Senior surge: Why age qualified developments are making a comeback in Las Vegas

Construction continues on the Toll Brothers’ first Active Adult Community called Regency at Summerlin on March 3, 2016

Whether you call them active adult, age qualified, age restricted or age privileged, senior housing developments are making a comeback in Las Vegas.

But this time around, don’t look for the standard type of senior project that was built for years in Las Vegas — a sprawling, mini-city anchored by golf courses — to pop up again anytime soon.

Investors are building or planning a handful of new 55-and-over residential projects in the Las Vegas area, after not breaking ground on such developments for years. They include Lennar Corp.’s 220-acre Heritage subdivision in Henderson; luxury builder Toll Brothers’ 110-acre Regency project in Summerlin; Newport Pacific Land Co.’s 52-acre Latitude development in Summerlin; and hundreds of senior-only homes in Union Village, a residential and health care project in Henderson.

Regency at Summerlin

A look at a model home called Wakefield High Plains, part of the Pinnacle Collection, at the Toll Brothers' first Active Adult Community called Regency at Summerlin on March 3, 2016. Launch slideshow »

Southern Nevada became a top U.S. retirement spot years ago, luring people with sunshine, low taxes, entertainment and new communities where residents could hit the links, socialize with people their age and not be bothered by teenagers or screaming kids.

The Great Recession largely didn’t change those perks, but it wiped out Las Vegas’ home-construction market and Americans’ finances. Retirement plans were ruined, and developers held back from launching new senior communities in the valley.

Developers aren’t flooding Las Vegas with new 55-and-over projects these days. But with the economy on the mend, the elderly population soaring and the homebuilding sector back to life, some are back at it.

Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers kicked off sales efforts last month at Regency, located off Sunset Road and Hualapai Way in the southwest valley. The project is planned for 458 homes, and buyers picked up eight in the first week of sales, Las Vegas division president David Straub said.

Prices start in the $400,000 range. By comparison, the current median sales price of new homes in Clark County is around $312,500, says Home Builders Research.

Regency is the first 55-and-over community of single-family homes in Summerlin — the valley’s largest master-planned community — in 15 years. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools; tennis, pickleball and bocce ball courts; and social events, according to Summerlin developer Howard Hughes Corp.

It’s also Toll Brothers’ first senior development in Las Vegas, Straub said. He expects to finish in four to five years and to sell 40 to 50 percent of the homes to locals. The rest would go to transplants.

Straub noted the senior population was rapidly increasing due to aging Baby Boomers — 19 percent of the country is expected to be age 65 and older by 2030, up from 13 percent in 2010, according to federal data. He said people were still buying homes in Southern Nevada’s existing 55-and-over communities.

“To be selfish, I’m glad there aren’t more,” he said of new developments.

In the southeast valley, Lennar had sold about 40 homes in Heritage by late April. Among other things, it’s offering houses with a garage big enough to fit an RV, Las Vegas division president Joy Broddle said.

Heritage is located in Cadence, a 2,200-acre community and former industrial-waste dump that’s been cleaned up. Lennar’s project is planned for 900 to 1,000 homes, with prices ranging from around $300,000 to $450,000, Broddle said.

Miami-based Lennar is one of the largest homebuilders in the country and has developed 55-and-over communities around the United States, but Heritage is its first in the Las Vegas area, Broddle said. As she sees it, Cadence’s proximity to Lake Mead is among reasons it would attract retirees.

“That is a huge draw,” she said.

But she also noted that senior communities are riskier projects for investors than traditional subdivisions.

They cater to a narrow segment of the population, limiting the pool of potential buyers. According to the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, buyers picked up 1,150 homes in the area’s 55-and-over communities last year. That comprised 3 percent of all resales.

Also, senior projects often include a range of amenities that can cost millions of dollars. Lennar, for instance, is building a 23,000-square-foot recreation center in Heritage and plans to have pickleball courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a ballroom, a café and a full-time activities director.

Such amenities can lure buyers, especially those who are eyeing regular subdivisions that don’t offer such perks. But, by gobbling up land, communal amenities can make a project less lucrative for developers by slashing the number of home sites, Home Builders Research founder Dennis Smith said.

