What should I know about finding a proper retirement village?

I’m just beginning my search, and there are surprises. When I moved into my current apartment complex 30 years ago, the charge was one month’s rent as a security deposit plus first and last month’s rent, or something similar. That all makes sense to me, but now for a much smaller apartment in a retirement village, the cost seems to be many thousands of dollars ‘down’ and a monthly charge too. I understand there are extra features offered to the retirees, but gee whiz . . . Have you been through this or helped someone with a move like this? Might you have learned anything you wish you’d known sooner?

I’d appreciate any help I can get!

The senior villages with the buy-in option, which is often a six-figure sum, have various levels of independent living; the buy-in is intended to pay for assisted living or skilled nursing, should you need it, and the unused money is refunded to your estate upon your death. IDK what they do if someone moves out.

My sibs and I are starting to work on helping our parents through this issue; it’s likely they will need to move into this sort of place in the near future.

Independent living, AIUI, means you can handle eating, showering, going the bathroom, and managing your medications all on your own; the facility serves meals in a dining room, and may also take care of your laundry. They are of course also immediately on hand if you have some kind of emergency.

Assisted living comes in different levels/costs depending on your needs. They may bring you your medications on schedule, check on you several times a day, provide incontinence products, etc. Different facilities will have different offerings.

A skilled nursing facility offers cares for the highest-maintenance residents, i.e. people who need help getting dressed, using the toilet, being changed/cleaned if incontinent, eating, etc.

I’d recommend visiting several places in the area where you might like to live, and getting tours, brochures, and prices for the various services you’ll need right away, and the services you are likely to need in the future. The tours will give you a chance to meet some of the staff and also assess the state of the facility and its residents. Check out their events calendars to see what sorts of activities and field trips are offered to residents, visit the dining room to check out a menu and see what sorts of foods they prepare. Find out whether the basic cost includes things like heat, electricity, TV satellite/cable, and internet.

Popular places may have waiting lists to get in that can be months long with considerable uncertainty (since you’re waiting for current residents to move out or pass away), so you’ll want to ask about that too and consider it in your planning/scheduling.

The place my parents got had that big buy-in and then a monthly fee. However, their estate gets a percentage of that buy-in, guaranteed. So they don’t have to worry about spending down everything, for example, to qualify for assistance, and having nothing to pass down (and a lot of older people care very much about that.)

This is a non-profit place, which I do recommend. They won’t kick you out, for one thing.

Ask about what happens if you pull the cord for help in the middle of the night. My mom had to for my dad and somebody was right there (not necessarily a nurse, but somebody) - in the place across town their friends bought, the wife pulled the cord when her husband fell in the bathroom and they were told there wouldn’t be anybody to help until morning, so they could call 911 or she could get a blanket for him. Seriously.

Find out what happens if one of you needs more care than the other. At this (seriously nice) place, there’s a rehab facility right there, so if one of you goes into the hospital and isn’t ready to go back into your home you’ll be on the same property. There’s also a dementia ward.

Definitely eat a meal or two there. The dining quality varies wildly.

How much thought has been put into this place from the point of view of seniors, rather than, say, caregivers? This place has a gym where all the machines work on compressed air (which you can adjust to work harder) because they’re very safety conscious and have thought a lot about what’s safest for all their residents. Likewise the pool has several ways to get in and out, including a hoist. They even have a little fitness trail in the woods on property and it has these little three sided installations that have exercises - one side for wheelchair users, and the other two tend to be easier and harder for people who can stand. (I ran there when I was recovering from my c-section and the calf stretching step thing was SO NICE.)

Talk to as many residents as you can. A good place, the marketing people will want you to. Have lunch there and ask if you can join a big table, even. They’ll give you the lowdown.

For that matter, my sibs and I are trying to convince our parents to sell the house and move to an apartment. They have said “We’ll do that when we can’t go up and down stairs any more” and we have replied “You need to do this BEFORE you get to that point.” However, I am very aware that we can’t make them do anything.

