the U.S. population.

In a dimming housing market, "active adult" communities (most residents are in their 50s and 60s) remain the industry's sweet spot. Hundreds of communities are breaking ground each year, often in the North. But many are large Sunbelt leisure plantations, such as the Villages in Florida, the world's largest retirement community. It is nearly twice the size of Manhattan and will have a peak population of 110,000.

The Villages has two manufactured downtowns owned by one person (a third is on the way) with faux historical markers, more than three dozen golf courses and golden oldies pumped out of lampposts. Residents tool around on 100 miles of golf trails, often in carts pimped out to look like Hummers and Corvettes. There are continuing education courses, but many of the seniors prefer golfing and nights of line dancing to baby boomer classics like Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking about Tomorrow."

Ten years after the introduction of Viagra, retirees are taking full advantage of what a child-free environment provides: lower taxes, untrampled lawns and better sex.

Like many of us, older Americans are thirsting for community, and these developments seemingly provide it. Suburban sprawl is not only alienating, its car dependency makes aging-in-place there near impossible, and with Americans moving, on average, 12 times during their lifetimes, few can return "home" -- everyone's gone. Add to this our fiercely youth-centric culture, the deteriorating civility of our society's younger members and the wide disparity among local tax rates, and you have a recipe for secession.

But though secession may be a pleasant experience for some, it comes at a steep price for society. Age segregation only reinforces negative stereotypes, leads to a willful forgetting of commonalities and encourages our less charitable instincts.

In Youngtown, for example, a couple was fined $100 a day for sheltering their grandson from a physically abusive stepfather. And in Sun City, residents defeated 17 school bond measures in 12 years (before de-annexing from the school district) because they had little interest in educating another generation of children. Meanwhile, students in the neighboring communities were forced to go to school in staggered shifts. Even Schleifer was embarrassed by the consequences of his idealistic contribution. "Our first obligation when I was a boy was to give young people an education, no matter what sacrifices it took," he said of the bond failures.

Now desegregated, Youngtown has regained its vibrancy, but Sun City is at risk of becoming a necropolis as its generational strife turns inward, with older residents resisting efforts by younger retirees to reinvest in the community. Although Youngtown was forced to desegregate because of faulty bylaws, age discrimination is not only legal, it's protected by the federal Fair Housing Act.

Isn't it time we ask ourselves as a nation if we really want to be encouraging communities where birth certificates are scrutinized at points of entry, and where young visitors are reduced to human contraband?

Congress should either raise the entry age for these communities to something actually approaching old or put an end to age segregation altogether. Meanwhile, reengaging with the younger generations -- rather than gating them out of our lives -- could result in a far happier outcome for all of us.

Andrew D. Blechman is the author of "Leisureville -- Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias."

07 July 2008

"No Seniors Allowed" -- but they can visit....

Try this on for size (from a reader):

As I finished reading your book, "Leisureville" at my parents' place -- they recently acquired 1200 sq. feet of paradise in The Villages -- I kept waiting with baited breath for you to ask the one burning question:

"How would seniors in general, and the AARP in specific, respond to an "Age Qualified" community that required one SELL his/her house and MOVE OUT upon his/her 55th birthday?"

Imagine, "NO SENIORS ALLOWED!" As one single mother of three states, "Well, you know... 'they' don't drive very well, and so often mistake the gas for the brake. I've got small children playing in the front yard! And, well... frankly...they kinda smell funny!"

I'd say it fits. What do you think?


Updates at The Villages: less water, less housing, same lack of democracy ... but the residents are loving it.

This just in from a reader:
"My mother in law lives in the Villages, and by and large I think you really
nailed the place.

I was just down there and many of the nascent issues you identified (water
use, rampant expansion) are apparently coming to a head. Also, there's a
slowdown in new-home construction (an expansion out to Wildwood is on hold,
though the Morses won't talk), and the ones that are being constructed are
now open to customization."

Looks like The Villages bubble is slowly deflating...


02 July 2008

Age-Segregated communities often attract people who don't like children: Imagine that...

This is not always the case. In fact, it is often not the case. However, it is frequently the case...

It goes to reason that the folks attracted to a world without children -- or at least a world where children may visit but must then leave -- are people who have issues with children. More often than not, I found that the people living in Sun City or The Villages either didn't have children, or had bad blood between themselves and their children. Once again, this is not always the case: there are plenty of Sun Citians and Villagers who love their children. But let's address those who not particularly fond of children.

For example, my neighbors who moved into The Villages. Dave Anderson was divorced and estranged from his two (now) grown-up children. He hasn't spoken to his son and daughter in something like 15 years. Their mother (who is still lives in town) tells me that this is a very painful experience for her essentially fatherless children. As a father myself, I can't imagine what would drive a man to abandon his children... except perhaps their step-mother.... Dave's second wife Betsy never had children and was unable to establish a relationship with Dave's son and daughter. Now they live happily without them in a community that does not permit children to be residents.

