Carol Retsch remembers well the reactions of friends and family when she told them she and her husband, Frederick “Fritz” Retsch were selling their home and moving into an age-restricted community for people 55 and older.

“You’re moving into what?” they asked incredulously, picturing the anything-but-sedentary couple living in a soporific environment spending afternoons daubing bingo cards and evenings watching “Wheel of Fortune,” sipping tea.

“You have no idea,” Carol said, referring to Traditions of America at Liberty Hills, an active-lifestyle community in Economy.

“All our friends thought we were crazy to do it, but once they came and saw the community, saw our house, they just loved it.”

The Retsches are among a growing segment driving housing trends for those 50 and older, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Its 2014 report said “America’s older population is in the midst of unprecedented growth. With the aging of the large baby-boom generation and increased longevity, the 50-and-over population is projected to increase about 20 percent by 2030, to 132 million.”

Consequently, the demand for housing designed to meet accessibility needs of older Americans will also increase, reports the National Association of Home Builders.

In Beaver County, 31,453 people are 50 and older — 18.4 percent of the population, according to U.S Census Bureau 2014 estimates.

“Ensuring that these older adults have the housing they need to enjoy high-quality, independent, and financially secure lives has thus taken on new urgency not only for individuals and their families, but also for the nation as a whole,” the Joint Center for Housing Studies said.

Housing stock in Beaver County runs the gamut from those more than 100 years old to those recently built, said Ed McLaughlin, president and co-owner of Bovard-Anderson Co., a Beaver-based, family-owned real estate business spanning four generations since 1904.

Most of the older homes — those built in the late 1800s and early 1900s — are in the county’s river communities, he said.

But as one grows older, navigating two-story homes — especially if hampered by mobility or eyesight issues — can become problematic, said Mike Miller, a Realtor with SWC Properties with offices in Beaver, Uniontown and Waynesburg.

He referenced a man living in an older two-story home who recently underwent hip surgery.

“Guess where the bathroom was?” he said.

That’s why a lot of older people, especially empty-nesters, want to downsize to one-level homes, he said. “They don’t want to have to do up-and-down stairs.” They also want less maintenance.

The 1940s to 1960s saw the biggest wave of housing growth in outlying townships — mostly ranches and split-levels, McLaughlin said. Followed by “McMansions,” said Miller. “A lot want smaller again.”

Patio and carriage homes are in demand now, said SWC Realtor Jeanie Parrish.

Recent years have seen the development of single-family, carriage-style and patio homes in Beaver County, along with multifamily attached units such as duplex, triplex and quads, townhouses and condominiums, either free-standing or in planned communities.

Some of the newest are Barclay Hill Estates in Brighton Township, Freedom Crossing in New Sewickley Township, Crosswynds and Timberwood Trace in Chippewa Township, Seven Oaks in Ohioville, Village at Beaver Lakes in Hopewell Township, Villas of Economy in Economy, and Elysium on the Park, Village Heights and Third Street East, all in Beaver.

Some offer amenities like swimming pools, clubhouses and golf course privileges, said Jackie McLaughlin, a co-owner of Bovard-Anderson and head of its property management division.

Parrish, who counts herself among baby boomers, said “people my age love the town of Beaver. Everything is down here, convenient and within walking distance.”

Unfortunately, Miller said, “town centers don’t have enough space” for new development. Beaver County, he said, “still has areas with a lot of open ground, but how far out are people going to go? … You lose convenience.”

Boomers reshaping norms

The post-war baby-boom generation spanned 18 years — from 1946 to 1964 — when an estimated 76 million people were born. This year, the oldest turns 70; the youngest turns 52. It’s anything but a homogeneous group — some work, some are retired, while others plan to work well past traditional retirement age.

However, as a group they are healthier, wealthier and among the best educated who are reshaping norms to conform to their needs, said Laurel Kennedy, president of Age Lessons, a company that provides “a barometer on boomer needs, wants and values” in finances, wellness, values, work and play.

To them, age is merely a number. They’re far from ready for senior high-rises, assisted-living facilities or nursing homes, but savvy enough to want homes designed to meet future accessibility needs that might require features such as one-level living, wider doors and hallways, better lighting, non-slip floors and lower kitchen cabinets, according to a 2009 study by NAHB and MetLife Mature Market Institute.

