America’s largest retirement community spans three Florida counties and more than 70 miles. It has over 120,000 residents — all of whom are at least 55 years of age. And if the sheer size of the gated, master-planned complex known as The Villages doesn’t convince you of the uniqueness of the community – which was developed in the 1980s by developer Harold Schwartz and his son H. Gary Morse – consider that the “activities packet” given to new residents consists of 200 pages listing more than 2,400 clubs and groups.
Many of those clubs are standard for any retirement home: arts and crafts, board game enthusiasts, painting, exercise and aerobics, etc. Then there are clubs you’ll likely only find in The Villages, such as a gun club called the .45 Sidekicks; a club for senior citizens that collect comic books; the Happy Hour Quilters; a glass fusion art club; a scrapbooking club that meets only after 9 p.m.; and dancing clubs dedicated to Polish folk dancing, belly dancing, and the “Carolina Shag.”
Home sizes and prices vary in The Villages, with the community offering property sizes starting around 850 square feet and capping out at around 2,550 square feet. The smaller homes, known as the Patio Villas, are priced around $180,000; the largest homes, known as the Designer Series, can go as high as $1 million. Would-be residents can also purchase in-between homes in the $220,000 range, which are the most popular.
Selling and buying in The Villages tends to be a highly emotional process, according to local real estate agents.
The transaction often brings about a festive atmosphere for the buyers, who are looking forward to spending the rest of their days with a wide range of other seniors. Buyers are attracted to the sheer number of amenities at The Villages: movie theaters, golf courses, pickleball courts, bars, restaurants, shops, several recreation centers, a 620-acre state park, and even the International Tractor Hall of Fame.
But selling a home is usually a direct result of a resident dying — leading to a much more somber experience on the sell-side, and one usually handled by younger relatives.
The Villages has been one of the fastest-growing cities in America for several years now.
“Its such a versatile place to live,” said Cindy Dunn of Scott and Cindy Dunn Realty Executives in The Village. “It’s big, but not congested. It’s spread out. You can make your world as big or as small as you want in The Villages. You can go to your doctor’s appointment on a golf cart.”
Golf is a big draw to many would-be homebuyers, Cindy Dunn said. There are more than 50 golf courses in the community, and Scott Dunn said people have “absolutely” moved to The Villages for the perk of being able to play golf — for free — every day.
“Personally, I’m not a golfer, so I wasn’t interested in it when we began selling there, but I’ve grown to love being around it and watching it thanks just to the aesthetic of living around a golf course,” Cindy Dunn said. “A lot of our residents say it makes it a more beautiful place to live.”
Prospective buyers can go the standard route and work with an agent. They can also buy directly through The Village’s sales office, Properties of the Villages Inc., which has seen real controversy in recent years.
On Dec. 16, 2019, the two top real estate agents for Properties of the Villages Inc. announced their abrupt departures by email. Upon exiting, the pair, Christopher Day and Jason Kranz, took customer lists and other information and formed their own real estate brokerage, KD Premier Realty, according to Villages-News.com. Properties of the Village sued the former top salesman, and a federal judge this month barred them from working on real estate transactions in the Village for 18 months. They were also ordered to pay $603,700 in attorneys’ fees.
Building homes on purchased land, specifically, has to be done directly through The Villages’ sales offices.
“They don’t co-broke with an agent, like myself, if they are building in The Villages, but if someone calls me and they want to sell their home, I can co-list it,” said Erica Atterbury, a real estate agent with Caldwell Banker Realty. “A lot of people are looking for new builds everywhere, and it’s tough in retirement communities, as well. But the resale market works the same.”
As is true in most of America, it is “definitely a seller’s market,” said Cindy Dunn.
“So you have to be sharp to help buyers get homes, but It’s actually harder to buy homes in retirement villages, I think,” she said. “It’s not that people aren’t selling, it’s just that a ton of people are buying. People are fleeing the northeast to live here. It’s a great place to live. Our inventory situation is unique. We have an ever-changing population of homeowners — people buying homes [in The Villages] aren’t usually staying for 30-plus years.”
Derell Roberson of Central Florida’s OmniRealty Now said the relatively short drive to the entertainment mecca of Orlando is a draw, too.
“Central Florida offers it all,” Roberson said. “There’s theme parks, beaches, a diverse culture — it’s a complete melting pot.”
Just like The Villages, itself.