Definition of Retirement Communities
and some related terms

Retirement Communities go by many different names. Here are the most often mentioned.  These are some of the more familiar terms which may be confusing without a definition.

Retirement Communities

Not all residents are retired and this is not a requirement.  This is just a general term for communities that have amenities that are beneficial to aging, have the majority of residents of retirement age, or have an age restriction.  The average percentage is around 50% of residents that are still working at these communities.  See the many kinds of "retirement communities" and their definitions.

Over 55 Communities

Should quite visibly state and use signage stating they are for over-55 only. These communities will have a large portion of younger seniors. In fact, the communities cater to younger seniors through a wide variety of activities especially physically with pools, golfcourses, tennis courts, etc. These communities are dependent on these seniors to form the huge variety of clubs, activities, and leadership. Ask to be certain it is an over 55 community. They should be certified.

Age-qualified or age-restricted are other terms for this type of community.

Active Adult Community

Usually does mean it is an age-qualified community, but check to be sure. More appropriate term than calling them retirement communities. Today's retirement communities are not just for retired persons. Many residents at these communities still work part or full-time and stay active. That's why it seems better to refer to them as active adult communities even though for older adults. These communities focus on amenities for seniors and usually have floorpans with a master bedroom on the ground level.

Catering to Seniors

Not certified as over-55 but may be called active adult.  You can ask what the percentage of residents over 55 is because the activities and amenities at these communities are geared to seniors but not age-restricted.

Master Planned Community 

A master community is very large and has several different builders of different communities within it. They may be referred to as villages or enclaves.  They will have amenities such as golf courses, clubhouses, pools, etc. that are shared by all the different communities or separate.  Usually these communities will have at least one over 55 community in it or it may be all over 55 communities.  It may also have no age-restricted communities.

Gated Community

Gated can mean anything from an electronic gate to manned gate and manned gate with patrols.

Most over-55 communities are gated but not all.  From our experience, seniors prefer this type of community and is a high priority for many.  This amenity will usually raise the monthly homeowners fee so for this reason a community may opt out of it.     

Multi-Generational Community

These communities have a floor plan that includes a separate unit for family or friends who wish to live together but separate. A name for this smaller unit is casita.   It is also called a "home within a home" or NextGen by Lennar Homes.  The worsening economy has made this more popular.  You may even be able to rent the unit if it is no longer needed but verify if that is allowed. 

Another type of community is called Next Generation Housing. It is a separate enclave of homes for seniors with a group of homes for first-time homebuyers adjacent to it incorporated in an all-age community.  This means family members can be near each other and seniors can have a separate neighborhood.  See our article about multi-generational homes.

Golf Community

As name implies, focused on golf.  Usually everything is golf-cart accessible and not just on the golfcourse but throughout the community.  Driving your golf cart may even be permissible at adjacent shopping areas (verify what is allowed.)  There may be different names for courses called professional, executive or championship.  There usually would be additional amenities such as pro shop, golf pro and golf lessons, putting green, driving range and grill or pub.  Seniors have more time for golf and the money to pursue this recreation.  Sometimes there are no fees for residents but usually there is a fee of some type.   

Manufactured Home Community

Seniors look for affordability and most of these communities are more affordable than site-built ones.  Most are a mixture of mobile homes and new manufactured homes.  If it is a brand new community, they are referred to as manufactured homes.

Some are deeded lots and some are land-leased.

Mobile and RV Communities

Seniors pursue travel and many enjoy RV'ing and need a place to store their RV's.  RV communities can be over-55 or not but usually cater to seniors and snowbirds. They are also more affordable.

Mobile home communities can be resident-owned or land leased.  The term mobile home refers to a manufactured home built before June 1976.  After that date they are referred to as manufactured homes.  Most are a mixture of both.


Also known as university-linked or based.  These communities are becoming more well-known and in demand.  May or may not have the age requirement.  Can also include assisted living and continuing care.

These communities can be located on or off campus but have a definite connection to a college or university.   Persons who reside there especially enjoy lifelong learning and there may or may not be a requirement to have graduated from the school.   Many combine continuing care and financial arrangements can be quite different so check thoroughly.

