Everett and Joanne Jenkins moved to Marrington Villas at Cobblestone in 2010 to settle into retirement: He'd operated an ice company for years in Raleigh, N.C.

Just a year later, their daughter Melanie and her husband Terry Nye - who runs a propane transportation business - bought a connecting villa in the Goose Creek community. With grown children moving out of the house, they were downsizing to a smaller dwelling.

The Jenkins' and Nyes exemplify today's extended family, choosing to move to a senior-friendly state such as South Carolina while keeping ties with out-of-town brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.

Then in recent months, the move turned poignant. Everett Jenkins fell ill suddenly. He died Feb. 1.

Joanne Jenkins says it made a big difference that she was with family at the time. "Yes. That really helps," she says. "I'm really close to both of my daughters" - a second daughter lives near Raleigh.

Nye, who assisted with hospice and hospital care, agrees. "Absolutely, no doubt about it," she says. "That's definitely been (important)."

When the Jenkins' first got interested in finding a place to retire, they went online and located Debra Whitfield. The real estate agent with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors focuses her business on seniors and retirees. She holds a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation.

She's in her ninth year of "this niche market. I got my SRES in 2006." The housing market hit a downturn not long after, but, "I stayed with real estate and toughed it out."

By fall 2009, "I saw an uptick in my business," says Whitfield, who's been a local Realtor of Distinction for the past four years.

She says she's "not just a Realtor," immersing herself in seniors' issues such as the regional Aging in Place Coalition. She also recommends certain types of reverse mortgages that ensure that seniors aren't making big home loan payments in retirement.

Whitfield cited builder Lennar's "NextGen" home series in which certain sections of the houses are adaptable to homeowners depending on age. "Seniors can live with their kids and grandkids," she says. "I'm really excited about it."

Reach Whitfield online at www.55PlusRealEstate.info.

Even without the aging of the boomer generation, greater Charleston would likely see an increase in retirees and empty nesters, thanks to the area's generally warm weather and a reasonably low-tax environment.

According to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, the area population aged 55 and up rose from 18.9 percent in 2000 to 26.5 percent as of 2012. That works out to about 175,000 people now living in metro Charleston who are 55 and above.

Southern Palms, a 55 plus community, specializes in manufactured homes priced from $85,000 to $130,000 or so. Located 20 miles northwest of downtown Charleston, the Ladson-based gated village has 147 homesites occupied. A new phase, the fifth in the past three decades, expects to launch in late 2014.

Total build-out will be 204 homesites.

"We've got good traffic. We've got a lot of resales, too," says Shirley Shamblin, community manager.

The neighborhood, which has won several state and national industry awards, offers residents an active lifestyle with a "club house, security gate, homesite maintenance, outdoor swimming pool, fishing ponds, putting green and fitness room," according to developer Jensen Communities, adding that Southern Palms residents can be as active as they wish.

"We have probably sold more to northern people (and) Florida, the 'half backs'" who move from the Northeast to the Sunshine state, then escaping the crowds relocate halfway back in South Carolina, Shamblin says. "We sell to local people (too)," she says.

For more information, call Joanne Polston, sales associate at 843-875-6441.

Downsizers can choose the retirement village route, or like at Marrington at Cobblestone, live in a community with no age restrictions but geared to seniors. At the same time, many retirees or middle-aged people moving from larger to smaller homes prefer to reside in an open neighborhood with a host of families.

Jenn Maher, agent with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors, lists a 1,363 square foot house for sale at $159,900 in the Bridges of Summerville. On the market since January, the house has had plenty of interest, and seniors are "mainly who we have looking at it," she says.

"It's not strictly an over 55 community," Maher says, although the neighborhood near Summerville Medical Center offers privacy.

Many older people may still be working either full or part time. They want to see grandkids play baseball, she says. A gated retirement village may be isolated or too far away from urban or suburban areas for homeowners to get out much, she says.

The 315 Garden Grove residence will have an open house Sunday 1-4 p.m., Maher says.

Staying active hasn't been a problem for Bill Snowden and his fiancé Barb Beatty.

They have a 2,800-square-foot home on one level at Del Webb Charleston, located in the sprawling Cane Bay community off U.S. Highway 176. Snowden, almost 65, drives a full-size Dodge Ram pickup; he won't get a golf cart, considering that a sign of throwing in the towel on exercise and an active life.

"We use the exercise room and the pool," Beatty says. One day last week, the couple was planning what they would order for a dinner that evening at Magnolia's restaurant on East Bay Street downtown.

Snowden and Beatty moved from Chicago, closing on the house in July 2013.

"I like the climate," Snowden says. He also doesn't miss the property taxes, as high as $10,000 on a 3,000 square foot home. "You come here; it's $1,600 to $1,800," he says.

"Del Webb has done a fantastic job with the lifestyle," says Whitfield, who helped Snowden find the place after he located her website and then traveled to metro Charleston a couple of years ago.

Reaching retirement and cottage-like properties from downtown Charleston isn't difficult: They're all over the place. Seniors communities tend to be in the northern part of the Lowcountry including The Elms in North Charleston, The Pines at Gahagan near Summerville and the new Carillon at the Ponds in Dorchester County. Most retirement communities are within 20 miles of the center of Charleston.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.