Disclaimer: Links and mentions of North Carolina 55+ communities in this post do not constitute an endorsement. Price ranges, services, and amenities can change — please visit a community’s website for the most up-to-date information. HomeLight always recommends doing your own research to determine which community destination is best for your situation.
Deciding where to retire can be one of the most significant financial and life decisions you make. North Carolina is a natural choice for many, offering affordable living, beautiful scenery, and historical charm. With over 300 miles of coastline, the beach is never far away – and winters tend to be mild so that you can enjoy the outdoors year-round.
Kiplingers Personal Finance Magazine notes several points of favorability for North Carolina retirees, where Social Security income is not taxed. Other types of retirement plans – including many public government plans and railroad pensions – are also exempt from state tax. Retirees caring for health conditions will be pleased to learn that prescriptions in this state are exempt from sales tax. And while groceries are exempt from state tax, residents can expect these items to be taxed by their localities.
With nearly 200 active adult communities in the state, it’s clear that this has become a hotspot for relocation after age 55. In this post, we’ve researched some of the best 55+ communities in terms of lifestyle, location, affordability, and safety.
To compile this list, we considered the following:
- Location and amenities (proximity to beaches, golf courses, airports, and other points of interest)
- Nearby access to quality healthcare
- Established and enforced age restrictions (55+)
- Ratings and reviews (55places.com, Niche.com, Yelp, Google)
- Living options available (floor plans, housing types, price points)
- Homebuyer interest (popularity)
- Security and surrounding crime rates
What is a 55+ community?
A 55+ community is an age-restricted community that may not necessarily be exclusive to retirees. These developments require residents to be over the age of 18, and they often require full-time residents to be over the age of 55; younger visitors are welcome for certain portions of the year. 55+ community members often enjoy convenient hobbies and amenities, including access to outdoor and fitness activities, social life infrastructure, and provided transportation to nearby places for shopping, entertainment, and healthcare.
These communities are a popular choice for Americans making a move to retire, downsizing as they prepare for retirement, or just simplifying their lives after reaching the age of 55. Housing options may include everything from single detached houses to duplex- or condominium-style units.
What are the most popular retirement cities in North Carolina?
According to U.S. News & World Report, some of the most popular or best cities in North Carolina for retired or older Americans include:
- Asheville (population ~94,000)
- Durham (population 285,500) and Raleigh (population 469,000) (tied)
- Hickory (population 43,500)
- Winston-Salem (population ~250,000)
- Charlotte (population 879,700)
- Greensboro (population ~298,000)
The news site notes affordable cost of living, access to continuing education, and proximity to beautiful, free outdoor activities as reasons why these cities are ideal.
Why do seniors choose North Carolina to retire?
There are many reasons why North Carolina is an appealing destination for Americans making a move to retire or to downsize in anticipation of retirement. Some of the most notable include:
- No state tax on retirement income
- Low housing costs
- Coastal living – over 300 miles of coastline, with islands and outer banks to explore
- Historical sites
- All four seasons with mild winters
- A tuition waiver available for residents over age 65 to pursue free continuing education
Our picks for some of the best 55+ communities in North Carolina
There are over 200 active adult communities in North Carolina. Based on the parameters we listed above, we’ll provide information about some communities we feel are worth extra consideration. We’ll also provide a section on how you can locate 55+ communities in your area.
Please note that all prices in this post are based on active listings at the time of writing, as well as advertised price ranges provided by community sales offices.
Phone number: (984) 219-7051
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Price range: Low $400s to mid $600s
About: This community is located in the fantastically-situated “The Triangle,” anchored by Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham. Developed by real estate giant Del Webb, Carolina Arbors is comprised of over 1,200 low-maintenance homes, all constructed within the last 10 years. With small floor plans beginning around 1,100 square feet and larger homes ranging up to 2,500 square feet, homeowners can choose a home size to suit their retirement lifestyle.
Carolina Arbors is anchored by a world-class community center, Piedmont Hall, which includes indoor and outdoor swimming pools, art studios, and a well-appointed fitness center. Clubs connect community residents who’d like to get involved in common interests from politics to poker.
Ratings and reviews: With an average 5-star rating, reviewers at 55places commend the floor plans in this community, noting “great kitchens and oversized closets.” Google reviews hold at 4 stars, and chatter at city-data.com gives positive nods to the amenities and social activities available.
Noteworthy nearby amenities or attractions: Museum lovers will thrill over nearby Raleigh, known as the “Smithsonian of the South” for its top-tier list of museums – most with free or low-cost admission.
