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.'

20 June 2008

Chronicling the Last Days of Rome

I often felt that I was witnessing the peak of our societal indulgence while reporting and writing Leisureville, especially as something called "Peak Oil" rumbles inexorably towards us, ready to crash our hedonistic party. When oil hits $200-$400 a barrel, I think there won't be so many Villagers waving their "right" to societal secession, segregation, endless leisure, and a low-paid service economy to, well, service their every need. Come Peak Oil, communities that can't cooperate with others, let alone communities that can't produce anything of any real value ... their days will be quickly numbered. The 45 pools will close, the 4 dozen golf courses will grow shaggy and unplayable, and there won't by any Mexicans around to manicure their gardens (and apparently sleep with lonely older women -- see entry below).

Here's a doozy of a link. I think you'll understand what I'm talking about and you'll also understand what James Kunstler said about my book on the jacket:

“Andrew Blechman’s account of the rampant unreality that has become the normal condition of life in Florida’s child-free retirement ghettos is fascinating. The generation that enjoyed the greatest economic boom in the history of the world is going out with a bang—the sound of society blowing up in our faces. Blechman has a laser eye for the tragicomic absurdities of all the fun, games, and wild sex in theme-park senior villages where Oz-like control is exercised by the developer and his minions. His mordant report from a strange land is consistently interesting.”

—James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency

BTW, I highly recommend anything written by Kunstler. He's a visionary. And he throws great parties. www.kunstler.com



Interesting article in the WSJ submitted to the blog by Blaine Greenfield

Blaine sent this interesting WSJ link in to me: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121259385427045245.html

A fan of LEISUREWORLD and a top amazon.com reviewer, Blaine Greenfield writes favorably about the book in his online newsletter that goes to out to nearly a thousand serious readers: http://www.blainesworld.net/newsletter/06.02.2008_609.asp (See Section 4C.) It's a cool blog/newsletter; I heartily recommend it.


Is it just me, or does this letter writer to The Washington Post defeat his own argument?

Sunday, June 22, 2008
I am disappointed in your choice of Jonathan Yardley to review Andrew Blechman's Leisureville (Book World, May 25). Yardley's attitude going in is one of condescension and sniffing asides about the Villages in Florida, a place he obviously has never visited. Blechman based his conclusions on a one-month stay.

Yardley seems fixated on some unknown peril resulting from exclusion of children under 19 living there as permanent residents. Are there many homes where the owners are over 55 and have younger children living with them? (Actually, yes. tens of millions) Is that a real cause for concern? It certainly should not be the focus of this review. (Why not? That's what the book is about?) My brother-in-law and his wife have lived in the Villages for several years. They love it. Their grown children and families visit throughout the year. They have personalized golf carts! (And your point is?) They have a beautiful home. There is dancing every night around a central bandstand featuring live music, with everything from line dancers to Arthur Murray alums. Hundreds sit and watch this fascinating show of people enjoying life. (That's great, but it comes at the expense of children and young families being banned)

We recently had the opportunity to visit the Villages. We loved every minute of it and considered it one of the most delightful vacations we have ever taken. Imagine not locking doors at night, scooting to the store in your golf cart without fear of getting picked off at random, engaged in golfing, swimming, tennis, whatever is your treat. (Societal Secession certainly has it's advantages) Why not? I would call such peace of mind more than an even trade-off with strip malls and cities (and suburbia) where going to the store after dark is never accomplished without a sense of fear. (You're right. We should all just drop out once we get our needs met) The online reviews cite Blechman's humorous accounts of life in these communities, among other aspects. Why not concentrate on that rather than making ominous observations about no children? (Yes, there's humor and I'm glad you enjoyed it. But once again, the book is about age-segregation, and that's not so funny.)

Claims that the fate of our country hangs in the balance as more gated communities appear are sheer nonsense. (We'll see. I hope you're right)


Laurel, Md.

19 June 2008

Life in The Villages: "active, vibrant and very wholesome" (A reader's email and my response!)

