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August 28, 2018 | home-buying

Golden-Year Goals: Why a 55-Plus Retirement Community May or May Not Work for You

If you’re helping your aging parents think about where they’ll live during their golden years — or seeking a place yourself — you’re part of a tsunami occurring in real estate.

America’s 76.4 million aging baby boomers are hitting the stage of life in which they need (or simply appreciate) a level of support within their living arrangements.

The number of Americans older than 80 will double from 12 million to 24 million between 2015 and 2035, reports a Harvard study. For some, that translates into more demand for on-site healthcare. Other more independent tenants often seek accommodations close to others their age in “retirement communities” for those 55 and older. Sometimes these communities are adjacent to other facilities offering a higher level of care for when that is needed.

Such communities are generally attractive, accessible and low-maintenance, and they offer a range of social and recreational services and other amenities. But they also have their disadvantages.

“Moving into a retirement village … can be one of the best decisions you ever make, or it can turn into one of your biggest regrets,” advises Selena Maranjian in The Motley Fool. “Think the decision through carefully after gathering a lot of information and perspectives.”

Some possible advantages:

  • You should be physically safer due to security provisions for keeping out intruders and monitoring in case of medical or other emergencies.
  • You’ll be better-connected to medical resources. If your community offers no on-site health care, it’s likely connected to facilities that offer such services and can assist you if you need references. Some are near universities with excellent health care programs.
  • The locations are often in enjoyable warmer climates and/or near active cities that offer plenty to do. Others are close to college campuses for those who enjoy lifelong learning.
  • Your living quarters are likely to be highly accessible, with amenities such as single floors, zero-step entrances, wheelchair-compatible wide halls and doorways, lever-style handles and easy-to-reach fixtures and controls.
  • You’ll be surrounded by others in your age group who may share your interests, experiences and concerns.
  • You’ll no longer be responsible for grueling home maintenance chores such as yard work, snow removal, painting or HVAC and plumbing upkeep. Some places also offer housekeeping services.
  • You may have access to community dining facilities instead of being responsible for your own meal prep.
  • You may have access to a gym, pool, sauna, hot tub, tennis courts and/or other facilities that can help keep you in good shape. Many retirement communities are built on golf courses.
  • You should be offered a range of fun on- and off-site recreational and entertainment opportunities, often with transportation provided. That can be a major coup for those who can no longer drive.
  • Your cost of living may be lower once you factor in your current expenses associated with rent, food, entertainment, home insurance, repairs, utilities and property taxes.
  • Your family members may worry less about you when you’re surrounded by other residents and employees.
  • Sometimes you can pre-pay for your future residence and care, eliminating related financial worries.

Some possible disadvantages:

  • You may miss living near loved ones and seeing them often.
  • You may not enjoy living only with people your own age, especially if you’re used to having friends from many generations.
  • You may find it depressing to witness the physical and mental ailments of others as they age en masse.
  • You may not agree with community rules, and may miss the greater sense of independence you had before.
  • You may not enjoy the food or the dining room schedule.
  • You may find the surroundings either too noisy or too quiet.
  • You may dislike having to downsize your possessions.
  • You may dislike moving from a familiar environment and feel nostalgic for your former home.
  • You may resent that family members younger than 55 such as grandchildren may not live with you, even temporarily.
  • You may not enjoy the staff. Some communities are inadequately staffed and experience high turnover because they pay low wages.
  • Some point to a “geriatric ghetto” stigma attached to retirement communities.
  • Some encounter cliquishness among community members. “Members of some ethnic and racial minorities may find living in a retirement community unacceptable because of the small representation of their population in these communities,” add the authors of a related study cited on
  • Some places won’t allow pets.
  • Depending on the services offered and the location, costs can be high. In a typical scenario, you’ll pay a one-time fee to buy a condo or freestanding cottage, then pay $2,000 to $5,000 monthly for maintenance, upkeep and other services, reports Bankrate-owned referral service Brookdale Senior Living, among the largest owner-operators of senior living communities in the U.S., cites monthly apartment rental costs of $2,300 to $3,500, with average monthly service rates of $2,999 and a one-time admission fee of $500 to $1,500. Some facilities accept Medicaid or long-term care insurance proceeds, but most residents fund their stays via personal savings or retirement income.

Because your decision on a senior living community may be complex, analysts advise you to look at several options and take copious notes during tours; AARP offers an excellent list of potential questions here. Speak to residents about the pros and cons, and Google the company and facility names in search of complaints, lawsuits or online reviews. Finally, be clear on other residential options offered should your health deteriorate during your stay, and understand all financial implications before signing any agreements.

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