Buying a Home in a Retirement Community

Retirement Community Homes

Are they really maintenance free?

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

August 14, 2014

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Since approximately 1958 my parents have lived in and owned, as their primary residence, a single family home. In 2004 my parents moved from a 100 year old single family home to a new home in a new development that was designed for people 55 years old and older. It was a brand new house in a new community. Everything from the streets to the sidewalks to the houses and the appliances inside each house were no older than brand new when they moved in February 2004. This community in Middlesex County, NJ was ideal. The lawn maintenance was taken care of by the association. The community pool was managed by the association. The snow removal, right up to the front door was taken care of by the association.   The appliances, dishwasher, water heater, heating and air conditioning were all brand new in 2004. The roof and siding were all brand new. Ten years later appliances start to get old and things wear out. I have had the opportunity to perform a number of inspections for people looking to buy into similar, low maintenance houses in maintenance free communities. What I have seen however could be a lesson to potential buyers, particularly in older, more established communities.

Age Matters

I am inspired to write this article because one of the first inspections that I performed that resulted in the buyer deciding not to buy the house, due to the inspection’s findings, was in a, “retirement community”. What should have been retired was the house. Please consider the following:

  1. The house was built in 1984. On January 22, 2014 when the inspection was done the house was 30 years old.
  2. The original owner was making the transition from living on her own to living with assistance. Whether that was to move in with family or into an assisted living facility I don’t know nor is it relevant. Just that the house was being sold. Only one person lived in the house when it was inspected. The spouse was no longer there.
  3. The roof was original and showed signs of its age. Shingles lifting and bowing for example. New roof, maybe $6000.00
  4. The slab of brick veneer above the garage door was separating from the wood structure behind it. A slab of brick that was 3 feet high and 20 feet long could fall at any moment. I was sure to warn everyone not to walk beneath it. Brick repair, I estimate $3000.00.

    10 Surray Ct Marlboro 007
    Notice the slab of bricks that might fall any minute.
  5. The electrical system was inferior when compared to today’s standards. As an example, GFCI outlets had not been required in kitchens until 1987. This house was built 3 years earlier. Electrical upgrades possibly $1000.
  6. The water heater, while not original, was ready for replacement again and left to the buyer. It was 13 years old when inspected. New water heater – $1500.
  7. The AC compressor/condensate coil (outdoor unit) was 12 years old and ready for replacement. New outdoor coil only – $2000. New outdoor coil and indoor, “A” coil – $4000.
  8. While I could not determine a manufacture date for the furnace, via the serial number which is pretty common, the furnace appeared to be very old and indicated flame roll-out and rust. Like looking at a horse’s teeth to determine its age, the general appearance of the furnace, evidence of roll-out and the rust indicated to me that this furnace may have been original and likely in need of replacement. New furnace $4000. New furnace/AC combo probably right around $8000.
  9. Many of the double pane window seals were broken and at least 6 windows were foggy from the condensation that builds where the vacuum should be. At $500 per window, at least $6000.

For the right price might this house be worth buying and then investing money in some upgrades as I have mentioned? Absolutely. But the point is most people looking to buy at this point in their lives, in a community that connotes the low maintenance lifestyle, in my opinion, will continue to look elsewhere. And they will look elsewhere due to the maintenance aspects as I have mentioned. Most people that are interested in buying in an age restricted, retirement community are not looking to buy a, “fixer upper” but that’s exactly what this was and others that I have inspected also are. This was not the exception. Extremely old AC units, furnaces, water heaters, siding, trim, walls, plumbing fixtures in disrepair and electrical systems and components in need of upgrade. There have been others needing a lot of repair but there have been a number that were very well kept and in move-in condition.


If you are considering buying in an age restricted or retirement community be aware that homes as young as 10 years old will start to require maintenance. Please consider that water heaters last 8 – 10 years. AC units last about 10 – 12 years. Both can last longer but the law of averages says they will not. Just because it might be a potential, “New” home for you it may not be that new at all. Make sure that when you hire an inspector you hire someone with the experience of Regal Home Inspections, LLC. My mother is 85 years old and when I do an inspection for an older client I approach it as though I was doing the inspection for my mother. Similarly, I have done inspections for young ladies and when I do I approach it as though I was doing the inspection for my 23 year old daughter. I take a personal interest in my occupation and all of my clients. It’s not just a job. I would appreciate your comments about this article.

Please email your comments to About the author. I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector. I am the owner and Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.

In addition to being a New Jersey Licensed Home Inspector I am also a NJ-DEP certified Radon Measurement Technician and Regal Home Inspections, LLC has also collected samples for lead paint, allergens and mold. We are affiliated with the state’s best labs that perform the sample evaluation and testing.

We can also help facilitate the testing of septic system and numerous aspects of oil tank evaluations. This includes oil tank integrity testing, tank locate services and soil samples. We work to ensure that the house you’re buying is sound or that you know of any issues.

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