There are many more examples. Here are a few from folks who plastered my amazon.com book page with repetitive postings (literally, the same posting over and over and over again in different places) about how absolutely horrible, terrible, crappy, biased, miserable and detestable my book is. They fault me for only visiting The Villages for one month -- sorry I still have a family to feed -- and for not being older (hence I'm biased) -- I seem to remember speaking about that plainly up front and even quoting Villagers who suggest that I'm not old enough to understand their lifestyle choices. I don't know a lot of authors that permit their characters to criticize them/question their judgement.

Here goes:

From Joe B: "We have many swimming pools. If you enjoy the company of small children you are free to go to many of the pools that allow children. If you don't enjoy children you can use the adults only pools. Sounds fair to me.....

I suspect that most of these approving critics are of the younger generation, and have decided that their parent's and grandparent's generations consist largely of immoral, selfish, non-caring, self-centered, child-hating, hedonists. I pity their parents. I suggest you spend more time examining your own lifestyles, and get a life!
From Buckeye Debbie: "There is one trend that does concern me...it is the next generations that we have or are passing the baton to.....some of us Baby Boomer parents never taught them responsiblity and independence....they are still coming back home....calling for money well into their 20's-40's....taking for granted "free babysitting".....somehow can't take the stress of balancing family/career/financial....the author also blew the fact that only under 19 kids cannot live with their parents in The Villages...the rest of these very unresponsible 19 and older crowd can and do....

Do not give this book to your parents that are thinking about retiring or grandparents.....you will be be giving them a book of fiction and instead of nonfiction....then they can keep living above their means on a fixed income in some big city....totally isolated..... waiting for one of their kids, grandkids, or greatkids to "need" them for babysitting, dog sitting or some other just me stuff.... my only words are GROW UP and BECOME AN ADULT!!!"

From Pat: "My adult children love it here, also, and want to live in this community. As much as I love them, I enjoy living among my peers....

"WHY do we have to leave $$ to our children? Many people our age are still helping their children financially, as well as helping their parents. Why can't we use our money, money we earned, it wasn't "left to us," as we wish? Our generation wasn't given things, though we did give to our children when they were growing up. Maybe that wasn't such a good thing..;) ... [nobody is saying that you have to leave money to your children. that's your own personal choice.]

"Is there ethnic diversity? Who cares? Why is that important? If someone opts to "leave the community that nurtured them" during their youth, why shouldn't they?"

"It's nice to be able to come home to a community that's about the same size as the town I left and not worry about someone spray painting graffiti...."

Sadly, [the author] sometimes sounds like a spoiled child, protesting that older adults are no longer there to help out...someone else is going to have to work, heaven forbid, younger people. [so all young people are lazy, but boomers weren't?]

From Linedancer Bobbi: "If I have any correction to the book, it is the fact that there are no children. Children are everywhere here. No, they are not allowed to live in this community but they are allowed to visit and visit they do. [at least thatwas honest] One of the attractions of the Villages for us was the fact that they are so welcoming to children.... We just had our granddaughter attend her first camp and she was crying as she was going home." [Did her guest pass run out?]

From Bedboop: Swimming pools have been built throughout the community that are designated as family pools, does this sound like a community that does not welcome children. [the majority of pools don't allow children]

"Unfortunately, there are people that move to The villages, and for whatever the reason, just don't like it and they do the community a great injustice by bad mouthing the place... If you don't like The Villages, leave. For everyone one that leaves disgruntled, there will be hundreds of happy people to move in and love it."


What's that line in Shakespeare...? "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

-- adb

30 June 2008

Leisurevilles gaining in popularity in the United Kingdom...

This just in from The Sunday Observor (UK) -- adb
Seniors find safety in numbers as home developers court the 'grey pound'
Gated estates with communal facilities are set to become commonplace - but are they just glorified nursing homes?
The Observer, Sunday June 29, 2008

The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by almost 60 per cent in the next 25 years and the property industry is looking to cash in on the expanded market for retirement housing. Developments based on the American concept of a gated estate exclusively for people over a certain age are going to become increasingly common.

The basic model provides private homes - typically bungalows and apartments - built around communal facilities that may include a swimming pool, bowling green or social club. Such villages often feature an on-site care home along with a team of medical and domestic staff.

Planning law dictates that residents of a retirement community have to be over 55 but, according to Jon Gooding, chief executive of developer Retirement Villages, their average age is around 70. Most of Gooding's customers are still relatively active, but accept that they may have increasing difficulty remaining independent. 'Our residents are looking for greater support as they age and want to feel they are in a safe environment,' he says.