Amid the valley’s rising land prices, perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that none of the new projects underway include a golf course.

The valley already is packed with courses, and they eat up far more potential home sites than a clubhouse or recreation center. On top of that, golf’s popularity is sliding nationally anyway.

“How can you make more money: Turn land into a golf course or turn land into houses?” Smith said.

In years past, however, golf-course communities for retirees were the norm.

Sun City Summerlin, which started taking shape about 25 years ago, led the way for Las Vegas’ massive senior developments. It boasts around 7,800 homes, three 18-hole golf courses, 14 tennis courts, eight bocce ball courts, card rooms, social halls and a 312-seat theater.

The valley was growing rapidly, and projects such as Del Webb’s Sun City communities — there are five in Clark County, all with golfing — helped turn the area into a retiree hot-spot.

Some 5 percent of Clark County residents were 65 or older by 1970. That grew to 10 percent by 1990 and to 12 percent by 2012, county data show.

“Long known as a vacation getaway spiced with games of chance, this southern Nevada boomtown is rapidly becoming a viable retirement and getaway-home community,” said a 1991 report.

The small towns and cities an hour or so outside Las Vegas, where homes are cheaper and land more plentiful, became especially popular.

About 25 percent of residents in Pahrump, 29 percent of Mesquite and 31 percent of Laughlin were 65 and older by 2010. The same year, 12 percent of Nevadans and 13 percent of the country were 65 and up, according to Census data.

Southern Nevada’s roaring homebuilding industry and population growth ground to a halt during the recession, when Las Vegas, a poster child for the real estate bubble, became ground zero for the bust. Builders, for instance, closed 39,000 new-home sales in 2005 but just 3,900 in 2011, according to Home Builders Research.

Perhaps the last 55-and-over community to break ground in the area before the economy crashed was Sun City Mesquite, and nothing else came along until the current group of projects, industry executives say.

Some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Sun City Mesquite opened in mid-2007 and is being developed by Atlanta-based PulteGroup, which bought Del Webb in 2001. It’s planned for about 3,500 homes, and roughly 1,100 have been sold, said Andy Lee, director of sales for PulteGroup’s Las Vegas division.

Southern Nevada still offers sunshine, low taxes and other perks for retirees. And even though construction is picking up, investors aren’t cramming the valley with new senior communities.

One possible reason, according to Smith, is Las Vegas’ chronic doctor shortage. The valley has been short on physicians for years, but it’s only gotten worse, he said.

University of Nevada School of Medicine researchers said in a report this month that Nevada's share of allopathic physicians, or M.D.'s, was 37th-lowest in the country in 1985. By 2013, its ranking had dropped to 47th.

UNLV and the private Roseman University of Health Sciences are launching locally based M.D.-granting medical schools, which could help ease the doctor shortage. Touro University Nevada, a private osteopathic medical school in Henderson, was founded in 2004, and the University of Nevada School of Medicine trains students in Las Vegas. But as of a few years ago, Las Vegas was by far the largest metro area in the country without a locally based M.D.-granting institution.

Both UNLV and Roseman aim to start with 60 students in 2017.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, retirees looked for warm weather and golf, and health care “wasn’t discussed as much,” Smith said. But today, amid rising health care costs, “that issue is higher up on the list.”

Moreover, the stock-market crash of 2008 wiped out roughly $2.7 trillion from retirement accounts, according to Urban Institute, a public-policy research group. Losses were replenished when the market bounced back, but amid the worst recession in decades, 66 percent of workers aged 60 and up were delaying retirement in 2010, says CareerBuilder.

That dropped to 53 percent last year. Still, with more than half of older workers putting off retirement, this limits the number of potential buyers for new senior-housing developments.

Union Village partner Craig Johnson — whose group’s 170-acre project at Galleria Drive and U.S. 95 is planned for housing, medical facilities and other uses — said he knew people who, a decade ago, would have retired and moved to Las Vegas. But now they have to work another five to 10 years.

And with life-expectancy rising, it “scares the crap out of people” to see if their savings will last, he said.

“It’s sobering to think, ‘Do I have enough money to retire?’” Johnson said.

Real Estate

Las Vegas Sun librarian Rebecca Clifford-Cruz contributed research to this report.