Consider These 5 Questions Before Choosing a Retirement Community

October 18, 2022

Today’s senior living options are more abundant — and more appealing — than ever.

As more baby boomers reach retirement age, the demand is increasing for senior living communities that meet their needs while satisfying their wants. The growing demand is spurring competition among communities, leading them to include an ever-widening assortment of amenities and services. So how do you go about deciding which community is right for you, or even which ones to take a closer look at? To help guide you as you do your research, we’ve compiled a list of features and attributes to take into consideration. While affordability may be what comes to mind first, there are other factors to take into account. And even when comparing pricing from one community to the next, it’s not as simple as you might think. We’ll go into more detail about all of this in the list that follows, so keep reading!

1. Will You Like the Location?

Just as is the case when searching for any new home, location of a senior living community is generally a key consideration. If you’re looking out of state, you’ll want to think about the year-round weather, of course, and whether the local culture is attractive to you.

If you’re looking closer to where you currently live, think about what surrounds the community and how accessible it is.

  • How close will you be to friends and family?
  • Are there restaurants, stores, entertainment and sports venues nearby that will meet your expectations? How about local attractions such as museums and parks? What else is within a couple hours’ drive?
  • What kind of medical facilities are in the area? Is there a hospital or emergency room?
  • If you like to hike, are there trails within a reasonable distance?
  • If you plan to travel, how far is the nearest airport or dock for cruise ships?
2. Should You Rent or ‘Buy In’?

When contemplating a move to a retirement community, choosing how to pay for your home can be a little trickier than similar decisions you may have made in the past. It’s a good idea to talk it over with a financial adviser, a tax consultant and/or an estate planner. Let’s talk about buying into the community first. Not all retirement communities offer this option, just like not all communities offer the option to rent. And buying into a senior living community isn’t like owning a home elsewhere. The community may accommodate certain requests before you move in, but you won’t be able to make significant changes to your living space.

Entrance Fees

With many retirement communities, you have to pay an entrance fee — which is generally hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then you pay a monthly fee on top of that for the services and amenities offered in the community. The monthly fee may or may not include meals and utilities. Entrance fees cover the potential cost of long-term care. In other words, you’re paying up front for care you might need someday. A portion of the entrance fee may be refundable to your estate.

An entrance fee may not cover the cost of future care.

Some communities only ensure that you’ll have access to various levels of care offered within the community in exchange for the entrance fee you pay. That can include assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care — the types of care available will vary from one community to another. If you end up needing any of these advanced levels of care, you may still have to pay out of pocket for the care you receive. It all depends on how the contract is structured. Some retirement communities will provide higher levels of care at no additional cost beyond the monthly fee you are already paying. Some will also guarantee that you can continue to live there even if you deplete your financial assets. In such cases, the community will typically have a foundation that raises money for residents who need this type of assistance.

One important factor to note if you’re considering a community with an entrance fee.

You must be able to live independently when you move into the community. Some senior living communities will make an exception if a couple wishes to move there and only one spouse requires assisted living or another level of care.

Rental Communities

Living in a rental community offers several advantages you may not hear about when visiting communities that charge an entrance fee.

  • You have greater flexibility. Most rental communities will allow you to rent month to month, so you’re not locked into a long-term commitment. Usually, the required notice to move out is 30 days. By comparison, if you move to a “buy-in” community and pay an entrance fee, you may need to give at least 120 days’ notice.
  • You have more financial control. When you don’t have to pay a hefty entrance fee for long-term care you may never need, you can choose other options for using that money. It’s still yours.
  • You pay for care only if and when you need it. According to the California Association of Health Facilities, the vast majority of people who need skilled nursing care are discharged within three months. In 2020, 88% of nursing home residents were discharged within that timeframe, and only 6% stayed for a year or longer.
3. What Amenities and Activities Are Available?

Oftentimes the motivation for moving to a senior living community is the need or desire to let go of the responsibility of maintaining a house. In a retirement community, someone else takes care of maintenance, repairs and landscaping. Housekeeping services are generally included as well. That can free up a considerable amount of time. What are you going to do with that extra free time? When exploring different communities, take a look at what kind of activities are offered and whether they align with your interests. Check out the monthly activities schedule, along with the class schedule for the fitness facility, if the community has one. What opportunities are there to socialize? Is there a swimming pool? A salon or spa? An outside area that’s safe and inviting? A well-equipped fitness facility with trained staff? Regularly scheduled transportation to nearby stores and medical providers? You may want to make a list of what is most important to you and then see which communities can “check off” the items on your list.

4. The Food — Is It Fantastic, or Just Fair?

Good dining is at the top of the list for many older adults. While it’s common for dietary needs to change with age, the enjoyment of sharing a delicious meal may actually become more of a priority.   When arranging a time to visit communities, plan to be there when you can have a meal. That way, you can check out the service and the food. Is the waitstaff friendly? Are special requests easily accommodated? Is the dining area clean and comfortable? Some retirement communities have multiple dining venues. Some have a dietitian or nutritionist on their staff. If you want to eat well and eat to be well, take a close look at how the community has invested in its dining services.

5. Can You See Yourself Living There?

Senior living communities have distinct personalities. You can get a feel for what a particular community is like from its website and marketing materials. But that’s like looking at the cover of a book. The best way to get to know a community is to spend time there in person. Tour the entire community. Talk with different staff members, if possible, and by all means talk to at least a few of the people who live there. If you can, arrange to stay for a night or two. While you’re there, think of yourself as a resident rather than a guest. Participate in some of the activities. Find out what people like about living there and whether there are any significant criticisms. You’re embarking on a new chapter in your life. Is this community where you want it to take place?

We’d Love to Be on Your Short List

As the newest Woodland Hills retirement community, we’re excited to welcome those who’ve been waiting for inspired senior living.

If you’re looking at options for independent living, memory care or assisted living in Woodland Hills, we invite you to contact us. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and arrange a one-on-one appointment with a member of The Variel team. There’s nothing we’d like better than for you to experience our community in person!