The Villages® is a difficult place to describe. The short version is that it is a 55+ active adult retirement community in Central Florida between Ocala to the north and Orlando to the south. It is about 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and about 70 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
The community is approximately 32 square miles primarily in Sumter County, but some sections bleed over into Marion County to the north and Lake County to the east. It is comprised of 13 distinct districts (as of 1/1/2019) each with about 4,000 or so homes. The Villages Community Development Districts (VCDD) are small governments that are responsible for a variety of functions including maintenance, recreation, public safety, sanitation, water and wastewater services. Each district is made up of several smaller, named villages for which the entire community is named. By my count, there are 88 separate villages as of 1/1/2019.
At the time of this writing, there were about 60,000 homes and about 120,000 residents according to The Villages® FAQs, although I've seen other statistics that show a few more thousand homes and residents. If The Villages® were a city, it would be in the top 15 cities by size in Florida. It's been the top master planned community in the U.S. every year except one since 2010, and it came in second in that one year by less than 30 home sales.
So what makes The Villages® so appealing that it continues to grow?
Well, I believe it's because it provides an amazing infrastructure with an unbelievable number of activities for every possible interest along with retail stores and medical services and educational programs that can all be accessed by golf cart by people with a wide range of budgets.
The Villages® is known for golf and its "Free Golf For Life".
There are currently 12 championship courses/country clubs including an Arnold Palmer designed course and a Nancy Lopez designed course. Ten of the twelve championship courses have 27 holes and the other two have 18. As a resident of The Villages®, you are automatically a "member" of all 12 clubs where you can play golf (green fees are extra) and dine (there is no minimum food purchase requirement as there are at many country clubs). These courses are NOT part of the "Free Golf For Life".
In addition, there are currently 40 9-hole "executive" courses that are shorter and have mostly par 3 holes with perhaps one or two par 4 holes mixed in. The "Free Golf For Life" applies to these "executive" courses. If you walk the course (carrying your clubs or using your own pull-cart), there is no fee to play. If you want to rent a pull-cart, it costs $1. If you want to use your own golf cart, there is a $4 per person per round "trail fee", or you can pay an annual household trail fee of about $140. Now, these 40 "executive" courses are much better than you might expect and they are rated from 1 - 4 depending on difficulty. Oh, and two of the "executive" courses are lighted so you can play night golf.
The championship courses are nice, but they are a bit pricey for the conditions which aren't always the best due to the number of rounds played (especially in the winter). The cost for guests is, in my opinion, ridiculous, but that helps make sure tee times are more available for residents. With that said, if you prefer the additional challenge and are an avid golfer, you can purchase a Priority Golf Membership, which gives you discounted greens fees (currently $17 off the regular resident rate per round), access to the country club pools and spas, priority tee times, and the "trail fee" to use your golf cart on the "executive" courses is included. You can get a Priority Golf Membership for 2, 3, 4 or ALL of the country clubs and you can get it for either one or two people. The maximum cost is an annual Priority Golf Membership for two people for all the country clubs for $925 ($740 for one). If you've ever been a member of a country club, you know what an amazing bargain that is, but for the budget conscious it would take playing a championship round about once every week and a half year round for the Priority Golf Membership to pay for itself.
Finally, other golf-related features include a golf academy, private lessons, group lessons, driving ranges, practice areas, club fitting, club repair, an 18-hole putting course, and a new Pitch & Putt course. That's all in addition to the 666 holes of golf (366 executive holes & 306 championship holes) with more courses being built.
Note: Resident ID cards are issued to all residents and they must be shown for all rounds of golf. Non-resident guests must show Guest ID cards.
Now, only 30% of Villagers play golf. The rest don't have time.
There are just under 3,000 social/special interest clubs for every kind of interest you can think of. I won't go into details, but here is a link to the Club Listing (131 pages).
