Dying to Get In | The unprecedented boom in active adult retirement communities – WBIR.com

More retirees are moving to Tennessee, hoping to move into active adult retirement communities.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — People are moving to Tennessee in droves. U-Haul ranked Tennessee as the third-most moved-to state in the county. 

Families with children account for a large portion of that new population. Retirees also account for one of the largest groups moving to the state.

The number of retirees in Tennessee has grown so much that it’s driving a large part of the local economy. Experts say that it’s only going to grow more, especially in active-adult retirement communities.

These communities are designed for middle-aged adults — people who are at least 55 years old — who want to live independently but still have access to resort-style amenities, community programs and convenient services. 

There are two different types of age restrictions in these communities. Some require people living in the community to be over 55 years old. Others just treat the 55 age mark as a suggestion.

Tellico Village, an active adult community in Loudon County, just treats age as a number. Some people who live there are under 55 years old.

But according to Census data, 73% are over 65 years old. 

Around 9,000 retirees were living in the Tellico Village community as of January 2022, which is a drastic increase from just 2 years ago when it had just over 7,000 community members, according to the US 2020 Census

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Gary Wheelock is one community member who moved to Tellico Village during that 2-year boom. 

“I was widowed and needed to start my life over again,” he said. “I wanted a place where I could meet a lot of new people after my wife died. And in a village like Tellico Village everybody’s a transplant.”

He moved from Vermont to Tennessee for a number of reasons. The main two reasons he said were “quality of life” and “cost of living.” Additionally, lower-cost property tax in the state of Tennessee allowed Wheelock to put some money back in his pockets.

“My property taxes are 75% less than I would have paid in Vermont,” Wheelock said.

He is just one of more than 3 million boomers who retired during the pandemic, according to Pew Research Center.

It’s the biggest rush to retire the U.S. has ever seen. At the same time, the previous generation is giving up their retirement homes. This is creating a big economic boom in retirement communities. 

Beth Kuberka, who works with Tellico Village said this cycle was expected in retirement communities.

“The older generation, a lot of them end up moving back to their kids or other family members to help them in that next phase of life,” Kuberka said.

In fact, due to the number of people aging in the community, Tellico Village established an “Age In Place” program, where they relocate seniors who may need some extra assistance to Assisted Living Centers within Tellico Village.

That generation is selling their homes, and the boomers are moving in. With them, comes a change in concept. According to Kuberka, it’s no longer a “Retirement Community,” it’s turned into an “Active-Adult Community.”

For example, retirees are now looking for activity, community, clubs and sports. Kuberka said Tellico Village has had to change over the years to meet that new demand.

“Pickleball was not on the radar 5 years ago, it’s kind of a newer sport. Now we have eight pickleball courts,” Kuberka said. “We just see growth in a lot of amenities. We have over 100 clubs.”

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Misty Galloway works with Fairfield Glade, an active-adult retirement community in Cumberland County. She said the community has worked to keep up with the increased demand for activities, too.

“I think retiree is a terrible name for them, because they’re more active than a lot of the younger people I know,” Galloway said.

The community has put in Pickleball courts and 25 miles of hiking trails to meet that demand. As these adults are moving in and encouraging more activity, they’re also increasing the economic activity in those areas.

“It’s definitely making a huge impact on our economy. It has for probably 25 to 30 years, but recently our county has been very much impacted by retirees moving to the area, that’s our largest sector of growth,” Galloway said. “It is a driver because they come here with interests and want more things to do, shopping, places to eat dinner, etc.”

Tellico Village has a similar effect on Loudon County. The people who live in the village generate more than a quarter of the economic activity of the entire county.

“If you think there are 9,000 residents here, they’re all paying property taxes, but they also are eating local, buying their groceries local — their gas, local. So they pump millions upon millions of dollars into the local economy,” Kuberka said.

Kuberka also said a lot of economic activity is coming from the housing market. The average selling price of homes in Tellico Village so far in 2022 is $428,000. That average price is up from $382,000 in 2019.

“We saw lot sales three times what they had been in previous years, because people are kind of being forced if they want to go ahead and live here, to build,” Kuberka said.

Kuberka said there are more than 300 homes currently under construction in the Village. They’re quickly approaching 75% buildout. Galloway said Fairfield Glade is also seeing a demand to build homes.

“We can’t build houses fast enough. We don’t have enough resale inventory on the market to sustain the demand,” Galloway said.

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Some retirees buy a home on the market, others build new, and the remainder renovate older homes in the area. 

“The boomers are a little different from the Great Depression, which was their parents where they were savers, and I think the boomers have realized, especially living through a pandemic recently is that it’s time to live and to enjoy life,” Kuberka said.

“At the same time, many of these people who moved here came from very expensive places where their homes had appreciated in value at a level that made homes here, quite affordable,” Wheelock said.

According to Tellico Village, they have property owners coming from 39 states. 18% of retirees in the Village are from Illinois, 13% are from California, and 8% are relocating from within Tennessee, such as from the Nashville and Memphis areas. The percentage of people coming from Florida and Texas follow closely behind.

And those newcomers are moving just in time. The older generation is leaving to move back in with family or assisted living.

“We are a 50-year-old community, so we are definitely seeing that occur in our community,” Galloway said about Fairfield Glade. 

“You’re always going to be having people move out because they age out of being able to live on their own,” Kuberka said. “But, new people move in, and that’s good for property owners because you want to protect their property values.”