Gooding explains that it isn't just the gated entrances that make residents feel secure; access to medical care, domestic help and a sociable atmosphere are also important attractions. 'One of the key problems for the elderly is isolation,' he says. 'Retirement villages are usually lively environments, so it works on a social level as well.'

It was that community element which persuaded David Cawley and his wife Susan to buy into the company's Castle Village development in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, five years ago. Mr Cawley, now 72, says that continuing to live in their isolated Devon hamlet would not really have been an option as they grew older. 'We were principally attracted by the congeniality of the neighbourhood,' he says. 'We have a bright social life and it's like living in any other village.'

Mr Cawley rejects the argument that retirement communities are glorified nursing homes, insisting that future geriatric care was not on his list of priorities when he bought his two-bedroom flat, although he admits that services such as cleaning and gardening are welcome. 'Having a nurse on site is also useful and gives us peace of mind,' he adds.

The first Retirement Villages development was built at Elmbridge, Surrey, 25 years ago. Now there are eight across the country, with three more planned. Most offer a mix of one- or two-bedroom apartments, cottages and bungalows, ranging in price from £125,000 to £600,000, according to location, age and style of home.

In addition to leisure facilities, several Retirement Villages complexes have on-site nursing homes or a health clinic with medical staff and a visiting GP service. Domestic and maintenance help is also provided and in-home care packages can be arranged.

Properties are sold on a leasehold basis with the company retaining the right to arrange any future sale and take what Gooding calls an 'assignment fee' of between 5 and 12.5 per cent. This money, he says, goes back into the upkeep of village facilities.

In all retirement communities, residents need to budget for service charges, which pay for facilities including on-call medical help, domestic and care staff and maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Retirement Villages charges between £60 and £80 a week, or £3,000-£4,000 a year, but some companies charge well over £6,000 in return for more lavish facilities.

Gooding thinks that, despite the service charges, such arrangements make financial sense for the elderly. 'There is a good investment argument for retirement communities. Residents have a property investment which appreciates at the same rate as the general housing market. The service charges are generally far less than the weekly costs of care in nursing homes, which charge upwards of between £300 and £600 a week.'

Maintaining their independence for as long as possible is a key factor for most elderly people and plays a big part in attracting buyers to retirement communities. Eighty-year-old Neil Fletcher, a former brigadier in the British army, and his wife Mary have lived in the Amesbury Abbey retirement village in Wiltshire for 10 years. 'Ownership comes with no responsibilities,' explains Brigadier Fletcher. 'All the maintenance, gardening and cleaning is taken care of and if we need help the staff are always quick to react.'

Brigadier Fletcher is keen to remain as independent as possible, but says the option of moving into the on-site nursing home should he need to is comforting: 'It's a good concept and I'm better off financially than before, though I do sometimes joke that I'm an inmate rather than a resident.'

Service charges at Amesbury Abbey - one of four retirement communities owned by the Amesbury Abbey Group - start at £2,790 a quarter for a studio apartment and rise to just over £4,000 for a two-bed property. This provides 24-hour medical cover, building and garden maintenance, domestic help and a range of social and practical services.

Mary Cornelius-Reid, the founder and owner of the business, justifies those charges by pointing out that residents have the benefit of stunning historic surroundings amid acres of grounds and high-quality care, including lunch every day, heating and an extensive programme of social functions.

Amesbury Abbey properties are a far cry from more low-key retirement communities, with homes ranging from pretty riverside cottages to historic water towers. Cornelius-Reid points out that she charges well below the market value of such properties, with prices starting as low as £88,000 for a bedsit apartment and rising to £150,000 for a pretty former hunting lodge. Such prices should, in theory, leave downsizing residents with the funds to cover their living costs.

The Amesbury Abbey Group retains the right to buy its properties back at the original sale prices should anyone want to sell, be that 10 or 20 years later. Consequently, residents do not make any profit from the appreciation of their property. When a resident reaches the point at which they decide to move into the on-site nursing home, ownership of their property reverts to the Amesbury Abbey Group and the original purchase capital is used to fund their care for the rest of their days. Any capital remaining after they have passed away goes to the their beneficiaries.

Though criticism of retirement villages focuses mainly on their perceived isolation from the wider community, the residents appear to prefer not having to deal with other social groups on a regular basis and the absence of noisy children is particularly appealing. But there are worries that these communities can foster an insular atmosphere.

'It's a slightly unreal environment, I suppose,' says Mr Cawley, 'but not an unpleasant one. The only problem is that we really do need younger people to move in to keep the social events going. Anyone in their sixties would be very welcome.'