For existing single-family homes, the national median price stood at $170,600 in the fourth quarter of 2010, barely rising from $170,300 for the same period in 2009, the National Association of Realtors reported in February.
"The active adult is moving from their larger home to a smaller property, depending upon their lifestyle," says Armand Christopher, 62, owner of Senior Living Realty in Dallas. "What they're trying to do is get away from the expense of the big home."
Christopher and his wife, Cindy, 58, a recruiting director for a large accounting firm, enjoy the freedom of living in a gated homeowners' community catering mainly to the 55-plus age group. Lawn mowing and landscaping are included in their maintenance fee, and there's a common area with a swimming pool, tennis courts and other amenities.
When it comes to prices, homes in senior communities can range from very affordable to the millions of dollars. The same is true for stand-alone homes in cities and towns across the country.
We took a look at the affordable. Here are some examples from four U.S. regions of what you can get for under $200,000, ranging from new construction to old-time charm.
Click on their websites for photos and more details.
Location: SummerGlen, a 55-plus community in Ocala
Listing price: $179,900 for the Melbourne II model
Courtesy of Florida Lifestyle Communities
What you get: 1,694 square feet in living area, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, "great room" with formal dining area. Master bedroom/bath with walk-in closet. Sliding glass doors open to a screened lanai. Two-car garage.
Monthly maintenance fee: $125, includes lawn mowing and use of club, pool and spa, fitness and crafts centers, sports and activities.
Optional golf club membership: $7,500 equity payment upfront, transferable to a future buyer. Annual dues vary from $1,700 to $2,900. Nonmember homeowners can play golf for about $35 per round.
Annual taxes: $2,300-$3,000, depending on whether the property is claimed as the primary residence.
The pitch: The bedrooms sit on the opposite end of the house, so "there's lots of privacy, and it's nice and quiet," says Charlene Martin, who, with her husband, Charlie, moved from Michigan in December into a Melbourne II model.
Location: RainbowVision, a diverse community with no age restrictions in Santa Fe
Listing price: $160,000
Courtesy of Rainbow Vision Properties, Inc.
What you get: 1,138 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, brightly decorated in local colors — rust, rose, green and sunset yellow. The upgraded kitchen has granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Fireplace, patio and fenced yard.
Homeowners association monthly fee: $310, includes trash collection, landscaping and exterior maintenance.
Also, clubhouse amenities: about $1,000 a month, includes van service, outdoor hot tubs, concierge, fitness center and spa with steam rooms.
Annual taxes: about $1,300.
The pitch: "Our members come from all walks of life and lifestyles," says Jane Steinberg, RainbowVision's national director of marketing and sales. Van service means residents don't need to drive.
Location: Buckingham Springs, a 55-plus community in Buckingham, near New Hope
Listing price: $115,000
Courtesy of Crane Pennsylvania Homes
What you get: 1,570 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, open floor plan, vaulted ceilings, living room, formal dining area, breakfast room, deck.
Homeowners association monthly fee: $456, including clubhouse, heated outdoor pool, fitness center, library, trash/snow removal and shuttle service.
Annual taxes: $2,229.
The pitch: The house is located on a cul-de-sac, the lawn edged by a row of pine trees. Original owners Donald and Millie Sparks are moving to assisted living. The house has a lot of privacy: When you sit on the deck, you're not looking at the people next door, says their son, Don Sparks.
Location: single-family home in Mount Horeb, just west of Madison
Built: around 1890
Listing price: $152,900
Courtesy of Chuck Learned
What you get: 1,300 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bath Cape Cod, with new metal roof, vinyl siding, a 2 1/2-car attached garage, a 6,000-square-foot lot with private deck. Other features include natural gas furnace, fireplace, kitchen with oak floor and cherry butcher-block countertop. A recent addition of the third bedroom atop the garage could be a home office, guest quarters or rental space; it's separate from the main house, and a second heat source is recommended.
Annual taxes: $2,294.
The pitch: "It's a nice layout for someone who's downsizing and looking for an affordable place to live," says Chuck Learned, 49, who owns the home with his wife, Linda Farmer. A lake, hiking trails and a park with a swimming pool are nearby.
Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.