VOORHEES, NJ-Trends in active-adult lifestyle communities have changed dramatically over the years, especially when dealing with design, amenities and, due to the current economy, buying options. Years ago, communities had far fewer choices for incoming residents, as the housing options were standardized to tailor to adults during that period.

Today, however, there are hundreds of communities across the country that cater to the 50-plus housing market alone, say Bill Becker, president of the William E. Becker Organization, and Feinberg & Associates president Bill Feinberg. With a change in demographics, builders and developers alike need to change from the standard “cookie-cutter” community to one that stands out and catches the buyer’s eye. And as boomers are looking to sell the family nest, 50-and-over active lifestyle communities are pitching their properties and leisure lifestyle to attract these buyers, the duo note.

Since their inception, active lifestyle communities have changed the senior housing marketplace. “In the past, older adults often moved south to warmer climates, purchasing a condo near the beach,” say Becker and Feinberg. “These communities often had a pool and a clubhouse, but not much else in the way of amenities to support an active lifestyle.”

Many prospective buyers are now drawn to communities that feature various activities to help them stay active. Across the country, communities have a range of amenities such as swimming, horseback riding trails and golf courses on their property. “Many of these developments promote the lifestyle their residents can enjoy and then sell the housing,” explain Becker and Feinberg.

But just as the general housing market decreased due to the current economic recession, the active-adult market has also struggled. “Part of the population is hesitant to buy, as the home they have kept for more than 30 years is not worth as much as it was just a few short years ago,” Becker and Feinberg relate. “Many people also often realize they need to sell their current home before they are able to move to a new community.”

In an attempt to offset costs and sell-out properties, builders are starting to shy away from the old way of selling condominiums to active adults. Many previously established buildings are being converted to rental units due to a lack of available funding in the current economy. Luckily, rental units are becoming more desirable among this age group, say Becker and Feinberg. “And many communities have experienced an increase in occupancy after switching to rental units.”

To be sure, condo conversions are not just happening in active-adult communities, but across the board. According to Mark Scott, president of Commercial Mortgage Capital, multifamily financing is only being entertained for rental construction. Sponsors are converting condo plans into “for rent” proposed developments.

But according to Scott, new FDIC regulations should reduce the level of condominiums being classified negatively and rushed into foreclosure. “Even with that said, you can expect rising levels of condominium development auctions taking place because banks do not want to advance additional monies to complete properties that will have difficulty selling and because these properties present the greatest loss potential to banks.” He adds that “condominiums will be the first assets banks offer up for sale in order to clear their balance sheets so many owners are shifting them to rental properties.”

Companies are clearly feeling pressure due to capital issues, adds Ronald Ladell, vice president of development at apartment REIT Avalon Bay, which owns 170 rental communities from Virginia to Boston and Seattle to Southern California. “Multifamily developers that build for-sale product are being hurt the most, but at the end of the day both for-sale and rental assets are pressured by the lack of employment.” He predicts that things should begin to turn around by mid- to late 2010. “GDP growth is up slightly and most economists say that jobs follow three to four quarters after this increase.”

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