Here in the Pacific Northwest where AgingOptions is located, the real estate market is white hot. While many prospective buyers are young families needing more space or millennials trying to qualify for a first home, a significant number are empty nesters or newly-retired couples. Many of these older buyers are eager to sell their bigger family homes and downsize to a place where they can live a simpler, more localized lifestyle.
With that trend in mind, we were reminded of an article that appeared last fall in the venerable New York Times, spotlighting what they called a new trend in senior living. According to this article published several months ago, more and more active seniors these days are looking for someplace they can enjoy life without having to drive. This means walkability is now one of the things seniors are looking for – and we think that’s a healthy trend in more ways than one.
It hasn’t always been this way. “Developments for independent retirees typically come in two flavors,” wrote the Times: “isolated, gated subdivisions or large homes on golf courses, often in the same bland package of multiple cul-de-sacs. Both require driving everywhere, which is a problem for those who either don’t want to drive or can’t.” The solution? “Enter a new paradigm: the walkable, urban space.”
As an example, the New York Times featured a couple who had retired to a small town in North Carolina. But after a few years there they came to realize that, as charming as the area was, there was something missing. They weren’t conveniently close to the things they wanted and needed – restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops and entertainment. So they moved to another nearby town that offered a much more vibrant environment, with excellent walkability and ready access to transit that would take them into an adjacent larger city when needed. This blend, says the Times, appears to be what an increasing number of active retirees want. As the couple in the article put it, it’s about more than simply aging in place. “We began thinking more about ‘aging in community,’” they said. “That means an urban neighborhood where you can walk or take transit to just about everything you need.”
Ironically, according to a study from the Brookings Institution, 80 percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas far from in-town amenities. For decades, according to the New York Times, senior housing developments ignored the idea of being truly pedestrian-friendly, neglecting amenities like easy access on foot to cafes, libraries and other services. Gated communities and golf course developments may offer foot paths and walking trails but not the kind of mixed-use urbanism that today’s retirees are looking for. Besides the obvious benefits of convenience, the denser urban developments for seniors are generally healthier, promoting better physical fitness and a greater sense of community involvement and connection with neighbors. These days there’s also a financial benefit to seniors who live in walkable communities: higher property values.
The challenge, however, is to create senior-friendly housing in cities that are already heavily built up. As the Times article put it, “Age-friendly communities within cities may require extensive infrastructure improvements, including wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. Local officials may not want to rezone or invest in the improvements or even permit them.” There’s also the problem of skyrocketing property values and a lack of land available to build on. Even if senior developments could be built in trendy places like Seattle and Portland, development costs would likely put home prices out of reach for most retirees.
One caution in the Times article: seniors should not rate a potential retirement community on walkability alone. As you age, you’re going to need to have other important services close by. The Times asks, “Do [these towns] have quality health care institutions nearby? Is public transportation adequate? How easy is it to leave and visit other parts of a city or its metropolitan region? Will you need to rent or share a car? What about local colleges for cultural amenities and lifelong learning programs?” These are all excellent questions. Finally, because we believe aging is a family affair, we strongly agree with the final point from the article that emphasized the importance of considering your family when you relocate. “Picking the right community also should involve your family. If you want to be close to children and grandchildren, you should consider a place accessible to them as well.”
Here at AgingOptions we always remind our clients and radio listeners that aging well and planning properly for retirement involve much more than merely deciding where to live. Your retirement plan also needs to encompass your legal affairs, your financial strategy, and your medical needs alongside your housing choices and family communications. That’s why we call our approach to retirement planning “LifePlanning,” because in a well-planned life all these various aspects of retirement work together in seamless harmony. Your LifePlan becomes your comprehensive blueprint, allowing you to enjoy the kind of retirement that you’ve always wanted. We’ll help you get there! You can find out more about this retirement planning breakthrough, quickly and easily – and without obligation – by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar. Bring your retirement questions and spend a few hours with us, and we assure you, you’ll discover how rewarding and reassuring LifePlanning will be. For seminar dates and times and online registration, click here to link to our Upcoming Events page – or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you.
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)