Mr. Blechman,

Your book seems to point out and emphasize the sleaziness of some people. these people would behave this way anywhere they live. I wish you would have spoken to the typical Village resident. They are enjoying life by participating in good healthful activities: golf, shuffleboard, pickeball, cards, mah jongg, etc. making good friends and doing lunch or dinner with them is a major part of life. It is truly a life that can only be compared to life on a vacation resort!

It is an active, vibrant and very wholesome lifestyle for MOST people!!!

A Village resident for one year!


Did your copy of the book not include the part about my low key neighbors, Sassy the clown, the hospice volunteer, Ellen and her friends who play cards ("hand and foot") together, the clean cut Boomer club members, the friendly folks at the wine club, or Sheldon's Stompers? If not, then I'd ask for your money back.

As for Mr. Midnight, I like how he challenged stereotypes of older people. I don't think he's sleazy.

I hope you enjoy your retirement and your time in The Villages. There are certainly many good people down there to share it with.

Best Wishes,


PS: If you want to keep your emails anonymous ("KLS") then you'll need to adjust the way your name appears in the address bar.

"Fertilizing" the garden: an enlightening reader email

Who knew? --ADB

Dear Andrew,

One big reason the rate of STD's in Sun City is so high (the highest in Arizona), is that lots of old ladies sleep with their Mexican gardeners. This is according to a landscape designer who observed women in transparent negliges parading around their yards in front of workers. It is not uncommon for Sun City girls to buy the yardmen expensive clothes and take them on cruises.

The thousands of Mexican service people live next door in Surprise, where, you are right, their children don't get decent schools.


Penny P

Leisureville gets a double press hit in Boston today

Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2008/06/19/examining_the_retirement_enclave/

WBUR: http://www.here-now.org/ (Press on the "Listen to today's show" link. It's the second segment that starts at about minute 5:30 and goes until about minute 21:00.)

18 June 2008

Day of Reckoning Awaits for Secessionist America -- from a reader review

I think this is a reader who really gets it. Frankly, with peak oil approaching, I felt as I wrote the book that I was chronicling the last days of Rome.

What do you think?

An inside look at the ghettoizing of the US. As an EMS provider I get an inside look at age separated communities everyday and always wonder what would motivate someone to put themselves in an environment that would take them away from regular interaction with young, old, black, etc. Andrew Blechman's book is at times very funny and is extremely insightful into the world that is The Villages. It always astounds me when I visit my parents in Florida (they live in a mixed community) how much Florida is becoming like a third world country. Much of it has to do with the gated communities with armed security. Seniors venture out to the airport to pick up grand kids, eat early bird specials, and go back to their versions of America while the help are left to live in satellite communities with terrible schools. Mr. Blechman was actually kind in his critique of The Villages and places like it. The attitudes he describes of some of the residents both in Florida and Arizona towards their neighbors is not any different than the residents of age isolated communities in PA where I live. A day of reckoning is coming. Too many of our elders have chosen to isolate themselves from reality and a price will be paid. Mr. Blechman's book should be a must read for local politicians planning on allowing more of these communities in their neighborhoods.

17 June 2008

The "Good Stuff" File: Pissed Off Reader E-Mails (2)

Here's another good one. Understandable anger, but it feels rather misplaced. Can you count the rationalizations?

Dear Mr. Blechman,

You are so full of it and just why do you think people retire?

First, you are wrong; The Villages is not a gated community. The roads are controlled by the county you live in so wake up and know anyone can come on our roads. We have gates but press a button and it opens no prove of anything.

Absence of Halloween! When were you here at Halloween? There are parties everywhere, we love Halloween! Oh yea, no kids, well our place in West Virginia had no kids coming for Halloween so that must have been a bad place and all the farms that don't get kids must be bad places to live. Then there are the bad parents who will not let their kids celebrate Halloween. Where, oh where have you been?

No maternity ward, yea that is what we need, everyone in The Villages are having babies that is what everyone at sixty plus want right now. Why would you want to waste tax payer money, from both inside and outside The Villages, on something that would get very little use. There are three plus maternity wards within twenty minutes of The Villages and The Villages hospital has delivered babies in emergencies. Again, you just don’t seem to check your information.