They do know of several places that are good places to live, because their friends live(d) there. Get referrals from people you know who live in retirement homes right now.

My inlaws live in a house in a retirement community. While it’s not exactly what you’re asking, one thing in their experience probably applies. Check out the history of fees back 10 years or more. It could give an indication of the community.

For example, where they live, their community fees have barely been raised in the 13 years they’ve lived there. The fees cover water, trash, common area maintenance, and use of the pool, gym, and various other facilities. Other communities in their area raise fees annually, often because newcomers moving in have more money and want more amenities. I don’t know if this is an issue in apartment settings, but certainly it’s worth asking.

I’ve been worried about my widowed mom. She’s 82, and just last month, she tripped in her kitchen and dislocated her shoulder. Luckily, she was able to call one of my sisters to take her to the ER. But I found out my youngest sister plans to move in with Mom when she can’t deal with being along any longer. Frankly, that time can’t come too soon for me. If she fell going down the basement stairs, it could be days before anyone knew… And I live more than 100 miles away, so my ability to help out daily is severely limited.

I toured a lot of places with my widowed mother several years back - posters above me have covered the main points pretty well, I think.

The main distinctions, as far as I’m concerned, are: will they kick out if you run out of money, or does your buy-in guarantee you a spot for life? and: is your care covered through to the end (from independent to assisted to nursing to dying), or do you have to leave when your health issues move beyond what they can handle? (A related question: does the facility have a specialized dementia unit?)

Obviously, the guaranteed places that keep you forever regardless of physical, mental, or financial status are far more expensive - but if you can afford the buy-in, I think they are really worth it for peace of mind.

My mother ultimately chose a place that she would have had to move out of had she needed anything beyond minimal assistance, so although I was glad she had joined a retirement community it left a lot of possible complications unplanned for. In the event, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage with no warning just 4 months after she moved in, so her end-of-life matters were very easy.

But I dodged a bullet on that one - dementia runs in her family and her brother is now a physically robust 82 year old who only recognizes his family members about half the time and needs full-time care from his similarly elderly wife. As an only child with an established life halfway across the globe I have no idea how I would have dealt with that kind of scenario. It would have been an absolute nightmare.

There are two large senior apartment buildings within a few blocks of me. One is all independent-living apartments, but you have to be 55 or older, or have a documented disability, to live there. (For example, I know a 30-ish woman who has Down Syndrome, and she lives in a similar apartment building in a nearby town.) They have planned activities but no provisions for nursing care, etc. although I’m sure some of the residents have health or homemaker aides, especially if they just got out of the hospital. The other has independent apartments with a cafeteria and also has a large number of activities, and they also have an intermediate assisted-living unit, where the rent payment includes maid service and 3 meals a day, but they can still have their own place.

Since the vast majority of the population can live on their own until their final illness, if they have one, nursing home care is usually not an issue, but if you need it, there’s a lot of red tape. I know it was hard on my dad to put Grandma into one, and she knew she needed that level of assistance and it was a relatively smooth transition financially because all she owned was her furniture and clothes, and was already on Medicaid because her only income was Social Security. Last I heard, about 5% of the population becomes infirm enough to need full-fledged skilled nursing care, and most of that is not long-term.

You’re all being very helpful. I hadn’t realized that my daughter and I didn’t even see or hear mention of a swimming pool at the three places we visited the other day, nor did we have a bit to eat! We’ll be doing better from now on, thanks to your good advice.

Interesting on the spend-down / qualification for assistance - I had not thought of that aspect of such a place. It makes sense, though, as the money isn’t something you have access to while you’re living there. So if your income is low, and your only asset is that deposit, you might be more eligible for food assistance or whatever.

In theory, if you move out of such a community, you can get the deposit back, though I’m certain there are restrictions. MY friend’s mother lived in one of the continuing care places (initially her own apartment, ultimately a full-time nursing-home bed) and the deal there was you’d get the money back when they resold your slot. So if nobody is interested in moving in, it might be a while.

