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Imagine a world where your days are filled with sunshine, relaxation, entertainment, activities, time spent with friends, snoozing in your yard, and enjoying refreshments on the patio while soaking in Arizona’s glorious sunsets. It’s not a fantasy. You can have all this and more.
People yearn for a variety of retirement lifestyles. As you age, you might want to simplify, have 24-hour support if you need it, a meal plan so you don’t have to cook, and a shuttle that will take you to get a haircut, buy groceries or pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. In the Phoenix area, there are plenty of facilities that support these conveniences. They are assisted living communities, typically offering independent apartment living with varying degrees of independence depending on your needs. But for those of us who are retired, not because we are old or dealing with serious infirmities, but because we are ready to enjoy an active next phase of adulthood, a location like Sun Lakes may be just the answer.
Sun Lakes is a community of about 15,000 people, a suburb of Phoenix. It is a Census Designated Place (a “CDP” but not a city according to the U.S. Census) within Maricopa County. Bordered on the north and east by Chandler and on the west and south by the Gila River Indian Reservation, Sun Lakes is considered within the region of metro Phoenix locally referred to as the East Valley, since it is very closely aligned with Chandler.
Sun Lakes is an age-restricted community. Generally, at least one of the owners/residents must be at least 55 years of age, although there may be some availability for people as young as 40. No one under the age of 19 may live in Sun Lakes without special permission from the Homeowners Association. If you move to Sun Lakes, gone will be the days of waking up on Christmas morning to see all the little ones riding their new bikes on the sidewalks. No longer will you buy large bags of bite-sized candy bars to distribute on Halloween. Chances are there won’t be any garage bands rehearsing near your home, and any “wild” parties are likely to be over by 9 p.m.
Just the Deets
Sun Lakes was initially developed in the early 1970s by Robson Communities, beginning with manufactured homesites in the first of what would end up as five Sun Lakes communities. In 1976 Mr. Robson started building single family homes and continued through the early 1990s. In addition to Sun Lakes I, the other four communities are Palo Verde, Cottonwood, Ironwood and Oakwood. Comprised of about 10,000 homes, Sun Lakes is sold out. The five communities are now operated by three Homeowner Associations: Sun Lakes I; Cottonwood/Palo Verde; and Iron Oaks (Ironwood and Oakwood).
As you might expect, almost 95% of the people who live in Sun Lakes are more than 55 years old, and 40% of the residents are over 75. The median age is about 73 (U.S. Census 2017 Estimate). Single men looking for companionship enjoy favorable odds here; there are ten women for every eight men in Sun Lakes, although I can’t tell you how old those women are, or if they are looking, too!
Who Lives Here
Most of the homes in Sun Lakes are owner-occupied with just one or two occupants, although there are some rentals. Many of the homes are owned by winter visitors, also known around town as “snowbirds.” While some consider it a derogatory or insulting term, it isn’t. It simply refers to people who “fly” south for the winter to enjoy the sun and warmth of the Phoenix area. If you are from Western Canada, or northern U.S. states like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, and Minnesota, Arizona might be one of the top contenders for a retirement location. We’ll let those people in Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Washington D.C. have their Florida getaways – they can have that humidity, those sharks and the annual hurricanes!
About 36% of the people who live in Sun Lakes have a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree, higher than the national average. The median income of a Sun Lakes household is over US$54,000, while about 6% of the residents have incomes below poverty level. Of course, statistics on income measures take into account earnings from government payments, employment, pensions and income from investments, and does not include savings, retirement account balances or other investment values. About 98% of the population is white, with about 2% comprised of people who are Black or African American, Asian or other races (U.S. Census 2017 Estimate).
Not everyone who lives in Sun Lakes is retired; about one out of every five people who live in this active adult community continues to be employed (U.S. Census 2017 Estimate). You’ll have no trouble finding local professionals in the neighborhood to assist when you need help. After all, they have decades of experience in their fields. Community online bulletin boards are replete with computer technicians, accountants, handymen, pet sitters, house cleaners, entertainers and more. Likewise, many local companies – contractors, house cleaners, landscapers, roofers, painters, pest control, plumbers, appliance service, A/C repair, locksmiths, etc. — find that a community this large keeps them busy all year long, so they are familiar with the homes and the people who live in them.
What Kind of Homes are in Sun Lakes
Many people who live in Sun Lakes have planned ahead well enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in their 50s and beyond; some even use their home as a winter haven only, and retreat back to their northern abodes in the summer. The great majority of homes in Sun Lakes are single-family detached homes in the $300K to $450K range, with homes in the first phase, some of which are manufactured homes or wood-framed homes, being priced even lower than that. There are also some townhomes in IronOaks that might be available in a lower price range.