"Excesses and feelings of entitlement"; we shouldn’t work over forty years, save our money, pay our taxes, and then enjoy that money, is that correct? I guess you want us to leave it to you; at least your parents should leave it to you, why would they want to enjoy spending it on themselves when they have you. I guess I could give it back to you in other social programs. I think I have and still pay a lot of taxes.

We no longer want to pay taxes for schools? Half of our property taxes go to the schools, did you check? The Villages has a charter school and believe me everyone that wants to make money and retire well wants to go to the charter school. The people in The Villages give to all the school causes, tutor students, support sports programs, and help out in any way ask. Now where else in the country do you find this caring? We do ask questions about where the money is spent, like on the student or administrators. So we shouldn’t ask, to make sure, that these kids get what we are paying for in school?

Living in ignorance? Most not all understand how The Villages is run. Why would I chose this way let me just say, you keep your Homeowners Associations running your place, I will keep our way. I have lived under Homeowner Associations up north and I hope never again. Who would want a bunch of people that have no idea what they are doing telling us what they can and can’t do? We get things done in THE VILLAGES not sit around and fight about it for two years.

“Tax-shy seniors” where were you? We are some of the highest tax paying seniors in the state. We are the largest tax base in Sumter County. Did you check any facts? The seniors here, I would bet, pay more than the seniors in your county. Now check that fact out since you don’t seem to check any other facts.

“Ignore the world beyond” again who are you talking to? My wife and I travel all over the world. Just last year we traveled to Australia, and New Zealand for over three weeks then we did six weeks in Eastern and Western Europe. Many, many people travel outside The Villages to places in Florida, the United States, and International. We have at least three travel clubs that I know of and I am sure there are more. So again who told you we ignore the world beyond The Villages? Did you talk to anyone?

Promiscuity in The Villages? I am not single but know many who are and I don’t think they are in bed all the time. When a local doctor tried to say we have this big VD problem she had to take it back after the county said we haven’t been getting those reports. You have to report VD cases to the county health offices. The stories of the resident bachelor? Where you in the military? The stories they could tell about chasing the ladies would make your hair stand up. I am not sure I would believe everything someone chasing the ladies tells me. So you haven’t been involved in being a jock either? They love stories.

Is everything perfect in The Villages I don’t think so but at least get your facts straight before you tell us how bad it is for us to be happy!

David S

The "Good Stuff" File: Pissed Off Reader E-Mails

Here's a favorite, sent to both myself and Washington Post Book World maven Jonathan Yardley, perhaps the most respected man in the business.

Dear Mr Yardley and Mr Blechman:

It was quite interesting to read the article in the Washington Post book section on Leisureville, the book, that I have not read at this time. Your article gave enough incorrect information that I feel I must write both of you in hopes that the corrections can at least be discussed and maybe corrected.

Number one, the man who was the brain child of The Villages was named Harold Schwartz, a Jewish name, and a man who spent many years coming up with the concept before making it become a success. Mr. Schwartz hired the architectural firm from Universal Studies and Disney as well has Dell Webb, a builder of successful communities. Mr. Schwartz' statue stands in the center of Spanish Springs, so I guess Mr. Blechman missed it.

Number two, the first side of the Villages has been around a long time and includes trailers and small villas that are not high in price and very much a part of The Villages. I stayed in one right on the Orange Blossom golf course (the oldest of the villages) and found people on very limited incomes living there with every benefit of the highest priced areas.

Number three, you can rent your home to anyone you wish for months, without any problem, to anyone of any age with no limit to the time they are in your home. We rented from a real estate agent of The Villages so I can assure you this is correct.

Number four, 20% or more of the owners may be 50 to 55 years of age and that is only required of one person of a couple so the second could be any age. Mr. Blechman can rent our home for a fee and would not be limited except by our agreement as the owners of the home.

Number five, there are Villages that are especially for families...that means children, and when a real estate agent of The Villages takes you on a tour, they ask if you have any interest in a "family type" village where children live permanently as a family. Also of interest is The Village that is built just for people who are employees and wish to also benefit from being in The Villages for their private homes.