My understanding is that the community keeps all income from the deposit - say you have to pay 200,000 in, and that money is earning 2% income, the community keeps the 4,000 dollars; that’s part of their financial model.

Do look into what the rules are for those deposits, and check into the parent company’s financial situation. If they go belly up, that deposit might be lost, and services might be lost, and you’d be completely screwed.

They are a bit harder to get into, and seem like they’re a lot more expensive, but I’ll plug “scaled care” residential places for the rest of my life. If possible, find somewhere that has independent living, cafeteria or “room-service” meals provided, as well as assisted living, full-time on-site nursing care, full-time on-site hospice care, and a locked ward with both those things for dementia/alzheimers needs.

My grandmother was sharp as a tack until she turned 97, then she started to wander mentally. It was a great relief to us and to her for her to stay at the same facility with the same nursing and caretaking staff, and the same residents eating meals with her, and just to change floors to the locked ward. If we had been forced to move her to a different place, it would have been a lot harder for her to lose all those familiar things when she was having trouble mentally already. (We had to do that a few years before with a great-aunt, and she never recovered from the move - claimed she’d been kidnapped and thrown in prison. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.)

It’s expensive as shit, but my grandma knows the staff and the nurses, gets amazing food, and has the option to do as many or as few activities as she feels up to, and we know she’s not going to ever be left alone.

I’ve been trying to remember all the questions I asked when Mom and Dad bought in - they took me for the tour and I had a TON of things I wanted to know and the saleslady was very nice but I think a little… surprised.

Can you have pets? Are there size limits? Cats but not dogs?
Can you have a gun, if you are gun people?
Can you have a live Christmas tree? (They looked at me like I was nuts when I asked that - what? That seems like a reasonable question to me, I don’t know that I want to live in an apartment building with a ton of neglectful seniors who bought a tree the day after Thanksgiving! Then I found out they all have fireplaces, like damn, are you just tired of living?)
What’s the parking like? Do visitors have to park really far away?
Are there plans for expansion, or a building plan, anything like that?
Is there storage available, or a nearby storage facility?
What exactly happens if you go into the hospital? (At this place, there’s somebody from the facility who coordinates with you, handles your return, etc.)
What if one of you dies and the other one wants to downsize? Can you change apartments? What exactly happens financially if, say, you’re in a facility that also has a dementia ward and you have to go into that ward?
When are the dining facilities open? Sometimes they close surprisingly early.
Is there a limit to how long you can have visitors? (Say, I dunno, your adult child has to recover from surgery. The limit at this place is 3 months, which seems reasonable to me.)
How exactly does dining work? This place has a flexible account which you can use at any of the facilites on the campus, but you don’t get back any extra at the end of the month. You should see the party at the pub the last day of the fiscal month, do Jesus. You pay any overages monthly; you can of course use your account money for guests as well. I like that they don’t get any money back, because it means that frugal seniors don’t have an incentive not to eat enough.
Are you allowed to make changes to your apartment? Paint? Remodel? If you want to hang a picture do they want you to let them do it?
How does the alert system work? Some just have pull cords; where my mom is there’s that plus a motion detector in the kitchen. If you don’t move enough, they check on you. I like that.
Do they clean your apartment for you? (I think it’s so smart that some of the places have cleaning services - how many people do you suppose break a hip cleaning a bathroom? Plus it gives the residents something to bitch about.)
If they don’t have a service in-house does somebody come in? Like, some places don’t have a chapel but local churches come and do services, or somewhere without a library might have homebound library services, that sort of thing. If they have a library does it suck? Can you get your hair done?
Are you stuck in terms of service providers - like do you have to use a certain phone company, or a certain cable company? Do you have to have a landline for the alert system?
Remember you’re moving to an area, too, not just the facility itself. It’s easy to just look at that and not think about, you know, how the local restaurant scene is, or how easy it is to get to the interstate. Is it walkable?

ETA - don’t forget laundry facilities. Do you have to go down the hall, or is it ensuite?

