Thrive at 55 Empty nesters and retirees flock to Lowcountry neighborhoods geared to seniors

Homes start at $260,000 in The Pines at Gahagan, a gated 55-plus community in Summerville.

A 5,000-square-foot clubhouse at The Pines at Gahagan 55-plus gated community south of downtown Summerville attracts a healthy share of homeowners. Residents swim, lounge by the pond, play cards and entertain.

“The amenity is more like an opportunity to meet and share time with folks,” says John Payne, new homes sales consultant with builder H & H Homes.

At the same time, the 108-home community — 80 percent built out — is “kind of secluded” in woods off Gahagan Road, Payne says. “I think my people like the quiet and convenience,” he says, noting that Berlin G. Myers Parkway is two blocks north with easy access to retailers and to Summerville Medical Center.

“I can almost hit a golf ball to the parkway,” Payne quips.

Neighborhoods designed for singles and couples age 55 and older dot the Charleston area. They’re situated near shopping plazas and within master-planned communities. Some communities are gated; the entrance to The Pines at Gahagan, for instance, is monitored from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Homes are priced from the $200,000s and up. Most are one-story but can include optional upstairs space. Greater Charleston also boasts manufactured housing 55-plus communities.

Active adult communities are expanding in part because of the sizable share of people in the age group. According to BestPlaces.net, 23.47 percent of the metro Charleston population is age 55 or older based on 2010 census figures. Actually, that’s slightly lower than the 25 percent figure for the U.S. as a whole.

Still, the share works out to nearly one in four seniors among the 664,000 people living in the metro area, according to 2014 estimates.

“We’ve got good activity,” Payne says. “I know the competition is saying the same thing. We have an aging population. People are downsizing.”

The sales consultant sees older local couples selling their 3,000-square-foot homes for more efficient 2,200-square-foot houses at The Pines at Gahagan. Also, “we have a lot of relocation, people coming from the Northeast, Ohio, Pennsylvania.” Florida is a little too far away for snowbirds, who stop instead in South Carolina, Payne says.

The patio-style houses from Fayetteville, N.C.-based H & H Homes range from 1,700 to 2,950 square feet and can be built with second levels that while not quite a full floor, add 300 to 500 square feet of loft, bonus or bedroom space. Residences start in the $260,000s and continue upwards through the $300,000s, according to Payne.

“We are not huge,” he says. The neighborhood includes “the empty nester, right at 55 (and) folks beyond that.”

Debra Whitfield, an agent with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors who specializes in “helping seniors, retirees and boomers buy and sell their homes,” sees ample business moving forward.

“Retirees keep moving down here in droves,” she says. Del Webb Charleston, the Berkeley County seniors community that was among a new wave of retirement villages in the region when it opened nine years ago, likely will be sold out by 2017, she says.

Whitfield’s main worry with the Lowcountry market is affordability. “You don’t have properties under $200,000 any more,” she says, which can be taxing for mature homebuyers on fixed incomes.

She also believes that developers are placing the 55-plus communities too far from seniors services such as hospitals.

“I think they are building them wrong,” she says.

As a result, some older homebuyers are finding ranch homes or smaller houses in traditional non-age-restricted neighborhoods that are close to shops and medical facilities.

“I just bought in Charleston National,” says Whitfield, noting that it’s across U.S. Highway 17 from Roper St. Francis’ Mount Pleasant Hospital, features one-story homes and offers a popular golf course. “Everybody I meet at Charleston National is a retiree or a boomer,” she says. The result: Some long-time neighborhoods are becoming unofficial 55-plus villages. “There’s a resurgence in older communities,” Whitfield says.

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