Pat and Arne Cook thought they had made their last, best move when they retired to a golf community on Skidaway Island, near Savannah, Ga., 17 years ago. The couple had lived for 25 years in Connecticut, where they raised their four children (and shoveled their share of snow). Avid golfers, they were eager to live in a place where they could pursue their hobby year-round. Their new community, The Landings, had six golf courses and two marinas. “We were very happy little golfers,” says Pat, 76.
See Also: Risks and Rewards of Moving to a CCRC
But in 2012, Arne (now 78) suffered a health problem. “Afterward, his memory wasn’t as good, and he just didn’t have the confidence that he used to have,” says Pat. “We realized that we were okay now, but the situation could change very quickly.” Both of their mothers suffered from dementia at the end of their lives. “We didn’t want our kids to worry about taking care of us,” she says.
The Cooks began shopping for a continuing care retirement community. Such communities, known as CCRCs, provide independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care (or just independent living and skilled nursing) on the same campus, typically in exchange for a sizable up-front fee. The idea is that residents will have a place to live for the rest of their lives, with access to care as they need it.
CCRCs are generally limited to people age 62 and older; the average age of entry is 80. Most people leave their homes only when they need assisted living, says Andrew Carle, executive-in-residence and founder of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va. To entice residents who might otherwise stay at home, CCRCs offer country-club amenities, including posh dining rooms, fitness facilities and plenty of activities. They also offer safety backups, such as monitoring systems that let security guards know whether a resident has fallen or is otherwise unable to move around the apartment.
In their 30 years of existence, CCRCs have largely been built, says Carle, “on golf courses and mountaintops in the middle of nowhere.” Lately, however, CCRCs are expanding to attract niche or affinity groups, and they have greater involvement in the community. CCRCs may now be university-based, focused on the arts, or geared toward the lesbian-gay-transgender population.
During the recession, demand for entrance to CCRCs fell as people had trouble selling their homes and freeing up equity to pay the entrance fee. But with increased consumer confidence and improvements in the housing market, demand has begun to rise again, says Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industry, in Annapolis, Md.
Conducting the search
In researching their next move, the Cooks looked at CCRCs down one coast of Florida and up the other. “We wanted to see all our options,” says Pat. They were tempted by a CCRC located close to the beach on Amelia Island, one of the Sea Islands stretching from South Carolina to Florida. Ultimately, however, they chose The Marshes at Skidaway Island, just a couple of miles from The Landings. “If we had moved, we would have had to reestablish everything. But here we already have friends, doctors and our lawyer,” says Arne. About 60% of The Marshes’ 233 residents come from The Landings.
Founded in 2004 as a nonprofit by members of the local business community, The Marshes is governed by a local board of directors and operated by Life Care Services LLC, a national developer and manager of retirement and assisted-living communities. It offers one- and two-bedroom apartments, duplexes and cottages. For single occupancy, the units range in cost, depending on size, from $259,143 (with a monthly maintenance fee of $2,576) to $685,540 (with a fee of $4,729). A second person pays an extra $17,340 and $1,171, respectively. The fee structure, known as Type B, includes some health care. Although the entrance fee has remained stable in recent years, monthly fees have increased by about 3% to 5% annually.
Those fees include a meal allowance, utilities, basic cable TV, weekly cleaning, property taxes, an emergency medical response system, many activities on and off campus, and scheduled transportation. A la carte services include handyman repairs, computer help, transportation (say, to the airport and back), laundry service and pet walking.
The hub of this 58-acre, gated campus is the Island Club, which includes a dining room, a café, a cocktail lounge, an Internet café, a library and a ballroom, plus private dining rooms, a screened-in veranda and apartments. The fitness center and the health care center, The Oaks, are a short walk away. The Oaks provides assisted living and skilled nursing, including rehabilitative, memory and respite care. Residents can also obtain health care and therapy in their homes.
Jumping the hurdles
Most residents at The Marshes take about 18 months to sign up after their initial visit, says Amy Blevins, director of sales and marketing. Prospective residents must make an emotional leap, coming to grips with the idea of a last move and their own mortality, she says. One partner may anticipate freedom from lawn mowing or cooking, while the other may dread “living with old people.” That’s a needless worry, says resident Jim Fendig, a friend of the Cooks. “You get younger here just trying to keep up with the people.”
Once the decision is made, applicants must meet financial and health requirements—as is true of most CCRCs. On the financial side, The Marshes expects couples to have total assets equivalent to twice the entrance fee and monthly income that is 1.5 times the monthly maintenance fee of the unit they have earmarked.
Next, applicants must submit a health assessment signed by their physician affirming that they can perform several activities of daily living, regardless of any preexisting medical conditions. They must also pass a mental acuity test given by the director of nursing at The Oaks. If applicants are approved, they have 90 days in which to close on their contract.
The Cooks moved into The Marshes in June 2013. When they applied, a few units were still available, but now The Marshes has sold all of its 182 units. That’s a good sign: Full or near-full occupancy indicates financial stability.
The worst part of the process? Downsizing their possessions, says Arne. They sold their things on consignment and now wish they had held on to some. Arne says he still misses a painting they acquired on their travels. (For more on downsizing, see The Upsides of Downsizing Your Home.) Local real estate agent Brooke Bass, who specializes in assisting seniors, helped the Cooks create a floor plan for furniture that would fit in their new home. The Marshes, as well as other CCRCs, offers new residents assistance with moving, such as recommending movers and contractors.