Phone number: (980) 228-9044
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Price range: High $300s to low $600s
About: With construction ongoing, Cresswind Charlotte offers both new-build and resale homes for prospective buyers. This community employs a full-time lifestyle director, and there are many opportunities to stay active and get involved. With on-site events packing the community calendar, residents can enjoy festivals, food trucks, and social hours without leaving community grounds.
Ratings and reviews: Google reviews are mixed for this community specifically, though the good outweigh the bad by a significant margin, giving the community an average of around 4 stars. Positive reviews praise community safety and resort-style amenities. Critics cite unresponsive staff, though the larger Cresswind brand under Kolter Homes is a well-established and recognized name in age-restricted living.
Noteworthy nearby amenities or attractions: Immediate proximity (under one mile) to the Mint Hill Medical Center sets this development apart. Charlotte is among the largest 25 cities in the U.S. and it is the largest city in North Carolina, offering the conveniences, infrastructure, and extensive healthcare access that come along with big-city living. Museums, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and a nationally-recognized public library system are among the many highlights of what Charlotte has to offer.
Carolina Preserve at Amberly
Phone number: (919) 467-7837
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Price range: Low $400s to mid $700s
About: Carolina Preserve is a neighborhood of the larger Amberly planned community, which includes its own town center and extensive amenities for residents. Both single-family and attached homes are available to purchase, allowing buyers to scale the level of care they’d like to manage with a retirement home. Originally developed by Del Webb and later taken over by Pulte Homes, Carolina Preserve is home to over 1,300 residences.
Residents won’t have to look far in order to get involved here: volunteer opportunities, community events, and an extensive list of interest groups facilitate connections between neighbors. Indoor and outdoor swimming, sporting courts, a trail system, and pottery studio will unlock new hobbies for anyone seeking to stay active.
Ratings and reviews: With an average 5-star rating, reviews at 55places are overwhelmingly positive, citing the many opportunities for community involvement as a great part of living at Carolina Reserve. Over 30 Google reviews averaging 4.5/5 stars written by locals, residents, and area Realtors® praise the amenities available here.
Noteworthy nearby amenities or attractions: Nearly equidistant from Raleigh and Durham, Cary offers a suburban environment with easy access to the conveniences of larger cities. Minutes outside the community entrance lie big-box stores, grocery shopping, golfing, healthcare, and even an emergency veterinary office.
Trilogy® Lake Norman
Phone number: (843) 705-4000
Location: Denver, North Carolina
Price range: High $300s to mid $800s
About: On the banks of Lake Norman and within 30 minutes of Charlotte, Trilogy® Lake Norman is home to over 1,100 properties and still growing. This “adult resort” community offers high-end amenities, a culinary studio, and boat club access among them.
Builder Shea Homes has been mindful of luxurious upgrades in these homes, all constructed in 2015 or later. Granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, and built-in smarthome connections are standard in new builds. A variety of top-tier community spaces here facilitate regular social gatherings, performances, and community events, and play host to an extensive list of homeowner-led club meetings.
Ratings and reviews: Over 90 five-star Google reviews for this community cite professional staff, “outstanding” building quality, and luxurious surroundings as major strengths. With an average of 4.0 stars, reviews at 55places are mixed, mentioning “exquisite” homes and great proximity to Charlotte – but a disclosures list that could be disadvantageous for some buyers.
Noteworthy nearby amenities or attractions: Lake Norman is sprawling, with many lakeside towns and a lifestyle geared toward the outdoors. Sailing, fishing, walking/cycling trails, and beautiful shoreline are steps outside community gates. Downtown Denver includes pharmacies, restaurants, and convenience shopping, and a sizeable Atrium Health System campus is 20 minutes away in nearby Lincolnton.
Del Webb Wilmington
Phone number: (910) 225-5673
Location: Wilmington, North Carolina
Price range: Mid $400s to high $800s
About: For retirees seeking a coastal getaway, the port city of Wilmington is ideally-sized. With quick access to beaches, Del Webb Wilmington offers the amenities many buyers are looking for in an age-restricted community: indoor and outdoor swimming, pickleball courts, and organized social activities.
Riverlights, the broader development surrounding this age-restricted community, was recognized with a Best Neighborhood designation in Where to Retire magazine in 2019.
Ratings and reviews: Google reviews for Del Webb Wilmington average 4.3/5 stars. Residents here write about their love of easy access to the water for kayaking, fishing, and natural beauty. A 5-star review at 55places commends the number of clubs and activities and “fun” lifestyle here.
Noteworthy nearby amenities or attractions: Located on the residential outskirts of Wilmington, residents of this community will love easy access to the city and its many activities, as well as easy access to public parks and the coast. The Pine Valley shopping center is within 15 minutes and is anchored by a Publix supermarket, with pharmacies, an Aldi, banking, and gas stations nearby.
