The Elms dates back decades as one of the first retirement communities in the Lowcountry, offering cozy ranch homes on spacious lots, a clubhouse and other attractions at then-removed U.S. Highway 78 in upper North Charleston.

Over time, and notably in the past few years, the village began to face competition from properties that also sought baby boomers transitioning from a career to retirement or a reduced workload. Geared toward lifestyle, the communities today are typically described as age 55-plus or active adult communities rather than retirement villages.

All the while, The Elms faced ups and downs. But in a time when older house hunters have more choices -- eight or so Charleston area communities are open, planned or in the works, including at least one rental complex for seniors -- the gated neighborhood of 321 homes in upper North Charleston has spruced up its looks, remodeled the clubhouse, upgraded an exercise room and enjoyed healthy sales.

"Main reason is the aging population," says Liz Simonds, real estate associate with AgentOwned Realty who has a 1,370-square-foot home on Delancey Circle for sale for $190,000. "The Elms seems to have a nice draw, proximate to everything," she says, including Trident Medical Center a couple of miles west. Also at The Elms, "the price point is better" than other 55-plus neighborhoods locally, Simonds says. Available homes up to 2,000 square feet run from $187,000 to $252,000.

The agent offered one drawback about Charleston area active adult communities, according to 55-plus residents: none of the neighborhoods include golf courses. She refers active older golfers to nearby courses at Wescott Plantation, Legend Oaks and Pine Forest Country Club, all still 10 minutes or more away.

Throughout Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties, developers and builders are crafting communities typically designed for homeowners aged 55 and above. They offer tidy one-story homes, permit golf cart transportation, show off idyllic grounds with ponds and provide scores of activities such as card and car clubs, tennis and pickle ball courts, swimming pools, billiards tables and fitness centers. There are also affordable housing communities for elderly residents, and full-fledged retirement homes, some of which include detached cottages.

Active adult neighborhoods launching in the past eight years or so include Del Webb at Cane Bay and a new Del Webb planned at Nexton, K. Hovnanian's Four Seasons at the Lakes of Cane Bay and Cresswind at The Ponds -- a Kolter Homes development in Summerville. Patio home enclaves include Gahagan in lower Dorchester County, and the close-to-30-year-old Southern Palms manufactured housing community complete with gates, clubhouse and swimming pool off Ladson Road.

Age 55-plus homebuyers, whether longtime Charleston area residents or among the scores relocating from the Northeast, are most intrigued now with just-built houses, one agent specializing active adult clients notes. "It seems like most of the folks, age 55 and older, are going after new construction," says Debra Whitfield, of the 55 Plus Homes Team at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. "The resale market is getting a little repressed right now," she says.

Communities with age restrictions attract home buyers due to their wide scope of amenities, Whitfield says. "They are selling at a pretty good clip. We haven't reached a saturation point." At the same time, many older buyers desire neighborhoods with a mix of age groups. "They still want to be close to shopping." Active adult owners also favor age-diversified communities, she says.

Typically, upscale active adults look to purchase a home, and most local 55-plus communities are filled with single-family residences. However, the new Daniel Pointe set to open shortly showcases 128 units for seniors in studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments from 566 to to 1,206 square feet. The apartment homes are situated on either wing of the main building, which is centered by a clubhouse, dining area and amenity center. Rents start at $2,900 a month for studio and one-bedroom units, $4,000 for two-bedroom apartments and $4,800 for three-bedroom rentals.

"We go month to month, no long-term lease," says Kelly Jo Hinrichs, sales and marketing director with Lincoln, Nebraska-based developer Resort Lifestyle Communities. The Daniel Island apartment complex is the company's first in the Charleston area and in South Carolina.

The company, which has more than 25 communities nationwide, conducts extensive research before entering a new market. Resort Lifestyle Communities is pleased with the early reception from Daniel Island, including the first depositors. Studies showed the seniors rental venture in the Charleston area is "filling a need that was missing," Hinrichs says.

For more information and photos, go to www.postandcourier.com/business/real_estate/jim-parker.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.