Many older adults decide that a retirement community will be their next move. However, retirement communities can vary significantly in terms of their housing options, amenities, healthcare services, and the lifestyle that they offer. Here are seven steps to find the right retirement community for you.
1. Choose a location for the retirement community search
Step one is to figure out where you want to live. Consider your motivation for moving. Are you looking to be closer to family? (That’s the main reason baby boomers purchased a new home in 2022, according to the National Association of Realtors’ annual Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends report.) Are you looking for an area with more affordable housing? Do you want to live in a bustling city or a quiet suburb? Does your ideal retirement entail living near the beach?
2. Set a budget
Establishing how much you’d like to spend on housing is crucial. Your budget should include not only your monthly housing costs but also entrance fees — many retirement communities charge them, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), with entry fees ranging widely, from $40,000 to more than $2 million. Once you’ve determined what you can afford, you can zero in on the retirement communities that fit your budget.
3. Decide whether you want to buy or rent
Some retirement communities offer only rental properties, some offer only homes for sale, and some offer both. Consider whether you want to put down roots or have the flexibility of renting.
It's easy to be dazzled by the amenities like swimming pools and golf courses. If you intend to purchase rather than rent, then consider what the retirement community property market is like.
4. Consider what level of care you’re looking for
Retirement communities offer different levels of health care, from independent living communities to assisted living, to communities that specialize in memory care. Some offer several options for care, with different association dues depending on the level of assistance you select.
If you are uncertain how much care you may need, then a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) may be for you. These settings aim to enable retirees to shift from independent living to higher levels of care as they age.
5. Look at a community’s amenities and services
Retirement communities offer a variety of on-site amenities and services, such as beauty salons and barbershops, libraries, gyms and exercise classes, yoga studios, swimming pools, clubhouses, housekeeping, dog parks, spas, art studios, lakes, pickleball and tennis courts, restaurants, continuing education, laundry, game rooms, movie theaters, live entertainment, and transportation to nearby shopping centers and grocery stores.
The trend of niche retirement communities is growing, so if one community just doesn't feel right, consider one with a different culture or focus. There are communities linked to universities, for example, for retirees who want to stay intellectually active. Others focus on wellness or spirituality, and there's even a Jimmy Buffett-themed retirement community. Some offer horse riding, chicken coops, and media lounges where residents can record and produce podcasts. What lifestyle and culture do you want in a retirement community?
Pro tip: Don’t overlook the value of access to gardens and parks—studies show older adults living in neighborhoods with more green spaces live longer and have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, slower cognitive decline, lower cancer rates, and better overall health.
6. Research the facility’s reputation
Do your homework by seeing whether a retirement community has received complaints through the Better Business Bureau and reading online reviews. Moreover, U.S. News & World Report offers a database of the best retirement communities based on survey data from over 250,000 residents and their family members at about 3,500 senior living communities nationwide. Caring.com also compiles ratings and reviews of 55-plus communities, providing a search tool that lets you filter by city, state, or zip code.
To get a sense of the community's financial health, review the occupancy rate, financial statements and audit report. For non-profit communities, ask to see the IRS Form 990.
7. Tour retirement communities in person
Once you’ve narrowed your options to a few communities, touring them in person can give you a better feel for what it’s like to live there. Talk to residents about their experiences, pay attention to how staff and residents interact, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and stay for dinner so you can sample the food.
Selecting the best retirement community for you depends on a variety of factors, most notably your budget, lifestyle preferences, and what kind of health care you’re looking for. Keep in mind, where you want to live in retirement could change as you get older and experience changes in your health, finances, or desired lifestyle.
Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. His work has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Consumer Reports, Newsweek, and Money magazine, among others.
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