How can I find a 55+ community near me?
There are many other 55+ communities in North Carolina. One way to see your options is to search the internet with phrases such as “55 and older communities near me” or “retirement communities near me.” Check ratings, reviews, and comments posted on the Better Business Bureau, Google Reviews, and industry websites.
Another way to find a quality 55+ or retirement community near you is to consult a top real estate agent in your area. An experienced agent who knows your market can provide valuable insights into community characteristics, such as crime rates, affordability, home construction quality, and the reputation of the governing association.
12 questions to ask before you buy a home in a 55+ community
Here are 12 essential questions to ask before you commit to purchasing a home in a 55+ community.
1. Will I own the home, or is this a lease community?
This may seem obvious, but when it comes to 55+ or retirement communities, various types of property can be available. You may wish to own your home for financial reasons, or you may wish to lease a unit to maximize your flexibility in retirement. Some communities offer both; others may allow you to own and lease out your property. You’ll want to be sure to check community rules (see #3 on this list) before renting your property out if that is part of your retirement plan (for instance, if you’re out of state for part of the year). Not all communities permit renting residents.
2. What is included in your monthly payment?
Identifying all the costs of living in the community is important, not just rent or mortgage payments. You will want to consider whether various things are included with your monthly property expenses; a few to consider are:
- Landscaping and pool maintenance
- HOA fees
- Community class fees
- Admission to community features like restaurants, classes, clubs, or spas located on the grounds
- Shuttle service to amenities nearby
Be sure to get the most for your dollar, but also that you aren’t paying for amenities that will go unused.
3. What are the community rules?
Most active adult communities have a set of rules that residents must follow. These might include:
- Visitor restrictions (age, number, and duration of stay for children, grandchildren)
- Pets (limits on how many, allowable breeds and sizes)
- Parking (number of vehicles and where they can be parked; consideration for RVs, boats)
- Exterior paint colors
- Dress codes in public areas
- Lawn/landscaping maintenance enforcement
- Renting (limitations or restrictions)
- Renovation/improvement restrictions
- Noise (daytime and nighttime decibel allowances)
4. What are your new neighbors like?
Good neighbors play a considerable role in your quality of life, especially when you retire. Learn about what life is like in the neighborhood. If possible, attend some community events and get to know some of the residents in your prospective neighborhood. Many communities offer “discovery” events, including overnight guided tours of various home options and neighborhood amenities.
Many 55+ communities offer social events like book clubs, art classes, fitness activities, cookoffs, and more to connect residents. You may be looking for a community of like-minded people with shared interests or seeking exposure to diversity where you live. No matter what you’re looking for, knowing what’s in store socially will factor into your decision-making process. For example, some communities value quiet and calm, while others offer a more lively pace.
5. What plans are there for the adjacent property?
This is a crucial question for newly-constructed 55+ communities. Knowing what you can expect to find nearby can be increasingly important as your age advances (and potentially your mobility declines). Know whether properties adjacent to your own are planned for further residential development or if there are other things in store. If you plan to stay at this property indefinitely, you’ll want to know whether that vacant lot nearby is fated to become an elementary school or a regional airport. Such developments could have a long-term impact on your property’s appeal and value.
6. What type of assessments have been made?
Assessments can be expected for any community development, but for seniors living on a fixed income, being able to predict your property taxes may be crucial to balancing the rest of your budget each month. Even once your mortgage payment is a thing of the past, property tax bills will continue — and you’ll want to know what to expect. In addition, property taxes vary depending on where you are looking to buy, so be mindful of the cost and whether it has a history of fluctuating.
7. Is the community financially sound?
You will want to know if the developer and association are on solid financial ground before you commit to purchasing or leasing a home. These parties are often responsible for community maintenance and amenities, so you will want to ensure their solvency as much as you want to ensure your home is the right fit. In short: do your homework! Don’t be afraid to ask for detailed information about board governance or community financials.
8. Is the community able to keep up with future growth?
Is there sufficient infrastructure, wise planning, and expandable space to grow as needed? What if the interests of the community shift over time? If the community has been established for years, are there long-range plans to repair and replace key infrastructural components like water lines and local streets? These responsibilities may fall within the purview of your village or community rather than in the city where you reside. Be sure you know who is responsible for these decisions and their costs.