Naturally, homes with premium lots on the golf course with lake views or those with a guest house, for example, will command a price higher than average. The square footage of a home in Sun Lakes typically varies between about 1,300 to over 3,000sf. Some homes in the older sections have only a carport, while most of the homes have a 2-car, 2.5-car, or a 3-car garage. Wait…what’s a 2.5 car garage? It accommodates two regular vehicles and a golf cart, or, for those that don’t golf or don’t use a golf cart for transportation, it affords additional storage space. Remember, there are no basements in Sun Lakes!
What Do People in Sun Lakes Do
Typically, people who move to Sun Lakes are looking for a community with social activities, golf courses, and resort-style living. Often likened to sleepaway camp, residents here can be doing something all day, every day if they so choose. Alternatively, you may eschew all the activity and simply enjoy the solitude and peace and quiet of home base.
What is there to do? Oh my! For the athletic-minded, there are five golf courses, many tennis courts, pickleball courts, softball, bocce ball, fitness centers, swimming pools and walking paths. For those that enjoy socializing and making friends, there are a multitude of club opportunities: hiking, biking, travel, performing, political, computer, billiards, religious, arts & crafts, musical, book clubs, dance, RVers, photography, service organizations as well as social clubs for singles, for people of certain heritages or from certain U.S. states. There are also many pastimes that involve somewhat less athleticism – bingo, karaoke, poker, bridge and other games — in all five Sun Lakes communities.
When evening comes, Sun Lakes streets roll up and everyone goes to bed. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but the crickets and wild rabbits take over after about 9 p.m. Those who aren’t in their PJs right after dinner can take advantage of entertainment options including special holiday dinner events, tribute band performances, local choral and theatre groups, sports bars and local watering holes for adult beverages.
Sun Lakes residents receive a monthly newspaper, Sun Lakes Splash, with news about organizations, happenings and a calendar of events.
Gates and Security
Three of the five Sun Lakes communities are gated. That means that homeowners may always enter and leave at will. People who don’t live here, however, may not enter without permission of the gate employee or a homeowner. Several of the communities also have a Patrol that assists with issues that arise within the community. Although not a police force per se, the Patrol is equipped to handle speeders, solicitors, noise control, vacation watch for homes, and anything that appears unusual or dangerous.
These features do not mean that the neighborhoods are totally secure. There are constantly outsiders working in the neighborhoods, some of the restaurants and facilities are open to the public and people can always just walk in. Notwithstanding the fact that Sun Lakes is not entirely off limits to outsiders, the crime rate is relatively very low, and the great majority of crimes committed are thefts and of a non-violent variety.
Most of Sun Lakes is on a County Island, and as such receives county support. For example, Sun Lakes is served by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement. A small part of IronOaks is located within the City of Chandler, and receives city services. For more information, see the community crime map web page as well as the Arizona DPS Sex Offender Registry.
What is an HOA
Like many subdivisions in Greater Phoenix, and especially the retirement or active age-restricted neighborhoods, amenities are provided to the homeowners and managed by a Homeowners Association (“HOA”). Love ‘em or hate ‘em, that’s a topic for another 15 or 20 articles, but you can’t own a home or live in Sun lakes without paying HOA dues and abiding by HOA rules. From time to time the dues may be increased, or there may be special assessments for large projects. These are not optional. Your home can be foreclosed upon for nonpayment of HOA dues. Make sure you budget for increases or unforeseen charges.
While everyone should scrutinize the HOA Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”) published by any HOA community, here are just a few of the CC&Rs for Sun Lakes that seem to catch people off guard, create some heartache or beget a vocal disdain for HOAs in general:
- No parking on the street after certain hours.
- No additions or remodels of homes or yards without prior approval.
- Limitations on exterior decorative items. Your beloved pink flamingo may not be adored by your neighbors.
- Weed control. Even if you don’t live in Sun Lakes year-round, you are expected to maintain your property.
- Paint color restrictions for exteriors.
- Fence/wall restrictions.
- Age restrictions and limitations on how/when guests can use the community amenities.
- No jogging, biking, playing football or walking the dogs on golf courses. They are private property, and only for golf use.
- There are some restrictions on renting homes or parts of homes.
Not all the HOAs in Sun Lakes have the same restrictions, and some areas, like the Villas at IronOaks, may have more than one HOA.
What’s Wrong with Sun Lakes
If there was a perfect community, about 300 million of us would be living there! Sun Lakes isn’t perfect. Here are a few generalizations for consideration. Keep in mind that these might apply to many age-restricted communities.
