You may think your dream of spending your golden years in a house flanked by the ocean on one side and golf courses on the other is over since the bottom fell out of the housing market. After all, development has stalled, sales offices are empty and home prices at some communities have dipped by as much as 50% in the last year.

Think again.

You may be decades away from retirement, but as communities scramble to attract whipper-snappers as young as 45 years old, a golf course near a sunny beach may not be out of your budget.

“There are definitely deals to be had,” says Dave Robertson, editor of Living Southern Style magazine and a speaker for the traveling Live South Resort and Retirement Real Estate Show. “It’s difficult to get credit, but if you’re relatively affluent and have a big enough down payment, you can get a house.”

What’s Going On
December housing starts slid 15.2% compared to December 2007 and housing sales plummeted more than 37% year over year, leaving active adult communities such as the 140-unit Esplanade in Hudson, Mass., two-thirds undersold.

Even with a decline in the stock market, baby boomers have an average of $500,000 in total assets, not counting income from Social Security and pensions, according to Milliman, a consulting firm based in Seattle. However, the majority of that wealth is not liquid. Most of it lies in the value of their existing homes and, with credit frozen and housing sales in the tank, the money that active adult communities depend on to keep in business has dried up.

“The market has just been hard all around,” says Lizette Frias, a spokesperson for the Esplanade. “A lot of retirees just can’t get rid of their homes, so they don’t have the money to buy right now.”

Free Parking and Other Incentives
Some communities, such as the Esplanade and Century Village East in Deerfield Beach, Fla., are lowering their age requirements from 55 to 45, while others, such as Heritage Place in Roseville, Minn., are offering incentives such as three months of free parking, meals or housekeeping to lure new tenants.

Tim McCarthy, principal of Traditions of America, a Radnor, Pa.-based developer of active adult communities for residents 55 and over, is really going the extra mile. If prospective tenants are having trouble selling their current houses, he’s taking on the property himself as the sales agent.

“There’s no reason that you can’t sell a house in 30 days,” says McCarthy. “If a client can’t sell the house then I’ll put my own money behind the promotion.”

“Never A Better Time to Buy”
Living Southern Style's Roberts believes there has never been a better time to buy a home, particularly if you have the money to do it. Here are some factors you should take into account:

1. Location. Just because a property is cheap doesn’t mean that you want to live there. Depressed real estate is easy enough to find, but spending more than $200,000 to live in the middle of nowhere may not be the best deal for you. Keep an eye out for access to restaurants, hospitals and cultural offerings in the community.

2. Costs. It’s a buyer’s market, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get property for a song. You’re not going to find fire sales in most high-end residential communities, so if you don’t have the money to spend, don’t waste your time looking in these spots.

3. Offerings. “It’s important to keep in mind that ‘One man’s heaven is another man’s hell,’” says Dr. Mark Fagan, a scholar of migration patterns among retirees and head of the Department of Sociology and Social Work at Jacksonville State University. Keep in mind the things that you want to enjoy when choosing a community. If you like to golf, then it may be a good idea to stay away from a community in the mountains (unless, of course they have a course in the valley).

4. Your life as it is.
Sun, sand and golf are great but 76% of adults aged 45 to 54 surveyed by AARP said they would prefer to stay in their homes rather than relocate to an active adult community. If moving means leaving loved ones behind, it may be better for you to simply visit the beach instead of moving there.

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