9. Is there a reserve fund for maintenance?
Also sometimes known as a sinking fund, this is a financial safety net for significant unexpected future expenses incurred at the community level (for instance, re-roofing the community center). Know whether there is a reserve fund set aside for large community maintenance projects like replacing pool furniture after a storm or facilitating an air conditioning replacement at the clubhouse. While some communities maintain funds for these expenses and address them as needed for residents, others may expect you to actively raise funds as an HOA member. Either way, how large upkeep expenses are handled may impact your decision to buy in a particular development.
10. What other projects belong to this developer?
Research the builder of your home and the larger community, and ask for references. How long has the company been in business, and have they successfully invested in similar communities in other cities or states? A company or investment group with the proven ability to drive property values upward will likely do the same for your new neighborhood. On the other hand, if the company has allowed its previous investments to decline, you may need extra reassurance that history won’t repeat itself — or you may wish to seek property elsewhere.
11. Is the governing association easy to work with?
You will want a community board with a proven track record of working together and finding solutions. If you discover a dysfunctional board led by power-hungry or inept individuals, it may cause great angst and harm the unity of the entire community. Ask several different residents; check with your real estate agent. Find out if the board and its members are competent, effective, and civil. One free resource to research your association or HOA is communityassociations.net.
12. What lifestyles are accommodated?
You will want to consider whether you’d prefer an active community of younger senior residents or a community where you can age into services like assisted living or memory/hospice care if needed. Do you want a single-family home, or are you looking to purchase a unit within a larger building? Is handicap accessibility vital to you or a family member? Do you need a community that is fully navigable on foot or by golf cart?
Check out the community surrounding your neighborhood
Vetting the 55+ community with the 12 questions above will help you uncover crucial insights into what life might be like within the boundaries of those neighborhoods, but you will want to look beyond the front gates.
To truly identify the best 55+ community, you should also research the history, reputation, culture, and amenities of the surrounding host city or town. Then, find out what the area offers that can improve or enhance your retirement years.
- How far away are the nearest hospital and other medical facilities?
- What are the safety and crime rates of the surrounding city or town?
- How easy is it to access major highways and commuting routes?
- Is it located directly on a busy, noisy highway or near other potential noise disturbances like a schoolyard?
- Are there various conveniences nearby, such as restaurants, banks, or grocery stores?
- For pets, are there parks, groomers, and veterinarians nearby?
- Is there a bus route or commuter rail that serves the area?
- Are there nearby churches or places of worship that fit your beliefs?
- Are there undesirable businesses or manufacturing facilities nearby?
- Is it near enough to an airport for convenience, or too close with excessive noise?
- Are there connecting bike paths or walking/hiking trails?
Q&A: More tips and insights about 55+ communities in North Carolina
What is the largest 55+ community in North Carolina?
The Connestee Falls gated community is the largest age-restricted development in North Carolina, with 1,300 homes (and counting).
How much does it cost to live in a 55+ community in North Carolina?
There are 55+ communities in North Carolina to suit nearly every price point, from residents with a restricted cash flow to those with a taste for top-tier luxury. Smaller condominium units are available starting in the high $100s, while luxury properties list well into the millions. For retirees looking to move into an age-restricted community without purchasing property, many options are available on a rental-only basis.
What is the 80/20 rule in some 55+ communities?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates that to comply with fair housing laws, age-restricted communities for residents aged 55 and up must fill at least 80% of their units with at least one occupant fitting the age designation. There are no restrictions on the age of the population in the remaining 20% of residences.
Communities wishing to market themselves as 55+ must be clear about their intent to house older populations and have a method in place for verifying resident age.
When should I visit a prospective 55+ community?
To get the clearest picture, it’s best to visit at different times of the year. You may love an area you visited on vacation in the fall, but that does not mean you will like it in the winter. Remember, you are making long-term retirement plans, so multiple visits are worth the time and investment. It’s also valuable to consider several different retirement locations and compare the benefits and drawbacks.
Are there real estate agents that specialize in helping seniors?
Yes. Agents can receive a specialty certification from The National Association of Realtors to become a Seniors Real Estate Specialist or SRES. An SRES agent will be well-versed in the areas of retirement, downsizing, and more. See our post: Should You Hire an Agent Who Is a Seniors Real Estate Specialist?
Conclusion: Try before you buy
There are so many options for these types of communities in North Carolina. If you can, take the time to visit a few of the locations that are most interesting to you. This will help you to discern one from the next and which 55+ community might be the best fit for you.
Working with a trusted real estate agent who is well-versed in the local market can help to match what you are looking for with the many options available. In addition, connecting with an SRES agent or a top-performing agent in the area you’re looking to purchase can make the search process much more streamlined — and enjoyable. To get started, visit our free Agent Match platform to kick off your search for a great 55+ community in North Carolina.
Header Image Source: (Elijah Mears / Unsplash)