Six Questions to Ask When Evaluating Retirement CommunitiesEd Urbanek
Here are some tips to help you find the right place for you.
Posted May 1, 2013
Finding the right active retirement community can be a long and painstaking process, and a lot depends on it: your health and happiness, for instance. So in order to help make the process move a bit more smoothly, here are six questions you should ask yourself during your search.
1. Is it the right location?
This might not be the most important factor, but it sure is the one most people start with. The dream of moving to a place, and a climate, where the “living is easy” is a very real one. And surprisingly enough, it often goes both ways: either you’re sick of shoveling snow, or you’re sick of spending all summer cooped up inside next to the air conditioner. Either you’re tired of fighting traffic in the city, or you’re tired of fighting boredom in the countryside. By the time they retire, many seniors are pining for something else.
Whether you dream of moving to the mountains or to the beach, you should first make sure that your desire is more than a dream. Have you ever been there? Even if it’s only from vacationing, do you have any experience of actually living in the place you think you might choose? There are a lot of considerations to take into account, and some of them aren’t immediately obvious. For instance, driving in the mountains (especially in snow) is very different from driving near the coast.
Perhaps the choice is, in part at least, thrust upon you: for instance, maybe you want to live closer (or farther away!) from family. If that’s the case, make sure that you’re okay with the other aspects of life in your new location. You may move away from the Northeast to be closer to your kids in the Southwest; only to find out that, while you never minded visiting before, you hate living in the Southwest. Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out what it’s really like in your new, chosen location.
2. What’s the character of the community?
Are the residents of your new 55+ community happy and active, and do they enjoy living there? Don’t be shy about asking when you visit before buying a home. (Note: you should visit before buying a home.) No community is perfect, and there are a lot of factors to consider: management style, monthly fees, etc. But if most of the residents seem genuinely content, it’s probably because living there is more rewarding than demanding.
And don’t forget to take into account the character of the residents, as well. Will you fit in? Will you make new friends? Do you share interests with your neighbors?
3. Can I keep my old life?
Let’s face it: retirement doesn’t mean starting over completely. Even if you leave your profession and your former home, you’re the same person you were before. If you love to paint, sew, breed tropical fish, whatever—will you still be able to do so in your new home?
If you love fishing, is there good fishing within a reasonable distance? If you love dining out, are there good restaurants and a lot of them? Does your targeted community have restrictions (for instance, on pet ownership, or on land usage) that may prevent you from continuing to enjoy your hobby?
4. How much work will this be?
It’s a rare person who looks forward to retirement because of all the time he’ll have to put into household chores. Retirement is supposed to be a time to enjoy, not spend in drudgery. For that reason, almost all 55+ communities offer some level of service: mowing lawns, providing basic home repairs, etc. Of course, they charge for this, and everyone must make his own assessment, based on budget and expertise, of whether or not it’s worth paying for.
5. Can I really pursue an active lifestyle?
As with services, almost all 55+ communities offer some recreational amenities to their residents; but some, of course, will have more than others. And while you may not be very much into, say, shuffleboard now, you may discover it’s a good way to keep active years from now. Or, in the case of planned activities, you may find yourself taking part in more and more of them as you settle in and get to know more of your neighbors.
So the range of offered amenities can be important for your future. But, again, just as with services, it’s a trade-off: amenities must be paid for in the form of monthly fees. Everyone has to make that assessment for himself. Which brings us to our last question:
6. Can I afford it?
This question encompasses a number of factors: the cost of your home, the level of your monthly fees, and the tax structure and insurance rates of the state to which you move, for instance. So, of course, the answer will vary from one person to another. But in general, moving to an active retirement community means, first of all, downsizing: choosing a home which is an appropriate size, and built in an appropriate way, for a single senior or a senior couple. Such homes tend to be less expensive, both to buy and to maintain, than the larger, older home they’re moving away from.