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Retirement Planning > Retirement Investing

6 things to consider when shopping for a retirement community

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Planning for life in retirement can be difficult as one begins sifting through all of their available options. Although there are books and pamphlets galore, wading through everything can be daunting at best, and if you don’t know where to begin, it can be a downright nightmare.

Do you have clients that need a nursing home or a senior apartment? What type of health care services will be provided? How should they plan for long-term finances? Will their lifestyle change drastically? Do they need to bring new furniture? From the important life decisions to the simple everyday questions, it’s imperative to get some proper guidance.

To help your client get started, here is a guide with six factors they should consider when starting the process of retirement living planning.

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retirement community

Consider all of your interests and needs before choosing the type of facility that will work best for you. (Photo: iStock)

1. Type of facility

This may seem obvious, however one of the first things you’ll want to consider is the type of facility best suited to your interests and style. Perhaps you want to stay in your home, or you’ve always dreamed of downsizing to a small condo on a golf course or near the beach — or maybe you’re looking for a community that can adapt to your changing needs, like a Life Plan Community. Whatever it is you’ve envisioned will help guide you on your path.

The type of facility you choose should also match your current needs — as well as needs you see on the horizon. Given your health history, aging at home may ultimately prove difficult (and costly.) You may want to consider a facility with several levels of care that will be able to accommodate your needs and lifestyle now and into the future. Taking into account both your lifestyle wishes and your health will help ensure you choose a community that can serve you well into the future.

Something to note: Some people have a negative perception about “nursing homes” as bad places — feeding into some old stereotypes about these facilities as places that “warehouse” people. There may be some places that fit that description, but, in general, the field is filled with a lot of capable people who perform an important and complex service with dedication and care.

Trade organization Leading Age is a great resource for those researching senior living options as they provide continuing education, best practices, and information about trends and developments in senior living.

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If social activities are important, be sure to look for options that offer plenty of opportunities to meet other people. (Photo iStock)

2. Lifestyle

After determining what type of facility is best for you based on your interests, desires and needs, you should now think about how the community you move into will work with your lifestyle as it currently stands. Are you a social, active person looking to meet new people and take up new hobbies? Would you rather spend time quietly reflecting or puttering? Is there one specific interest you have that you would like to spend the rest of your days enjoying? 

Figure out the answer to these questions BEFORE committing to a retirement facility, as this will inevitably determine at least part of your overall happiness level. 

Something to note: Your interests and overall activity level may change with time but, in general, it’s good to choose a community that suits your personality at the time of entering retirement.

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How much a retirement living facility will cost is usually a top concern. (Photo: iStock)

3. Finances

Likely top of mind for many planning for retirement, finances will be a big factor in your decision-making process. Figure out your budget early on in the process and start compiling notes of the costs (and expenses) that come with each potential option on your list. Determining your financial commitment in advance and having a strong understanding of what you will be able to afford is key in the decision-making process.

Retirement communities, condo associations and private services providers all have fees. Make a detailed list of what is and isn’t included in the regular fees to better gauge what additional expenses may arise that you will need to consider. For example, if you choose to remain in your home, one-time expenses and repairs can be hard to plan for in advance. Although there may be an upfront cost, Life Plan Communities, 50+ communities and condo associations may take care of the upkeep of the property allowing you to better anticipate your budget needs.

Something to note: Make a list of day-to-day expenses included with each facility’s offerings to determine the added value (or additional costs) of each option. For example: cleaning, landscape, food and additional amenities (fitness equipment, educational offerings, etc.) can add up should you choose to stay at home, or even move to a smaller condo, while they may be included in the regular monthly fees for a life plan or an assisted living community.

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retirement living health care

Health care needs and expenses are likely to change during retirement. (Photo: iStock)

4. Medical

Similar to the financial considerations, you should also think about long-term medical expenses. While you may be in great health at the moment, you’ll need to think about what could happen in the future.

From regular medical expenses to accidents or more serious health issues, does your plan include an option that has medical resources in place — or would you need to hire outside assistance? If there are resources in place, what are they, and do they expand as your needs change? Take note of all of these things when researching your options and use this information to make a better decision about what medical resources will be best for you in the long run.

Something to note: Often medical considerations and financial considerations go hand in hand in determining the best possible place to retire. Keep this in mind when making lists for both.

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Moving during retirement often requires decisions about downsizing. (Photo: iStock)

5. Downsizing

Perhaps lower on the list of priorities, yet equally as important when choosing a retirement community/living situation, is downsizing. The very thought of downsizing can be paralyzing — but this is one project that is never going to get any easier!

If you’re planning to move into a smaller home now — but may consider a nursing home or retirement community in the future — remember that a second move will mean added expenses down the line. There’s also the matter of downsizing your belongings each time you move, which can not only be a hassle but also take up time and resources.

Something to note: Choosing a community that has multiple levels of living in one place could make for fewer transitions, both physically and emotionally.

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Checking reviews and ratings can give some indication about the quality of a retirement facility. (Photo: iStock)

6. Ratings and reviews

While ratings and reviews shouldn’t be the biggest consideration in your process, it’s important to do a little digging.

Start by checking state survey reports. These are reports from visits by state regulators. Facilities are required to post their most recent results where the public can see them, and surveys are also available online at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website. Surveys will give you information about staffing, quality measures and results of health inspections.

Something to note: Besides looking at the indicators, it’s extremely important to visit the facility. Talk with staff — and not just admissions or marketing staff — but those who deliver services and care to residents. Get a feel for how they relate to residents, how they feel about their work and their workplace. If possible, see if you can talk with residents (which may be easier to do in an independent senior living community than a nursing facility.)

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of how to choose your home in retirement, it will get you started on the right path.  

Keep in mind that the sooner you make decisions — and progress toward your goals — the more time you will have to enjoy your life without having so many unknowns and weighty choices before you. If you have questions, need more advice, or simply want to know what others in your area are thinking, talk to your local agency on aging, connect with other soon-to-be-retirees in your area, and by all means start visiting some places to get a feel for what best suits you! 

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