The following sports facilities are available at no charge to residents:
- 182 Pickleball Courts
- 70 Tennis Courts
- 189 Bocce Courts
- 185 Shuffleboard Courts
- 137 Billiards Tables
- 11 Softball Fields (with over 200 teams)
- 89 Swimming Pools
- 2 Bowling Alleys (there is a charge for games; and there are several leagues)
- 1 Polo Field
- ??? Horseshoe Pits
- ??? Platform Tennis Courts
- ??? Beach Tennis/Volleyball Courts
- ??? Table Tennis Tables
- ??? Outdoor Basketball Courts
In addition to the social/special interest clubs and sports activities, you can participate in:
There are also several ponds where you can fish, and a few nature preserves and various nature trails where you can walk, birdwatch, or just enjoy the outdoors.
Many of the sports facilities and club gatherings take place at the various recreation centers located throughout The Villages®. There are three tiers of recreation centers as we discuss below. They are listed from the most numerous/smallest to the fewest/largest.
Each village has its own Neighborhood Recreation Center (NRC). The NRCs have a neighborhood pool. These are adult only pools (age 30 and over) where folks go to relax. Post office boxes for each village, as well as an ATM, are located at the NRCs. Some NRCs also have horseshoes, bocce, or shuffleboard.
There are over 20 Villages Recreation Centers (VRC) scattered among groups of villages. The VRCs have "family" pools where you can take kids, grandkids, and visitors under 30 to swim. These mid-sized recreation centers usually have a billiard room, card and/or craft rooms, and reservable rooms and a kitchen to rent for events. Outside, there are usually pickleball courts, tennis courts, bocce, shuffleboard, and/or horseshoes.
The largest of the recreation centers are the Regional Recreation Centers (RRC). The RRCs have large "sports" pools that are again, adult only (age 30 and up). These pools are used for lap swimming, water aerobics, and the very popular water volleyball. In addition to the pools, there are pickleball courts, tennis courts, platform tennis courts, beach tennis/volleyball sand pits, bocce courts, shuffleboard courts, and more. Inside the RRCs, there are larger card and craft rooms, rooms with dance floors and stages for dance lessons and music and theater productions, and more. Six of the eleven RRCs have Fitness Clubs for those that want a consistent health club-type workout (however, the Fitness Clubs require an additional membership fee).
Though The Villages® doesn't have a particular town center, there are three Town Squares - Spanish Springs (north), Lake Sumter Landing (central), and Brownwood Paddock (south). A fourth has been announced. These town squares are surrounded by retail shops and restaurants and each square has a movie theater. But the big draw is the free nightly entertainment in the town squares. Every night, from 5:00 - 9:00 p.m., 365 days a year, there is live entertainment at all three of the town squares.
The town squares also have nightly "Bar Huts" where a new specialty drink is served every week in addition to beer, wine, and cocktails. Happy Hour (buy one get one free drinks) runs from 5:00 - 6:00 in Sumter Landing & Brownwood and from 5:00 - 7:00 in Spanish Springs every night.
Each square has one night a week designated as Market Night where arts and crafts and other vendors set up around the bandstand. And every Saturday there is a Farmers Market at Brownwood.
In addition to the free nightly entertainment at the town squares, there are productions put on by various groups of residents/clubs and The Villages Theater Company.
Katie Bells Dining & Entertainment Club has lunch and dinner shows some of which require a cover charge and some of which do not. Villagers get discounts when a cover is charged.
The Savannah Center seats about 850 people and hosts a variety of shows, entertainers, celebrities, and speakers.
The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center seats just over 1,000 people and has a state-of-the-art audio, visual, and theater rigging systems. Broadway shows and high-profile entertainers have graced the stage, and it is also where The Villages Philharmonic Orchestra performs.
The Villages® has its own Villages Health with eight Healthcare Centers with over 60 doctors. Also, you will find The Villages Regional Hospital, a VA outpatient clinic, senior living facilities, and a long term acute care hospital plus several other health-related businesses including dentists, eye specialists, foot specialists, labs, and more.
In the Spring of 2020, the Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood is scheduled to open. It will be a multi-specialty medical center that offers everything, except intensive care and emergency departments.