Good post. I would add a couple of things. A place that offers all of the above - independent living, assisted living (also called personal care homes) and skilled nursing - on one “campus” is called a CCRC (continuing care retirement community). In CCRCs, you generally “buy in” with a fairly large lump sum, and also pay relatively high “rent”, even while living in an independent apartment. The lump sum and extra monthly payments fund the large extra costs should you ever need assistance and/or skilled nursing.

There are also just plain old “active adult” age 55+ apartments and communities, which I would slot in before “independent living” facilities. Active adult 55+ apartments offer no (or very limited) services, and no medical/personal care at all. Active adult apartments are geared toward healthy retirees who are completely able to cook, clean and take care of themselves, but want to rent an apartment so as to have no maintenance duties and to be able to travel. Most active adult properties have community rooms, and sometimes have amenities such as game rooms, swimming, exercise rooms and even golf courses, but do not offer daily meals or any personal assistance.

There are very large active adult and CCRC communities such as The Villages, Leisure World, etc. To sum up, there is no single “retirement” product, community or housing. There is a wide range of housing choices that can each be called “retirement” living.

Remember, old seizure hills type communities have far too many old farts who have nothing better to do all day long than complain. You’ll need a sense of humor for this endeavor.

Zofia, I love your list of questions! Everyone should save a copy for when the day comes that they are looking on behalf of themselves or a loved one.

Regarding pets - most places will tell you “no” but it is well worth pushing a little bit to explore how absolute that “no” really is. In some cases, certification from a physician that the pet is necessary for the resident’s well-being (kinda like that social anxiety dog that was in the CNN photo essay recently) will make it possible for an exception to be granted. Or, there may be a limit but you can exceed it with prior approval as long as it is understood that current pet Fluffy will be grandfathered in, but when Fluffy dies there is to be no replacement.

A number of places we talked to really regretted having to tell us “no pets” and said that changes were possible in years to come. My mother ended up with permission for 3 dogs in a facility with a limit of 1, so definitely see if you can have an exception made if that’s important.

There’s another variation I don’t think has been mentioned above (forgive me if my reading comprehension is failing) - in some locations, you can buy a house that is part of the community. When you sell it, the proceeds are split between the seller or his/her heirs and the retirement community, according to a clearly defined set of rules (I don’t remember the arrangements now, but most of the money goes to the family, not the community - it’s like 5-10% depending on how long the person owned it). What’s really great is that good facilities usually have a waiting list, and the retirement community will handle the sale (without even using a Realtor if the market is strong), so all the heir does is sign a few papers and poof - the cash from the sale is given to you as soon as the house sells, which tends to be immediately because of the waiting list.

We own a condo in one of the large 55+ communities in Florida.

I’d opt for assisted suicide (assisted by my friends Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, if needed) before voluntarily moving to such a place but my in-laws deliberately sought one out when they moved down there, and when things went bad with their own place, we wound up buying a smaller place for them.

Their policy is no pets whatsoever, in fact supposedly they’ll turn visitors away at the gate if the visitor has a pet in the car. That said: I saw several people walking dogs when we were moving the in-laws in, and one immediate neighbor had a cat on a windowsill, supervising our move-in. I told the in-laws that if they wanted to get a cat, I was pretty sure their landlords (us) would permit it :D.

That said, in such a place, you might well get away with having a small, quiet pet as long as you don’t piss off the neighbors.

Oh my goodness – you folks have helped immensely and I really can’t find the words to tell you how much I appreciate it. I’m off and running now!

Much love,

Pets are actually totally fine in my mom’s place, although I’m sure EVERYBODY is watching to make sure you pick up after them.

Everybody is watching you, in general, always. I swear it’s like high school up in there. I’m glad my mom is in a cottage, so not in the main buildings. It’s bad enough when I go to eat with her - she keeps my toddler, who is a major celebrity at the old folks home. It takes us half an hour to get to the damned dining room. They line up to talk to him (and passively aggressively ask him where his hat is.)