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There was a time when the phrase "active-adult" was synonymous with the term "retirement," and by "retirement" many people meant a certain location such as Florida or the desert Southwest.

But with many Americans seeking an active-adult lifestyle long before they retire, the choice of where to buy increasingly means not moving far away. Recent surveys have shown that more and more buyers ages 45 and older are sticking closer to home, choosing communities an hour or so from where they now live, rather than moving hundreds of miles from familiar places, family and friends.

Some older buyers -- those 65 and up -- who had chosen to move to the Sun Belt are now reconsidering their decision. Again, a longing for family and friends plays a role, and the increase in the number and variety of active-adult communities in areas closer to home has given them a new option.

These are the "boomerang" buyers -- so called because they return to the place where they started -- and they fall into two categories: The first group keeps the place in Tampa or Tucson as a winter residence, and buys a second house or condo in a new active-adult community in the area from which they moved.

Those in the second group sell the Sun Belt residence, using the equity to buy a place in an active-adult community back home, and maybe a second, smaller house or condo a similar community at the shore or in the mountains for use as a summer home or a weekend getaway in the winter.

So what are some of factors that can help you determine which location is best for you?

Age 45 to 65

If you're between the ages of 45 and 65, it's a good bet that you remain employed. If you have children, it's likely that they are either nearing high school graduation or in college.

This means that whatever you buy must be within a reasonable commute from work. If you can work by computer a couple of days a week from home you can live farther away: working from home increases your options for traditional -- and perhaps more distant -- resort areas such as the mountains or the seashore.

With at least one child still at home, educational opportunities can still be factor in location, although of less importance than to a household just starting out. There are enough active-adult communities being built these days that finding a new school might not be necessary -- there might be such a community near where you now live.

Age 65 And Above

While it's always difficult to make sweeping generalizations about various age groups, it's safe to say that many people age 66 and above have either retired or want to find part-time employment. For those in this group, location depends on personal preferences such as keeping the friends and facilities they now have or moving to another location and starting fresh.

Finding a community close to the doctor or a specializing hospital can be a major factor, and transportation becomes increasingly important as retirees age and no longer drive.

While active-adult buyers in all age groups want to remain on their own for as long as they can, illness can undercut independent living. Larger communities are able to offer a variety of options, including assisted living and continuing care arrangements that can be tailored to the buyers' needs.

Some active-adult buyers prefer a community with a mix of generations rather than an age-exclusive setting dedicated to those aged 55 and above. These "inter-generational" settings are growing in popularity, and, if they are large enough, they give people a chance to change residences within the same community as their needs evolve.

As more and more builders open Web sites, the Internet is a perfect place to search for an active-adult community. Once you develop a list of possibilities, make appointments to visit the sites. Check out the neighborhoods. Find out how long it takes to drive or walk to the nearest store or to reach the nearest major highway that will provide easy to access those places which are important to you.

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