Jerry Jewler had lived Forest Acres for more than 40 years when he and his late wife realized that at some point they would be unable to handle the responsibilities of its upkeep alone.
Like many retirees, Jewler, 82, considered and struggled with the idea of moving into a retirement community.
The upfront cost can seem intimidating. And the idea of moving seemed daunting. But once the retired University of South Carolina professor did the math, he stopped worrying about the change.
In 2016, he moved to Wildewood Downs, a retirement community in northeast Richland County, joining a growing number of Palmetto State residents who are moving into existing and soon-to-be constructed communities aimed and those 55 years old and older.
“It was the right time for us to move,” Jewler said. “It probably would have been the right time about 10 years ago.”
Developers are taking notice of that desire.
On Wednesday, the BullStreet development announced it had landed a 196-unit senior residential complex that will include independent and assisted living homes and memory care apartments. The announcement came on the heels of one by the Columbia Empowerment Zone, which is planning for a a mixed-income housing complex for seniors off the 3700 block of North Main Street. That complex will have 58 units.
Both projects are part of a larger trend in Richland and Lexington counties as new communities aimed at seniors are sprouting.
“Columbia is an underserved market,” said Ben Thompson, vice-president for development for Charlotte-based Wellmore, which develops senior residences. “We felt there was an opportunity to build something new.”
His company is opening a 200-unit facility in Lexington in mid-June that will offer services for seniors who have no health problems as well as for those who need major care.
The new complexes are being developed as the population of those 65 and older is growing. About 90,000 persons aged 65 and older called the Columbia area homes in 2015 – the latest estimate available – compared to 70,000 five years earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
South Carolina is “a real hot spot for retirement services,” said Melissa Yetter, executive director at The Heritage at Lowman, a facility for 350 seniors in White Rock on the north shore of Lake Murray.
The 110-year-old facility constantly updates services to keep pace with what Yetter describes as a “senior living lifestyle” that’s evolved well beyond providing medical care.
The growth in the number of senior residents locally is rooted in several factors: military retirees who liked the area after serving at Fort Jackson and either stayed or returned; the in-town resort lifestyle of Lake Murray; mild winters; a relatively low cost-of-living; proximity to the mountains and the coast, an active cultural scene; and the sports and other activities provided by USC, analysts say.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Tripp Bradley, a broker at real estate specialists Colliers International.
The newer residences offer more features, such as free internet, clubhouses with indoor pools, social activities as well as modern decor such as granite counters in kitchens and stainless steel appliances. The BullStreet residential complex, to be called Merrill Gardens, will have a rooftop deck as well as a sports bar and pub. It will be located near the third base line of Spirit Communications Park, home of Columbia’s minor league baseball team.
Home builder Stewart Mungo’s company includes sections designed for seniors in many new neighborhoods across the Midlands, offering features such as separate bathing facilities for pets. “There are a lot of little conveniences that they want at this point in life,” he said.
Those looking to living in such complexes are more active and more demanding about amenities, some analysts said. “Today’s 55 is not the 55 of our parents’ generation,” Bradley said.
Jewler, the retired USC professor, said his community provides dinner daily at a clubhouse, which is a big social event. Also, buses are provided for trips downtown for those who don’t drive but still want to catch a play or a movie, he said.
But for Jewler, the best perk of moving into a retirement community is not having to maintain his home.
“We have a very clean house all of the time and we don’t have to do anything about that,” he said. “You drive in, everything looks very well-manicured. It almost doesn’t look real.”