Today’s aging baby boomers are demanding more variety in their senior housing choices. We’ve noted how senior housing developers are responding to that demand with more and more housing options to satisfy aging seniors who want the benefits of living in a retirement community but who are still enjoying an active lifestyle. For many seniors who don’t want to age in place, the best choice might be what’s often called an active adult community, aimed at the 55-plus crowd.
Here at the Aging Options Blog, we like the work of Jim Miller who manages The Savvy Senior website. Miller also writes a newspaper column in Oklahoma City, and in this 2022 column in The Oklahoman newspaper, a reader had asked Miller for his advice on how to choose what the reader called “an age-restricted 55-plus housing community.” We thought Miller’s common-sense advice might be helpful for those going through a similar search.
The Housing Search Takes Legwork
In his column, Miller acknowledges that finding the right age-restricted community can take a bit of time and research, especially since these facilities can vary so widely in what they offer and how they offer it.
“Here’s what you should know,” Miller writes. “Today’s active adult communities come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, ranging from small city-based apartment complexes, to single-family homes, to sprawling resort-style locations situated on a gated golf course. Most are owned by their occupants, but a growing number are rentals.” The big restriction is age: “Typically,” says Miller, “at least one occupant of each property must be at least 55.”
55-Plus Communities Appeal to an Active, Younger Resident
In an important distinction, Miller also draws a clear line between 55-plus active adult communities and retirement or independent living communities: they are not the same thing. While the latter are built more for folks in their 70s and 80s, active adult communities attract a younger audience, and offer a different array of services. For example, 55-plus communities “do not typically include meals or have a central dining area,” says Miller, “but many of them do offer a range of recreational amenities and activities.”
We would also add another critical distinction: many true “retirement communities” offer a continuum of care, in which a resident can start in independent living, then move to assisted living and skilled nursing care within the same facility. But many so-called active adult communities are not designed to care for residents who become frail or need assistance. Before you decide, make sure you ask the right questions, or you could face another unplanned move in the future.
To find active adult communities in the area you’re interested in, Miller recommends a website called 55places.com. “This is a comprehensive website that provides ratings, reviews and information on activities and amenities for thousands of communities across the country,” he writes. Then once you’ve found a few that look promising, Miller provides the following tips to help you narrow your options down to the perfect selection.
Start with the Basics: What’s Your Housing Budget?
Of course, the evaluation process starts with what you can afford, especially if a purchase is required. “Consider the home’s purchase price, whether you’ll need a mortgage, how much the property taxes and insurance are, and how much the homeowners’ association or community fees are,” Miller advises.
He adds, “These fees, which typically run a few hundred dollars per month, go toward lawn care and possibly snow removal, as well as community areas like a clubhouse or pool. However, some communities may require additional memberships or fees for golf, tennis, classes, or other activities.”
We would add that most adult communities require a hefty buy-in fee, sometimes refundable but often only partially. That’s why most seniors finance their move by selling their home and cashing in decades worth of equity. Again, have someone you trust examine the paperwork.
If you plan to relocate, there are other cost-related pros and cons to consider. What is the area’s general cost of living for basics like food, utilities, transportation, health care, and taxes? Miller recommends Numbeo.com and BestPlaces.net as online tools to compare the cost from your current location to where you would like to move. Also, he adds, “Kiplinger’s has a tax guide for retirees at Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and compare taxes state-by-state.”
How “Active” Do You Really Want to Be?
Next, writes Miller, consider the amenities you’re interested in. “Some communities provide fitness facilities, swimming pools, tennis courts and more, along with dozens of organized activities, classes and social events,” Miller explains. “Other communities are much simpler and more laid back with very limited amenities and structured activities. You’ll want to choose a community that has the types of people, facilities, activities and vibe that appeals to you.”
We would add this caution: be honest about the amenities you think you’ll use. Sometimes a community can charge more by offering goodies such as a pool, a bowling alley, or a pickleball court that you honestly doubt you’ll ever take advantage of. Why pay for unneeded frills?
Is the Surrounding Community Appealing?
After looking at the complex, consider the surrounding area in which the community is placed. How walkable is it? Is there easy access to public transportation? Having to drive everywhere you want to go is a nuisance and an expense – and as you and your spouse age, it may become an impossibility. By contrast, getting rid of your car can be a huge saving.
In evaluating the neighborhood, Miller asks, “Will the area around your prospective community serve your needs now and in the future? Ideally, this means having easy access to good doctors and hospitals, and a local airport if you plan to travel much. You’ll also want to research how far you’ll be from essential services like grocery stores, banks and pharmacies, as well as dining, shopping, and recreational attractions.”
Plan a Visit, and Maybe an Overnight Stay
There’s nothing like a practice run before you take the leap and move. “Once you’ve narrowed your choices, call to make an appointment and visit them,” Miller advises. “Be sure to allow plenty of time at each community and, if possible, go back to your favorites more than once. Also be sure to ask questions while you are visiting, particularly about the community rules.”
Miller suggests that some developments will allow you to stay overnight in a model home to “get a feel of what it would be like to live there.” This is a good opportunity to check out.
Remember, picking a 55-plus community could be a choice that lasts you long into your future. It’s vital to try out the amenities and activities, meet your potential new neighbors, sample the community, and really feel at home before making such a big decision.
Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!
We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public. As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.
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Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.
Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.
Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!
(originally reported at www.oklahoman.com)