Senior Living in the Desert | Nan McKay

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What is living as a senior in a desert community really like?

After we sold the second-home house to Jeannie and Norm, we still wanted to be with our friends – and now our relatives – on Dove Mountain, so we decided to buy another house. A housing development which was not 55+ but had mostly older people living there was built. We had walked the lots prior to construction and dreamed, but we thought, “We’d have to sell San Diego house if we were to do this.”

This was 2009, and the housing market had definitely taken a turn-down. I was looking around on the Internet and saw a house on the lot we had most liked. I worked and worked to figure out how we could swing it financially. Maybe if I took out a home equity loan or something like that. Long and short of it is we did it. But now we had two mortgages.

We lived there a year and finally said, “This is too much money with two houses. Where do we want to be?” We decided we had more fun in Arizona. We sold our San Diego house and moved full time to Arizona, one year after we bought the Arizona house.

It was a big, pretty house on a lake and a golf course, much like our other smaller house on Dove Mountain. See all the green? It’s not all brown and ugly, like many people think. Yes, it’s hot in the summer. About 50% of our neighborhood left in the summer for their winter house in the northern areas.

The heat never bothered me – I like it. Tucson’s elevation is three to four thousand feet. Also, it’s more in the mountains, so it isn’t as hot as a bigger city like Phoenix, for example. We were about a mile from the Ritz Carlson on Dove Mountain which is a great place to visit and get the ambiance of the area.

Sunsets are magnificent. It’s hard to find a better sunset than Arizona.

The other thing we loved were the monsoons. Everyone waited for a monsoon which is a huge, drenching torrent of rain coming down with great lightning and thunder. We loved to sit out on the patio and watch the monsoon rain.

That area has a lot of dips in the side streets. If you had a monsoon, you stayed away from the side streets because your car could get swept away in the dip. Several people actually died from being caught in a street dip. Who would have known?

The house needed a lot of work inside and outside at the time, but our friends Max and Lyle helped us with painting and the many other things we needed to do. The dining room was painted dark purple which I wanted to change, so Lyle got up on a ladder and painted the entire inside of the house for us. He could do almost anything to fix a house!

The back patio needed the most work. It was large and we had a smaller pool and outdoor kitchen but almost all of it was dirt. We did some things right, and other things we learned from.

The deck probably was one of our mistakes. We got "talked into" a coating on the deck which they said would last 30 years. However, after about two years, it started to crack. When it cracks, it comes up in larger pieces. Not good. Unfortunately for both of us, the contractor who sold us the deck coating died and the company was defunct. Live and learn. It is hard to find a good coating for a deck in all that sun. Perhaps concrete is the best way to go.

One question most people have is how to shade the back yard. The Arizona sun can be pretty brutal. When we cemented the patio floor, we installed an Equinox shade cover which I would highly recommend for anyone where there is a lot of sun. It was 20 x 20, and we were able to put it up before we poured the concrete so that the legs were in the concrete after the pour. You can see it at It had a louvered roof that you could open or close, and we installed screens that came up and down on two sides. It was great for entertaining.

Originally we installed Sunsetter awnings for the rest of the patio off the house. The wind can really sweep through the desert, and we had to be sure the awnings were up if the wind came up. We finally bought a couple that had a sensor and closed when the wind was too high. Those eventually wore out, and we installed a permanent structure which gave us filtered sun and shade and was also great for entertaining. It was an aluminum pergola-type of structure that was attached to the house but also had poles which had to be put into the concrete. It worked well. You can see it in this picture.

We also had a large set of windows in the living room. The problem was that, even though we had an indented patio right outside the living room, the birds would fly into the windows. It is not fun to find a dead bird (or two) on your couch. The solution that really worked for us was a shade that looked opaque from the outside but you could see out through it from the inside. It had a remote, so it was easy to put up and down. We had it installed by our Sunsetter rep, but I can’t remember if that was a Sunsetter product. You can see the shade on the windows which stopped finding the dead birds on the couch.

The other area that needed work was our swimming pool and jacuzzi. We had some resurfacing down but, even in Arizona, it was hard to get the water warm enough to swim. The swimming season wasn’t much different than when we had lived in Minnesota. I had tried a solar cover for the winter, but the pool had a spill from the jacuzzi to the pool. The water that spilled over went right onto the solar cover, so it was useless and we finally took it down.

I like the water about 82-85 degrees – I know, I’m crazy – so we installed solar to heat the pool. That really works well.

The only problem with solar is that you can get a leak in the solar pipes on the roof. You know when there is a leak because it POURS down the side of the house. I always worried when we left the house for a period of time. I ended up just turning it off if we were leaving for a couple of days. I could work the pool and the solar from my phone, so it wasn’t hard to do.

We also installed misters. I wouldn’t do that again. We had them across the back of the house for the length of the patio, but I don’t think it’s worth it. They can get everyone wet. The motor noise isn’t quiet. And the biggest issue is that you have to unscrew all the heads and put them in vinegar water if I remember right for the winter. If you strip a screw on the head, the head is useless, and they are hard to replace over time and find just the right ones.

Tucson is a very senior-friendly place to live. They are used to us old people and don’t honk at us if we go too slow or over the line. Most of the streets are side streets to get almost anywhere except maybe the airport. The airport was about 45 minutes from where we lived. Doctors are plentiful and very good because they like the climate, too, and it’s not hard to entice them to live in the area.

We lived there twelve years and totally enjoyed it! Would I recommend having a house here in a heartbeat. It was a terrific place to live and a great stay while we were there.

If you want to know why we moved, look at the next episode.

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