The Villages Health Learning Center provides health, wellness and chronic care management classes (30 - 40 classes each month). You can take advantage of a variety of free health screenings as well.
All of that along with leading an active lifestyle are components of the vision to make the community America's Healthiest Hometown®.
In addition to free advice, lessons, clinics, etc. offered by the recreation department, clubs, and volunteers, The Villages® also offers paid education courses and classes through The Enrichment Academy. Currently, there are over 200 courses offered in the following general categories:
- Health & Wellness
- Philosophy & Psychology
- World Affairs
In addition, there are opportunities to be a Speaker in their Speaker Series or an Instructor.
As a side note, The Villages® also founded and funds The Villages Charter School which is an on-site school (K - 12) for the benefit of the children of employees of Villages-owned companies and business partners that exist in or for the benefit of the development of The Villages®.
The Villages® currently builds six different series of new homes:
- Patio Villas - 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 1200 - 1900; Frame construction; Prices start in the $150s
- Courtyard Villas - 2 or 3 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 1700 - 2400; Frame or concrete block construction; Prices start in the $190s
- Cottage Homes - 2 or 3 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 1600 - 2400; Frame construction; Prices start in the $180s
- The Verandas - 3 or 4 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 2200 - 3400; Concrete block construction; Prices start in the mid $200s
- Designer Homes - 3 or 4 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 2000 - 3550; Frame or concrete block construction; Prices start in the mid $200s
- Premier Homes - 3 or 4 bedrooms; Square footage ranging from 3500 - 5550; Concrete block construction; Prices start in the $600s
These homes are one-story structures with no basements and attached garages. Frame constructed homes have vinyl siding while concrete block homes are finished in stucco.
Pre-owned homes range from the mobile homes/manufactured homes under $100,000 in the very first village, Orange Blossom Gardens (established in the early 1970s), to a few homes over $1,000,000.
Average home prices are in the $250,000 - $280,000 range. The Villages® has grown from north to south, so older, less expensive homes are in the north, and new construction is occurring in the south.
The Villages® is a 55+ development under the Housing for Older Persons Act. This law basically allows communities intended to provide housing to seniors to legally exclude families with children under 18.
As long as one person who is 55 or older resides in the home, the standard is met. Furthermore, at least 80 percent of the occupied homes must have at least one person over 55 living there. Also, those under 19 cannot be permanent residents.
Those under 55 can purchase a home in The Villages®, but they can only reside there IF the 80/20 ratio is not in jeopardy.
Children, grandchildren, and other young visitors under 19 can visit The Villages® for up to 30 consecutive days but no more. For those that are interested, "Camp Villages" is a program offered during the summer months when kids are out of school in which Villagers and their grandchildren can participate in a variety of planned events together.
Villages Community Development Districts
The Villages® is not a governmental entity but rather it is operated and controlled by a closely held private corporation. Villagers have very little civic say in what goes on and, as one fellow put it, " ..... they've traded in the ballot box for the corporate suggestion box."
However, that's not completely true, as the 13 Villages Community Development Districts (VCDD) are each run by a 5-person, non-partisan Board of Supervisors elected by the property owners within the district. From the VCCD website:
Community Development Districts (CDDs)
A CDD is a governmental unit created to serve the long-term specific needs of its community. Created pursuant to Chapter 190 of the Florida Statutes, a CDD's main powers are to plan, finance, construct, operate and maintain community-wide infrastructure and services specifically for the benefit of its residents.
What will the CDD Do?
Through a CDD, the community can offer its residents a broad range of community-related services, recreation, facilities and infrastructure to help ensure the highest quality of life possible.
CDD responsibilities within The Villages may include storm water management, recreation, security, special events, common area maintenance, potable and irrigation water supply, sewer and wastewater management, and street lights.
How CDDs Operate
A CDD is governed by its Board of Supervisors which is elected by the landowners within the district. CDD Supervisors are subject to Florida State ethics and financial disclosure laws.
