Traditional retirement living and housing choices are on the way out. The new generation of retirees is looking for new living experiences. Developers are obliging, giving older Americans more choices for living arrangements than ever. These new choices involve more than locating outside the traditional retirement havens of Florida and Arizona, as I discussed last month. They involve different types of housing and living arrangements and different types of activities in the communities.
One reason for the new senior living choices is that people are retiring earlier. At many “adult communities” about a third of residents are under age 65. Those under age 55 can be 10% or more of the residents.
Another reason for the changes is that today’s longer retirements have more stages than in the past, generally up to three stages. In the first stage of “retirement,” often one or both spouses continues to work at least part-time. In this stage the retirees move to a smaller home but want to stay in the same general area to maintain personal and business relationships and living patterns. In the next stage, retirees often move to a completely different area, perhaps in a warmer weather state. In the third stage, retirees are moving closer to family and friends. Each stage has a range of living choices.
When you downsize (moving to a smaller home) the goal is usually to maintain the same contacts and activities while shedding the labor and costs of maintaining the larger home. You’ve decided it is time to stop mowing the lawn, raking leaves, checking the gutters, and maintaining the mechanical systems. You also don’t want to pay for room you aren’t using.
You have several options for downsizing. You can move to a smaller house, townhouse, or condominium in a regular development. Your neighbors will be all age groups. Or you can move to a planned senior community, such as the Leisure World or Sun City communities. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Some seniors prefer to be around people their own age; others prefer more diversity. If you are a young retiree, you might want to check the average age in a senior community. In some communities the average age is 75 or older. An adult community also might make you feel isolated from your family and friends, though you have the opportunity to make new friends. A community that includes all ages might be noisier, less well-kept, and keep later hours.
Each type of community will have its own activities, plus the activities in the surrounding community. A development built for seniors might provide services that are helpful to seniors, such as laundry, housecleaning, and on-grounds restaurants. Many newer senior communities also have amenities such as spas, golf courses, health clubs, and Internet centers. They can be more like resorts or country clubs than traditional adult communities or regular developments.
In making your choice, consider all these factors. Look at the demographics of the community and how that appeals to you. You might want to visit at different times of the day and week to get a good flavor of the lifestyle. Consider the activities available, both in the housing community and the surrounding community. Also, consider how your current relationships and activities would be affected.
The second stage of retirement includes many of the same housing choices but might involve moving away from the area in which you have lived for many years. Traditionally this move is to a warmer weather state, though as I reported last month the trend is for second stage retirees to look outside these traditional retirement havens. While this move is considered a traditional part of retirement, generally only about one third of retirees take this step.
The adult communities outside Florida and Arizona tend to have younger residents than those in the traditional retirement states. Some university towns also are aggressively courting retirees and senior Americans. You might have more variety in your lifestyle by choosing a senior community located in an area that is not a traditional senior haven. Newer communities also have up-to-date features such as wiring for high-speed Internet access.
The third stage often involves moving near friends and family, especially grandchildren, and moving into traditional senior housing with some health care facilities on premises. There are three basic housing choices. The first is called independent living. This essentially is an apartment or condo complex for seniors. But as part of your monthly rental you get some basic services such as housekeeping, transportation, activities, and some meals.
The second choice is assisted living. This offers additional services and is for someone who needs help with two or more of the basic activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, walking, etc.) The third option is a nursing home, and that is for someone who needs daily medical care help.
You might consider another option that bundles all these living arrangements into one, known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). You can start in independent living or assisted living. As your needs change, you are guaranteed a place in the other types of care. You only have to move to another location in the same community instead of having to look for a different facility and moving there. CCRCs are becoming very popular and are being built all over the country.
When you move into a planned community at any of these stages, there is another factor to consider. That is the community association. This group makes and enforces the rules for the community. It also can set dues and determine the amount of spending on common areas.
The associations and the people involved in them sometimes make living in a community unpleasant. There are some people who abuse the power of the association. There are others in the community who want dues as low as possible and oppose spending for almost anything. Then, conflicting personalities can get involved and matters can escalate. In the worst case, lawsuits are filed by all sides while the community deteriorates.
Your best bet if you are new to the area is to review past minutes of the association’s meetings and back issues of any newsletters it publishes. You might be able to find residents who will candidly discuss the status of things. But this is definitely something you won’t hear from the sales personnel, and it is something you should know before making a decision.
retirement housing decisions are more complicated than ever, because you have more choices. Review all your options so you’ll be happy with the choice until you are ready to move to the next stage.