A 2012 boomer survey by Del Webb, a brand of national home building company PulteGroup, found that 80 percent of boomers feel younger — as much as 10 to 15 years — and that’s reflective in their active lifestyles. They exercise regularly and are health conscious.

In an article posted on her website (, Kennedy said boomers are united in four core desires: They want to remain active, age in place, enjoy luxurious appointments on a smaller scale with contract maintenance, and participate fully in life.

That’s why Fritz and Carol Retsch opted for Liberty Hills, unique in that it is a gated, age-restrictive community in Beaver County.

The stylish and vibrant housing plan off Conway-Wallrose Road sits on 72 acres with 119 single-family homes and 105 attached homes, Carol said, ranging from 1,261 to 2,314 square feet.

Buyers can select from six models that feature two and three bedrooms, two-car garages, spacious master suites, baths and great rooms. Prices range from $200,000 to $375,000, she said.

A clubhouse offers a massive great room with vaulted ceiling, fireplace, big-screen television and comfortable sofas and chairs in conversational settings. One recent day, sun streamed through large Palladian windows creating a warm and bright space. Community socials and wine-and-cheese parties are often held here, Carol said.

The facility also offers a well-stocked library, fitness center, business center, billiards and card rooms, indoor Jacuzzi, massage room and sports bar.

Outdoors are patios, swimming pool, bocce courts, and tennis court doubling as pickleball court.

“We fell in love when we came here,” Carol said. “We never looked anyplace else once we found this.”

Fritz is retired; Carol still works as a property manager for a townhouse community in Marshall Township.

The couple lived in a tri-level, three-bedroom home with swimming pool built in the late 1960s on three-quarter acres in Harmony Township. They did their own landscaping, yard work and pool maintenance. But increasingly, especially on weekends, they found themselves enslaved to the upkeep and asking themselves “why are we doing this? Why are we working in our spare time?” Carol said. “We didn’t want to do this anymore.”

And with a house nearly 50 years old, they were facing “putting more and more money into it,” she said.

Six years ago, the couple sold their home and with their two dogs and cat, moved six miles away, bought a lot in the resort-like Liberty Hills and built a new home — among the first to buy into the community that opened in 2008.

“We wanted to downsize,” Carol said. “What I like is the openness,” she said of her new home’s floor plan. “We like to entertain. In our old home, all the rooms were divided.”

She also likes that master and guest bedrooms are on the first floor. Upstairs features a third bedroom, loft sitting area and Fritz’s “man cave.”

The Retsches could have relocated to retirement communities in warmer climes in the South or West, but chose to remain close to friends.

“My husband was born and raised here,” Carol said, “and I didn’t want to quit my job. As soon as I came here and saw this community, I fell in love with it.”

Liberty Hills is a “condo association,” Carol said. “Everybody here pays a monthly fee. You own everything inside your house. Common areas like the clubhouse and grass, driveways and mulched beds are all owned by the association.”

Meaning the Retsches no longer have to worry about cutting grass, pulling weeds, raking leaves, cleaning the pool, or shoveling walks and driveways. Such chores are contracted through the community’s homeowners association and governed by its board of directors, of which Carol is president.

This affords a lot of residents, she said, more free time for recreation and peace of mind to travel. Many go to Florida in winter, she said. “They don’t have to worry. Everything is taken care of.”

Choice is yours — or is it?

Condominium living is not for everyone, the McLaughlins acknowledged. Residents must abide by rules set forth by governing associations, some of which can be restrictive relative to pets, parking, awnings, paint color, yard decorations, window coverings and types of landscaping.

For example, Ed said, you may like purple geraniums in your mulched flower beds, but the association may not permit it.

Such covenants ensure a certain aesthetic standard is maintained, but cookie-cutter conformity may be off-putting to some. And age-restrictive communities don’t afford diversity offered by multigenerational neighborhoods.

“A lot depends on what you want in life,” agreed Carol. “There are rules and regulations you have to abide by.”

But she’s satisfied with their choice.

“Once we moved in, I have never looked back,” she said. “I’ve met lifelong friends here,” the kind she describes as “no matter what happens.”

“You’re never at a lack for anything to do or to do it with,” she said, mentioning book clubs, card clubs, walking groups and a Bon Appetit club where residents get together to try different recipes.

“You’re never bored, but you can choose to stay home and be comfortable or join the party.”