Number six, there are always children anywhere you go. The Villages has one of the best high schools in Florida and a grade school. The teens perform as part of the entertainment on the squares and parades in The Villages. In April, a five year old won a hula hoop contest and she could really keep that hoop going to the music...sorry Mr. Blechman missed it. I have never been around the "downtown areas" that there were not children and young people around.

Number seven, the "gated community" does not keep anyone out. They are there to greet every person who drives in and to answer any questions and to give directions. They simply make people feel welcome and that is their only response to you as you enter. There are resident gates at the back of villages for the benefit of traffic and to honor the owners that live there. Even those have a place to buzz to go in on a guest side.

Number eight, there is no one monitoring anyone. People come from all of the surrounding towns to enjoy the entertainment 7 nights a week and they are all ages and all ethnic groups and all income levels. When you drive in to Spanish Springs there is no gate, no one to ask your age, no one to check if you have a child with you and pets are seen everywhere. We have sat at entertainment with people from Ocala, Leesburg, Clemont, etc. and they come for shows, theatre, the night entertainment and the great food. As owners, we just pay a lower price for tickets but the public are welcome to buy tickets to everything.

Number nine, we have a golf cart. It is not allowed to go over the speed limit for a golf cart which is 19 miles an hour. Ours is electric and will top out at 17 miles an hour going downhill. The police do give golf cart drivers tickets!
The carts have a governor on them that does not allow more than the maximum except carts that are street legal and their maximum is 35 miles an hour and they can only drive them where the speed limit is 35 and must have windshields, turn signals that are different and engine equipment for the street. Otherwise golf carts have their own paths and are also the same golf carts that are used on the golf courses. If a governor is removed,s the police can ticket that person for being illegal and for speeding in a cart.

Number ten, we have a condo in Virginia that has far stricter rules than The Villages, including ten mile an hour speed limits on the 37 acres, curtains all the same color, pet size requirements, etc. and this community was built in 1977.

Number eleven, most important, any couple can move to The Villages and have a two bedroom, two bath home with garage for under $200,000 and many are at $150,000. They build Villas in each of the villages and they are for anyone. I don't know where we could do that anywhere near the cities we live around.

Number twelve, as I'm sure you know, there are 36 golf courses and more being built. There are more than 1000 clubs with no limits. You could even start one for people like Mr. Blechman, who are guests in The Villages. That is an obvious reason that couples age 50 and up would enjoy such a place. Does he mention the buffalo that are fun to see that number more than 100 and roam in the areas considered part of the scenery and the preserves? As for the facades of the "downtown areas", being covered in clapboards and decorative second story porches, Mr. Blechman might want to check out how Mr. Schwartz and his grandchildren have gotten the ideas for the designs. I bet he does not know that Grandmother Morse and her daughter named the Villages and the streets, some after people who worked to build them.

Mr. Yardley, you are too talented to just quote something without checking the facts. I will look forward to hearing from both of you at your convenience.
As for me, I am an owner in The Villages, a former Presidential Appointee in Washington, DC, a wife, mother, and grandmother and hope my information makes a difference.



11 June 2008

Age-Segregated Communities More Popular Than Ever, Despite Housing Downturn

Here's something that came across the PR Wire.
CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwire - June 11, 2008) - Despite a real estate market that is the worst in decades, one bright spot still remains. Sales in age 55+ active adult retirement communities have remained strong. As the popularity of active adult communities continues to grow, studies have shown that Baby Boomers are increasingly opting to live in these age-restricted developments. A new website, 55places.com, recently launched to help this large demographic group find, research and compare active adult and retirement communities around the country.
55Places.com currently showcases more than 50 active retirement communities throughout 11 popular retirement states. The site is a great one-stop-shop to learn about the details of each community. Visitors to the site can read community descriptions, get details like pricing and association fees, view photos and learn about amenities and social clubs offered by the communities. Unlike other websites, 55Places.com provides objective independent reviews of all active adult communities, including both new and "resale" developments.