- Pink/orange tile roofs and cookie cutter homes on small lots. People moving to the Valley of the Sun are sometimes put off by the fact that many of the homes look alike. In Sun Lakes, there is some variety in the older sections, but in the newer phases the homes bear a sameness. While roof colors are somewhat repetitive, in recent years there has been some expansion of exterior paint color choices to make the neighborhood more attractive. Looking for acreage? Look elsewhere. Many homes are rather close together.
- In most of the Sun Lakes communities there are no sidewalks. That means that pedestrians (and their dogs) are walking in the street along with bicyclists, golf cart drivers, trucks and local vehicular traffic.
- About those dogs. These communities seem to have not considered how many residents have a furry pet in the house that likes to walk on grass. There is grass, but not as much as all those canine owners would like. There is no dog park here.
- People are older. Of course they are older, silly, it is an age-restricted community! In my experience, some people, as they age, become less considerate, feel more entitled (what?? no free popcorn??), and have fewer ‘filters’ in their interactions with others. An older population has a tendency to be preoccupied with health challenges, and social discussions are sometimes focused on those issues. Do people drive more erratically as they get older? I have to say that, as a generalization — yes. And don’t expect people to be more careful when they are driving a golf cart or letting their grandchildren drive a golf cart (yes, that’s illegal).
- There are no young people. Again, that’s the point! There is a lot less vandalism than in other nearby neighborhoods where the bored teens live, no kids taking over the community pool, no babies crying in the restaurant at dinner. If you enjoy being around the exuberance of youth, Sun Lakes might not be right for you. Halloween is certainly a dull holiday around here, but you get to eat all the candy yourself! The dogs wear costumes on Halloween. Yes, they do.
- Residents here tend to be resistance to change.
- While there may be a small percentage of homes that are within walking distance of a bus stop, there is really no public transportation for Sun Lakes residents.
You might end up with neighbors that skinny dip in their pool, or one that plays loud music, or has a tree that drops leaves in your pool, or that you just don’t get along with. That could happen anywhere. Your HOA might be able to help with those issues, but not all neighbors love each other.
What’s Near Sun Lakes
While there is so much to do in the community, sometimes residents actually do leave the “compound” for shopping, dining and entertainment. One would rarely have to go outside of a ten mile radius to frequent destinations that enhance the Sun Lakes experience.
- There are several movie theater complexes offering more than 30 screens of both new releases and classic favorites. All offer senior discounts.
- There are two libraries very close to Sun Lakes.
- Downtown Chandler is constantly evolving and is a focal point for festivals, entertainment, farmers markets, restaurants and bars. The Chandler Main Library is in Downtown Chandler.
- Chandler Fashion Center is one of last traditional indoor malls built in the Phoenix area. Yes, it is air-conditioned! All the big names are there — Macy’s Nordstrom, Dillards, Apple Store, Barnes & Noble, Disney and more. More than 20 restaurants have spaces in and around the mall.
- Speaking of restaurants, while Sun Lakes has several restaurants and bars right in the immediate neighborhood, within a few miles you can find a great variety of dining choices at all price levels. Italian, Greek, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, salads, burgers, steaks, sushi, charcuterie, teppanyaki, breakfast, health food, vegan, kosher-style, bar food, ice cream are all nearby. I would be remiss if I did not mention that within only 10-12 miles you’ll find the only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant in Arizona: Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass.
- Right off I-10 on the Gila River Indian Reservation you can try your luck at the Wild Horse Pass & Casino or enjoy one of the many concerts at the hotel’s Showroom.
- Adjacent to the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino is an upscale, outdoor outlet shopping mall. Are there great bargains there? I’m not so sure, but if you like Coach, Columbia, Jockey, Kate Spade, Lane Bryant, Lucky Brand, Merrell, Old Navy, Saks Off 5th, or Tommy Bahama — there are more than 80 stores here — you’re bound to find something you absolutely have to buy.
- Chandler Center for the Arts is in Downtown Chandler and features musical and dance performances by nationally known artists.
The proximity of Sun Lakes to I-10, the 101 Loop Price Freeway and the 202 SanTan make it an appealing location for those that like to get around town. Sky Harbor International Airport is only about 30 minutes away, as is Old Town Scottsdale, Downtown Phoenix, Downtown Gilbert and Downtown Tempe.
That’s About It
Sun Lakes is a popular choice for active seniors, especially those who enjoy the outdoors and the social aspect associated with offered activities. When buying any home, doing your research is critical. If you find that Sun Lakes is a good fit, welcome! Enjoy your senior years!
Sun Lakes Neighborhoods Online
Sun Lakes I
Cottonwood / Palo Verde
IronOaks (Ironwood / Oakwood)
Disclaimer: The views and descriptions expressed in this article are my own and are not supported by any Sun Lakes community management or organization.
Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples. – George Burns, American comedian and centenarian whose career spanned vaudeville to color television