By Matthew Power To hear developer Ralph Spargo tell it, making this 183-unit project work rests on one principle: steering away from clichés about active adults and looking at the reality of older people's lifestyles.

"What is active adult? It's not a market. It's a lifestyle. And we found that in people over age 55 we needed four separate product types. There's a lot of difference between somebody who is 55 versus 90, somebody retired versus still working," Spargo says.

The resulting gated community of single-floor homes, built on 68 acres, includes both attached and detached housing, built using standard wood framing, at a typical production builder cost of $40 to $60 per square foot.

Part of a bigger master planned community, the Talega community has optional access to golf and walking trails, yet owners on fixed incomes don't have to foot the lion's share of the bill for these services. Instead, the community serves several small niches simultaneously, with floor plans ranging from 1,506 square feet to 3,542 square feet.

Photo: Lance Gordon Architectural Photography

"The house is really secondary to lifestyle," Spargo says. "Yet this community doesn't stand out from the rest of the master plan. But it depends on the buyer. We have one attached duplex/triplex product that has maintenance included in the dues. Single women love that." Category: Active adult community; Entrant/Builder/Developer: Standard Pacific Gallery Communities, Irvine, Calif.; Developer: Catellus Residential Group & Talega Associates, Irvine; Architect: JBZ Architecture + Planning, Newport Beach, Calif.; Land Planner: RBF, Irvine; Landscape Architect: The Collaborative West, San Clemente, Calif.; Interior Designer: Saddleback Interiors, Corona del Mar, Calif.

Hidden Age Proofing

"One thing that's important to this market is that [active adult buyers] don't see themselves as old people," notes developer Ralph Spargo. "So we try to do subtle things to prepare the homes for an aging buyer, without turning them off." These include:

  • Extra framing in walls where they may want to put grab bars;

  • Lever hardware on doors;

  • Wide aisles between cabinets and hallways;

  • At least one wheelchair-accessible bath;

  • Low-maintenance exterior: small yards, vinyl siding, and vinyl windows.

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