The CDD's business is conducted in the "Sunshine," which means all meetings and records are open to the public. Public hearings are held on CDD assessments; and, the CDD's budget is subject to annual independent audit.
The VCDDs are one of the more confusing aspects of The Villages®. But, basically, they are like a large, very sophisticated Homeowners Association for each section of The Villages®.
In the homeowner's annual property tax bill received from the county there is an "ad valorem" tax, which is basically the country real estate tax that covers county services, school tax, and water management, and there is a "non ad valorem" amount that comes from the VCDD. The non ad valorem tax is made up of a Fire District tax, an annual special assessment/maintenance fee, and a bond debt assessment.
In order to develop the infrastructure for each district, bonds were issued and then the bonds were tied to each piece of property in the district in proportional amounts. Each homeowner essentially pays for the infrastructure in their district via the bond assessment in their property tax bill over about 30 years. Once the bond is paid off, the bond assessment falls off the annual property tax bill saving a few to several hundred dollars a year.
So, when looking at pre-owned homes in The Villages®, you will often see a blurb that says "no bond" which means that the bond for that particular property has been paid off and your annual property taxes will be less.
However, the annual special assessment/maintenance fee does not go away. Think of the bond as the repayment of monies used to build the infrastructure in your district and the special assessment/maintenance fee as the ongoing cost of maintaining the infrastructure and/or improving it or repairing it or upgrading it.
Now, that's all part of your annual property tax bill, but the VCDD itself bills you monthly for:
- Amenity Fee
- Water Usage
- Trash Collection
The Amenity Fee (just raised to $159/month) is charged to each home and covers the following:
- Free golf on all of the executive courses
- Swimming, tennis, pickleball, bocce and
many more facilities are all conveniently located
throughout the community
- Over 2,000 organized activities every week
through the Recreation Department
- Sports pools
- Fishing lakes, waterfront parks and fitness trails
- 24 hour community watch service
As I mentioned before, the VCDDs can be very confusing, but there are two ways to get more educated about them. First, every Thursday there is a VCDD orientation program called “Introduction to your Special Purpose Local Government”. Second, for an more in depth look at the VCDDs, there is a program called "Resident Academy" (which probably should be mandatory, in my opinion) that is designed to "alleviate the confusion, questions, or mis-information that exists throughout the community regarding the responsibilities and functions of the Community Development Districts."
Golf Carts & Low Speed Vehicles
There are over 100 miles of golf cart paths with bridges and tunnels to keep Villagers off the roads as they make their way to .... well, everywhere. More paths and bridges and tunnels are being built as the The Villages® expands south. Where there are no golf cart paths, many roads have designated golf cart lanes (marked with diamond symbols). If there are no marked lanes, golf carts are still allowed on any road within The Villages® with a speed limit of 30 mph or less and you drive along the right edge of the lane. Golf carts are not allowed to drive on or cross over roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or higher. Golf carts are not supposed to exceed 20 mph, and it is illegal to modify them to go faster. You DO NOT need to be a licensed driver to drive a golf cart, but drivers must be over 14 years of age.
Low Speed Vehicles (LSV) (aka Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) are defined as four wheel electric vehicles whose top speed exceeds 20 mph but no more than 25 mph. They can use the same golf cart paths and designated golf cart lanes as golf carts, but they can also drive on roads with a speed limit up to 35 mph and they can cross over roads with a speed limit greater than 35 mph. However, operators of LSVs must be licensed drivers, LSVs must have a registered license plate and be insured, and LSVs must have required safety equipment.
In some areas, mostly on roads where they narrow to pass through automatic gates and at intersections, golf carts and LSVs are required to merge in with regular traffic for short distances (signs indicate merging areas). Golf carts and LSVs are required to follow rules of the road, use directional or hand signals, and yield to regular vehicle traffic.
Once a month, a Golf Cart Safety Clinic is held, and it's a great idea to attend one of these.
