Older adults who shop for a retirement community might base their decision on several factors. Location is important to seniors who want to live near friends and family or continue treatment with their current doctors. Weather can also be an important consideration for seniors who want to escape harsh winters or avoid scorching summers.
Two other factors that drive the choice of a retirement community are price and amenities. Some communities are more affordable than others. After narrowing the choice based on location, seniors will typically need to find the right balance between cost and amenities.
What Is a Retirement Community?
Retirement communities are a popular housing choice for older adults who live independently. Unlike an assisted-living facility, most retirement communities offer no caregiving assistance to residents. A retirement community resident who needs assistance will usually need to arrange visits from home health aides or caregivers. Some communities nevertheless offer optional meal plans or housekeeping services that make it easier for residents to live independently.
Retirement communities limit unit owners and tenants to individuals who have reached a specified age. Minimum ages typically range from 55 to 65. Communities set varying rules about the eligibility of younger spouses or other adult family members to live with an eligible resident. Most communities do not accept children as residents. Rules also vary about the length of time younger family members can visit, although most communities allow residents to maintain family ties by permitting extended visits.
Residents of retirement communities typically purchase units as condominiums, although some communities offer unit rentals. The units are often in townhouse-style buildings, perhaps mixed with freestanding houses. Buildings in some communities resemble apartment complexes.
Groundskeepers who are hired by the community maintain lawns and community gardens. The community is responsible for exterior building and roof repairs, as well as maintenance of amenities. Residents typically pay a monthly association fee that funds those services. Residents usually belong to an association and can vote for members of a board that makes decisions about critical issues, such as setting the association fee or replacing an unsatisfactory property manager.
Communities often exist within an exterior boundary wall. They may lease space within the walls to restaurants, small supermarkets, barbers and beauty shops, health clinics, and other on-site businesses. When communities do not allow commercial enterprises to operate within the community, businesses that serve the needs of residents are often available within an easy walking distance.
Retirement Community Amenities
The cost of a unit in a retirement community is typically related to the number and quality of amenities the community offers. Buyers usually pay more to live in a community that offers an abundance of desirable amenities than they would pay to live in a bare-bones community in the same city.
Amenities that retirement communities might offer include:
- Golf course
- Swimming pool
- Tennis courts
- Pickleball courts
- Fitness center or exercise rooms
- Dining hall
- Recreational rooms for hobbyists
- Game rooms
- Meeting rooms
- Community gardens
- Walking paths
- Planned group activities
- Satellite/cable TV
- Broadband internet
Some communities offer extra amenities (usually at an extra cost), including housekeeping services, changing linens, laundry, meal delivery, and massage therapy.
The search for a retirement community requires seniors to define and balance priorities. Amenities are important, but other factors may be more important. How robust is the security? Do the community bylaws include provisions that a prospective resident might regard as unduly restrictive? Does the community have a large percentage of vacant units?
Seniors searching for a retirement community should prioritize the amenities they regard as essential. A tennis court or golf course may be important to residents who play those sports while other residents might depend on organized events to assure that they remain connected with life outside of the community’s walls.
If an amenity is a “must,” seniors can narrow their search by eliminating communities that do not offer the amenity. If an amenity is merely desirable, seniors who compare communities can decide which community offers the most amenities they would like but don’t really need.
Select a Price Point
Everyone understands that there is a relationship between price and quality. A basic Kia might provide reliable transportation, but it won’t offer the technological wonders of a high-end BMW. Buyers might pay five times as much for a luxury car as they would pay for a basic car.
The principles followed by car buyers apply to the selection of retirement communities. Car buyers decide how much they can spend, then compare cars in their price range to find one that delivers the most bang for the buck. The same strategy allows buyers and renters to select a retirement community. Seniors should start by defining the price (or rent) that they are comfortable paying. Monthly dues should be factored into their selection of a price point.
After identifying retirement communities in suitable locations, seniors can narrow their choice by eliminating communities with no available units that meet their budgets. Seniors should then compare the factors they have prioritized, including amenities, to determine which community best meets their needs. All other things being equal, a community that offers all essential amenities and the most important desirable amenities at the chosen price point will be the best choice.