Donna is a freelance writer who uses her personal experiences to guide others through life's changes.
Retirement communities can offer security and a low-maintenance lifestyle for older adults, but choosing and moving to a community can be a difficult decision. This article outlines some things to look for, consider, and ask when selecting a retirement community.
1. Determine What Type of Community You Are Looking For
The first question to ask yourself is what type of retirement community do you need or are you interested in?
Retirement communities usually have either houses or condos available to buy or apartments available to rent, though some offer both.
Retirement communities also offer varying levels of care:
- Independent living for those who are self-sufficient
- Assisted living for those who might need help with medication and small daily tasks
- Nursing care for those with a health issue that requires regular nursing
- Memory care for those living with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia
Deciding what level of service and what type of housing you want is the first step in choosing a facility.
2. Do Your Research
Once you decide what you are looking for in a retirement community, you should start researching the options available to you. Most medium- to large-sized cities have many retirement communities. To research facilities:
- Look online by searching under "retirement communities in (name of place)."
- Ask friends who live in retirement communities, even if they don't live near you. Their experience can help guide your search.
- Visit websites like Care.com for lists of retirement communities. You can search these sites for general information for free without becoming a member.
3. Consider Whether You're Looking for Care for One Person or Two
Your search might be different if you are looking for a retirement option for two people (a couple) or just one. As you get older, the level of care you need might change. And as a couple, you might each require a different level of care and need a different type of facility.
Some retirement communities offer multiple levels of care and allow you to switch between them. This may be something specific to look for if you are a couple. Please note: You may have to pay for each level of care separately.
4. Look for the Amenities That Are Important to You
The appeal of many retirement communities is the amenities they offer. But those amenities are added into the price you pay to buy-in or rent at the facility. Take some time to consider and list the services you want in a community and what you want to avoid paying for them if you're not going to use them. Some popular and common amenities include:
- On-site activities
- Off-site trips
- Transportation to appointments
- Transportation to shopping
- On-site medical staff
5. Determine What You Can Afford
One of the biggest questions when moving to someplace new is, "What can I afford?" A simple budget can help you figure out your income and add up your expenses. The table above can be used as a guide.
The top chart is a sample of some monthly expenses. Create a chart of your own monthly expenses. You can then use this to compare against the monthly costs of each retirement community as you do your search.
The bottom chart is for monthly income. This total should tell you how much you can afford to spend in a new location.
6. Consider the Location
Another consideration in choosing a retirement community is location. Ask yourself if you want to stay in the same area as you live now. Do you want to live in a different climate? Should you move closer to a family member? If you are buying into a community, does that area have a good resale value?
7. Visit Multiple Communities
You, or a trusted family member, should visit multiple facilities before making any decisions. Check to see that the community and its buildings are clean, well maintained, and well staffed. Talk to as many residents as possible. Ask them about the community, the amenities, the food, and whether they are happy there. See if they are friendly and likely to welcome you to the community.
Make a checklist of all the services and amenities that are important to you. Take it with you and ask about each one during your visit. A simple checklist, like the one above, can help you keep track of what each community offers.
My sample checklist includes items like travel time for family, availability of medical alert systems, and whether religious services are offered. You can tailor your list to include your personal wish list for a retirement community. Be sure to leave space at the bottom of your checklist for additional notes.
Complete a checklist for each community you visit. After your visit, you can use these checklists to share information with family and compare amenities between different facilities.
8. Ask the Right Questions
You will have a lot of questions when visiting different retirement communities. Here are some questions you should be sure to ask:
- Is there a membership or buy-in fee? Some retirement communities require that you buy your unit or pay an upfront membership fee to become part of the community.
- Is a financial review or credit check part of the application process? Some communities will check your finances as part of their approval process.
- How do you pay your monthly rent or fees? Some facilities require that monthly costs are directly withdrawn from a bank account.
- What is included in the initial and monthly costs? Be clear about what is included and what is not included in your upfront and regular costs.
- Are there additional fees for meals, transportation, housekeeping, pets?
- Is tipping allowed or expected? Some facilities do not allow tipping. But if it is expected, this will add to your living expenses.
- What is the facility's smoking policy?
- What is the emergency plan for fires and loss of power? What is their plan for natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and/or ice storms?
- Are they offering any promotions for moving in? Some communities will offer help with moving costs or additional meals to entice you to move in to their facility.
9. Compare Different Communities
After you visit multiple communities, it might be helpful to make a comparison sheet like the one above. This sheet will allow you to consider the pros and cons of each facility and see how they compare with each other. Be sure to include all the factors that will help you make the best decision.
Below is a sample completed sheet so you can see how the information would be filled in.
10. Get Help Moving to Your New Retirement Community
One of the biggest hurdles in moving to a retirement community is the actual move. It might seem like an enormous and scary step. But don't be afraid! Many retirement communities have partnerships with "move managers" who help facilitate the moving of your furniture and personal items to your new home.
Move managers can look at the floorplan of your new home and help you decide which items to take with you. A move manager will help you distribute, donate, or dispose of items that you are not taking to your new home. They can deliver these unwanted items to consignment shops or donation sites.
Move managers often partner with moving companies to oversee your move. They also will help unpack and put your items in place at your new home or contract with some other business to do this service. Most move managers can connect you with a realtor if you need to sell your previous home. Please keep in mind that you will pay for each of the services you choose, but they can take some of the worry and work out of moving.
If your retirement community can not recommend a move manager, most large moving companies have a senior move coordinator who can connect you with all the services above.
Researching Your Options Will Help You Make the Right Choice
Moving to a retirement community is a big step, but asking the right questions and doing some research will help ensure that you make the right choice. Once in a retirement community, be sure to participate in activities, meet your neighbors, and keep active. Being involved is the first step to making this new place your new home!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Donna Herron