Golf Carts and LSVs are not just for golfers and most homeowners have one. They are a primary means of transportation within The Villages®, and many Villagers are no longer "two-car" families. Most get by with one car and one (or two) golf carts. In fact, many of the smaller homes have only a one car garage or what they call a one and a half car garage that will fit one car and a golf cart.
The Villages® is an accepting community, but it is not the most diverse. Over 95% of residents are white, and about 70% identify with being politically conservative. The Developer was certainly conservative and supported conservative candidates, and many conservatives make campaign stops in The Villages®.
Of course, just like everywhere else, if you read too much social media or online comments to articles without getting to know the people in person, you may get an overly exaggerated impression of intolerance caused by a few people.
There is increasing diversity as people are finding the benefits of The Villages® are hard to resist, and my impression is new residents are finding that there is more acceptance than some would lead you to believe.
There is a large population of veterans; some sources indicate about 20% of residents are veterans. It's certainly a veteran-friendly community.
Most new residents that buy in The Villages® come from Florida (although many moved to Florida from elsewhere first), but there are huge contingents from north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The costs to live in The Villages® are often said to be comparable to costs of living in the upper Midwest U.S. while those in the higher cost Northeast U.S. find The Villages® to be quite a bargain. For that reason, you will find a lot of transplants from northeastern states, and though those folks don't have the reputation for being the friendliest people, I've found everyone from every walk of life in The Villages® to be quite pleasant.
Negatives and Rumors
For some reason, The Villages® seems to be a target for negative news stories and, therefore, articles that would be very minor in other similar-sized communities seem to get more attention and are often blown out of proportion. Opinion letters to the editor of certain news sources are treated like news stories because it creates more clicks.
Perhaps it's because The Villages® looks like a cult to outsiders, or perhaps it's because of the lack of diversity or the political leanings within the community, or perhaps it's because of the wealth and control of the founding family/Developer, but the good news is most Villagers are enjoying their lives and don't have time to be bothered with such negativity or they choose to ignore it.
Still, for those considering The Villages®, certain items of concern are bound to be discovered.
The STD Rumors
In researching The Villages®, you are apt to find disturbing statements about sexual activity among the seniors there and the claim that STDs run rampant in the community. The STD thing is an exaggeration if not a complete myth that works great as click-bait on the internet. With that said, there does seem to be some truth to some of the rumors about promiscuity among single Villagers that might embarrass the kids and grandkids. In my opinion, retired is not dead and more power to 'em.
The Villages® is not crime free, but serious crime is quite rare and it is a very safe community. Again, any crime in The Villages® seems to be bigger news than in other communities of similar size and any new reports of crimes are treated as if Villagers are getting what they deserve by certain media outlets and outsiders.
The Villages® is not advertised as a "gated" community. There are several gates into some of the villages and residents all carry an access card which is scanned to lift gate arms, but non-residents and service personnel come and go freely by just pushing a button in the "non-resident" lanes or waving to the gate attendants where they exist. The gates, while perhaps a minor deterrent, are more to control traffic and speed, and to provide safe crossing points for golf carts.
The VCDDs are responsible for the gates and the gate attendants and the program known as Community Watch.
Community Watch is a division of The Villages Public Safety Department. We are on-duty 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Our mission is to provide a safe community for our residents and visitors by being the watchful eyes of the community. Although we are not a law enforcement agency, we work very closely with the local law enforcement agencies that service The Villages community. As an “observe and report” agency, Community Watch plays a vital role in deterring crime and assisting law enforcement to solve crimes when they happen.
We've heard reports of Community Watch calling residents to make sure they are okay if something doesn't look right or even if a garage door has been left open overnight.
The Villages® does not have its own police department and relies on the forces of the counties and adjacent communities. By most accounts, they do a great job.
Developer Greed & IRS Troubles
You will read in a negative light that the late Gary Morse, Developer, and his family run and control everything in The Villages® and reap millions of dollars for their efforts. It's true, but most Villagers don't care and are thankful for the efforts of the Morse family and the creation of the largest retirement community in the nation (and perhaps the world).
