Security vs. Privacy — a Matter of Perception
Most active adult buyers prefer a completely secure living environment, including an entirely fenced perimeter. Because many active adult communities are larger and have more open space (e.g, golf courses) than most standard communities, it is not feasible to secure the entire perimeter. Even if entire property was fenced, it would not prevent trespassing.
Though it is virtually impossible for builders to guarantee totally secure environments, you can build private environments that instill a sense of security for residents — and that is an important distinction to make. Set realistic expectations with your prospective buyers by focusing on the “privacy” benefits, rather than the “security” benefits, while marketing and selling your active adult communities.
The Value of Gated Communities
A gated entry with a 24-hour staffed guardhouse is an effective way to provide a private environment. In real and symbolic terms, a secure entrance represents physical and psychological security for residents.
According to our on-site sales manager at Carillon Lakes, a 1,113-home active adult lifestyle community being built in Crest Hill, IL, the top sales producing amenity in the community is the 24-hour staffed guardhouse.
The cost of building the guardhouse and entry gate was approximately $200,000 — a relatively small investment considering the construction cost for the community recreation center exceeded $3 million.
The Carillon North community — a smaller active adult community with only 360 homes in Grayslake, IL — includes a guardhouse and entry gate, but it is only staffed from dusk till dawn. We staffed only the night hours because the cost of hiring around-the-clock guards would have increased the residents’ monthly assessments more than in a larger community.
In addition to offering a secure main entrance, you can secure all secondary roadway entry points cost-effectively. Putting in swipe card gates at those locations can be highly effective. Automated gates are less expensive to install and maintain (no staffing), yet they can effectively prevent vehicles from entering the community.
Keep in mind that many municipalities won’t allow you to restrict traffic access to the community unless the roads within the community are private. When planning a community with private roads, be sure to consider the upfront costs of building the roads and infrastructure as well as the ongoing maintenance costs they will require.
Despite the extra costs, gated communities can be worthwhile investments. Not only are they strong selling points, they are affordable, especially compared to recreational facilities. Gated communities truly go a long way toward fostering peace of mind among residents.
A Grassroots Approach to Building a Close-Knit Community
A primary reason why active adults choose to live in age-qualified communities is because they know their neighbors will be in a similar age range and share common interests. In fact, many neighbors in our Carillon communities quickly become best friends. This commonality results in tight-knit living environments where residents look out for each other and each other’s properties.
Builders can tap into this innate “neighborhood watch” frame of mind and create an even more close-knit community by promoting and establishing specific community activities. For example, all Carillon communities feature a clubhouse as the social and recreational hub. Each clubhouse has an onsite activities director who coordinates exercise classes, organizes bus trips and helps residents form clubs to pursue their special interests and hobbies.
Community parties also bring residents together, and you can hold parties for any number of reasons. The opening of the community center is one reason that should not be overlooked. At Carillon Lakes, we also had a 55-plus celebration to commemorate the fact that 55% of the homes had been sold in the community.
Design’s Role in Promoting a Sense of Security
Home designs and neighborhood layouts also can promote a greater sense of security among residents. Residents living in a townhouse neighborhood built in U-shaped formations will feel safer because they will be able to see every home in their complex. For the same reason, we prefer building homes closer together in active adult communities than in other types.
Also, because active adult communities are typically larger and have a broader range of multifamily and single-family housing designs, you should create several distinct enclaves or neighborhoods within them. Giving each neighborhood its own identity will instill the feeling of a small community within the overall community. One way to do that is to define each neighborhood with tasteful monument signs, have each neighborhood feature homes from the same series and structure each neighborhood to have its own home owners’ association.
Other measures to promote a closer-knit community that offers greater security include:
Roving security patrols: Hire security personnel to drive around the neighborhoods at night. Set up and paid for through the community’s master association, roving patrols are a cost-effective security measure, giving residents increased confidence that their homes will be safe at night.
Security systems: Install push-button code or swipe-card entry systems outside communal facilities such as clubhouses.
Home security: Provide home security systems such as pre-wired alarm systems, fire alarms, emergency blinking porch lights and pendant alarms for EMT fast response. You can include home security systems as optional features in all homes.
Consider privacy, recreational amenities and social amenities equally when planning and designing a new active adult community. After all, creating peace of mind is an important part of the overall active adult lifestyle equation.
Richard J. Brown is the founder and chief executive officer of Libertyville, IL-based Cambridge Homes, one of the state’s largest builders. In 1995, Cambridge built the award-winning Cambridge at Carillon, the first large active adult community in Greater Chicago. Cambridge Homes became a division of D.R. Horton, Inc. in 1999 and has since opened several Carillon active adult communities in the area. Brown was recognized by the NAHB Seniors Housing Council as a 2004 Icon of the Industry for active adult builder/developer. He can be reached by e-mail or at 847-362-9100.
This article appeared in the fall 2004 issue of "Seniors’ Housing News", a quarterly publication by the NAHB Seniors Housing Council.
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