Assisted Communities:

Independent Community

This usually refers to a senior community where the seniors are more active and do not need assistance but wish to have assisted living or services available if it is ever necessary, and, therefore, this is available.    Often they have an age requirement of 62.  Often there is assisted living available as well but not necessarily.  The average age is over 60 and may have an age requirement of 60 or 62+ rather than 55+.

Assisted Living

Usually getting the older seniors here above age 62 and sometimes is a requirement.  Many of these communities combine Independent and Assisted, the Independent being for the borderline Assisted-Living seniors. Ages are usually from 60 to over 90 or any senior needing light assistance. Assisted living helps with such things as available meals, dressing, bathing, walking. 

Memory assisted communities are becoming more popular and necessary as our population continues to age. Alzheimer's affects more people as they get older.

Memory Care

As dementia and Alzheimer's disease (which is the most common type of dementia) become more prevalent there are more communities being built just to give care for these diseases.  They are a specialty requiring a certain type of service.

Continuing Care Community (CCRC)

Another type of assisted community. Also called Life Care or CCRC.   This type of community has health amenities, active and assisted living combined.   May require a contract and deposit be made of substantial size.   Some are classified as CCRC's without requiring a large deposit but not as many.  Some say their deposit is refundable.  Be cautious and check the financial condition if a large deposit is required as there are no guarantees of refund ability (verify all information). 

These communities require you be in good health when you apply since they guarantee life time health care. (verify)  Then as you age and are in need of more care, it is available to you.  Ask to find out exactly what is covered and carefully read all paperwork and especially as regards financial matters as this can be very different from the other types of communities.  The main advantage is that you usually do not have to move around if your health care needs change.

More terms used in retirement housing:

Cooperative Housing (Co-op)

A community structure where a monthly fee pays for many services and is more economical for the resident.   See our article on co-op housing.   

Low Income Housing

Sometimes called affordable housing, income restricted or HUD housing.  You need to meet age and financial requirements. These are usually apartment-styled but can be villas or even homes.  Read more about income-restricted housing.

Aging in Place Communities

Sometimes a senior community is not a new one.  It can be a neighborhood or area where there is a high concentration of seniors.  Philadelphia is an example.   Sometimes these seniors get together and form an organization of services for seniors to help them age in their own neighborhood and stay in the homes they have resided in for many years.

Also, the term aging-in-place can mean certain home constructions that make life easier for seniors such as grab bars, entry ramps, wide doorways, lever handles, etc.   

New home communities can also incorporate these principles into their new home construction.

Low Maintenance Community

This means the community will provide services that seniors find difficult due to age such as landscaping, lawn cutting, snow shoveling and more.  A low maintenance community will usually have a well-kept look and be more attractive.  

Down-Sizing and Right-Sizing

As we age it becomes harder to maintain a large home.  Many seniors will decide to sell their large home and use the equity to buy a smaller one.  This is called downsizing.    Condominiums are very appealing to seniors since everything is close at hand.

Right-sizing means moving into a home that is more suitable in size for your current lifestyle and age instead of the past when you had to have a larger family home. 

Choosing a retirement lifestyle:

Most active adult and over 55 communities are usually populated with younger seniors.  In fact, many of the residents are not retired but continue to work.  As the community ages so do the residents and then there is more of a mixture of ages.   The home style selection varies.  It can be single homes, condos, apartments, villas, townhomes, and duplexes. 

Independent, assisted living and continuing care communities are usually appealing to the older seniors and often require residents to be 60 or 62. The homes are more often apartment-style than single homes. 

In making your decisions about what kind of community you want consider  your health and financial status as well as other factors.  Please consult with your professional advisers. 

More Characteristics of Over 55 Communities

  • Usually allow pets but have a size and breed requirement and need to be leashed.  See our article on pets.
  • Do usually allow guest stays but usually limit these stays; 3 months being the most common length.  Please check with the individual community as the rules vary.
  • Must visibly state that they are certified over 55.
  • Are not all gated or have security measures.  Please ask.
  • Amenities vary.  Not all have clubhouses and pools.
  • Most have monthly homeowner fees. You need to check with the community.