Now, the Morse's did run into some IRS trouble with the way they structured three or four of the commercial Community Development Districts (not the 13 residential VCDDs).
The good news for residents is that there is an independent Property Owners Association that was established in 1975 to act as "watchdog" and advocate for resident rights. And they have been successful in challenging the Developers when they may have over-reached over the years.
Certainly, the Developers are not without fault and there are times when they are justifiably criticized and must be held accountable, but in the overall scheme of things, it appears most Villagers are happy with the majority of the actions of the Developers.
Only Rich People Can Afford The Villages®
This is a matter of perspective and the perspective can be skewed by statistics. What is "rich" for some people is "normal" for others and may even be considered "poor" for those coming from extremely high cost of living locations.
While a $250,000 house may seem completely out of reach for many, there are those from the West Coast and the Northeast that would find $250,000 to be an absolute bargain. Reportedly, about half of Villagers pay cash for their homes. If you sell a home in a high cost area, chances are you can easily pay cash and have quite a bit left over.
As we discussed above, five of the six series of new homes in The Villages® start from the $150s to the mid $200s. Only the Premier Homes start in the $600s, and those homeowners will certainly skew the income and "average house price" statistics. Of course, there are several pre-owned homes in lower price ranges. And guess what - residents in an $80,000 manufactured home get the same benefits and amenities as those living on $1.5 million homes.
There are a wide variety of backgrounds and income levels in The Villages®. Can you live there on just Social Security? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your circumstances.
We paid cash for our Villa, and without a mortgage, we can live in The Villages® on about $3,000/month and much less if we don't play golf on championship courses or eat out too much. Is that rich? I don't know.
With a mortgage on an average priced home, it may be more in the $4,000 - $5,000/month range. Is that rich? To some, yes, but to others it's not even close based on where they came from.
Just like every other place you might live in retirement, only your circumstances and style of living matter.
What I can say is it would be hard to find any retirement community that offers as much in the way of amenities and services as The Villages® does for the price. Certainly, if you don't want or need all that, there is no reason for buy there and there are much less expensive options.
Here are two more thoughts on income needs in The Villages®. First, if you are entrepreneurial at all, there is money to be made in The Villages®. Many retirees create service businesses to supplement their income at least until Social Security kicks in and they often find themselves with more business than they can handle. Second, there are hundreds of part-time jobs, and even "rich" people work two or three days a week for fun money, to get discounted golf, or to bridge the gap between income and expenses.
So, in my opinion, you don't have to be "rich" to live in The Villages®, but your opinion may differ depending on your personal definition of "rich".
If you read blog posts, forums, news articles and their associated comments, you may think that The Villages® is a terrible place to live or is only for the rich or that the Developers are just greedy rich people taking advantage of the residents. But just about everyone I've talked to that lives "inside the bubble" loves it and they're just enjoying life. Even if the Developer is making millions, most don't seem to care because they have few worries and they are happy. It's not perfect, and it's certainly not for everyone, but the whiners and complainers are in the minority, and those that don't like it simply leave opening up spots for those that think it's an absolute dream of a place to retire.
Speaking of "Inside The Bubble", that's the name of a very good website that discusses The Villages®, and its "History of the Villages" is worth reading to see how the community came about. The publisher (not affiliated with The Villages, Inc.) also offers a comprehensive ebook called "Inside The Bubble - Unauthorized Guide to Florida's Most Popular Community". And he offers the "Inside The Bubble Academy", a series of over 60 pre-recorded videos that let you actually see inside the community. I'm not sure how up-to-date the information is as there is quite a bit of outdated info on the main website, but I'll go out on a limb and say it's probably worth every penny, plus he offers a 100% guarantee.
Or, if you have a half an hour to spare, you can just sit through this official video "The Villages® Lifestyle Preview" done in 2015 (and some of that information is already outdated). By the way, the hokey jingle is outdated, too, but it gets in your head.
I hope you find the above information helpful, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions.