Post: : Should I move to a 55 and older community when I retire?

When Mark Moore retired several years ago, he and his wife, Renee, thought about whether to stay in their home of 30 years near San Jose, Calif., or to move to a continuing care retirement community. 

“We could have chosen to stay in the Bay Area in a smaller house but our taxes would have gone up,” Mark Moore, now 75, says. “We looked at some CCRCs, and thought we weren’t quite old enough.” Instead, they decided to look at 55-plus places situated about 150 miles from their home.

“We wanted to stay close to the Bay Area,” where two of their three adult children live, he says. The other lives in Colorado.

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In fact, the Moores had a list of what they wanted when they sold their home and relocated: A one-level home, not too far from an airport, close enough to their healthcare plan’s services, low risk of earthquakes. “There are a lot of things for people to think about,” says Renee Moore, now 73. “It’s not clear-cut. Make a list of what’s important…because different people care about different things.”  

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The choices for retirees and preretirees have expanded. To move or stay in place? That can be the question for those considering retirement or already retired. Research shows it is either very important or somewhat important to 89% to remain in their own homes yet, almost four in 10 actually have relocated in retirement, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

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Moving is not for everyone but for those who have moved, knowing their priorities and preferences helps them figure out if a retirement community is right for them, which kind will meet their needs, and how to choose one where they will enjoy life.

“The sector today is maturing,” says Beth Mace, chief economist and director of research and analytics, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. “Much like hotels, there are ‘Motel 6’ to the Ritz. As the sector matures, it diversifies by price and by services.”

Retirement communities also known as senior living, vary widely from active adult or lifestyle communities to continuing care retirement communities, also known as life plan communities. Some communities only offer independent living while others include a combination of independent living, assisted living and memory care areas.

Some offer living spaces — typically apartments or condominiums — you can rent while others offer single-family homes and condominiums for sale.

The advantage of moving to a 55-plus or active adult community for the Moores was a lower cost of living and proximity to activities and neighbors who are contemporaries. They traded their two-story home for a one-story three-bedroom, three-bath house with an office for him. “The new house was a lot less expensive than the house we sold,” Mark Moore says. It was less than half the cost.

Another appeal was the community takes care of the front landscaping at their home in the active adult community, which is one of the items covered by their approximately $200 a month homeowners association fee.

The social amenities are also appealing. Mark is the leader of the hiking group and also active in a photography group and a group that gets together for coffee. Renee is a member of a quilting group.

For many, the draw is the opportunity to make new friends, say those who have moved to active adult communities. Some residents are still working but over time they may not. “Other people move to these communities too, so everybody’s looking for a friend,” Renee says.

The downside for Renee, especially, is the longer-than-expected drive to visit their children in the Bay Area. What used to be an hour-to-90-minute drive is now two hours, she says. “Things don’t always turn out perfectly,” she says. “I miss the Bay Area more than Mark does. If you move out of your area, away from loved ones or people you feel close to, that’s a big decision. Think about that that could be a loss, even though you make new friends,” she says.

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Others opt for a community that is not age-restricted or a community that has some age-restricted sections. 

Mark and Shawna Zoltay, for example, bought a home at Wickenburg Ranch, a Trilogy resort community in Wickenburg, Ariz., an hours’ drive northwest from Phoenix, with an eye toward playing golf and meeting new people. There are 55-plus sections but they chose not to live in one of those areas. They sold their Colorado home in the suburbs of Denver in November 2021, after both had retired. 

“Part of the draw was being in a place where we had a lot to do,” says Mark, 57, who retired as an institutional investment consultant five years ago. “When we lived in Colorado we would escape, we would come to Arizona every Christmas,” he says. “We knew we liked Arizona in the winter.” In addition, they used the proceeds from the sale of their Colorado home to buy in Arizona, where the property tax is lower. “It was a factor.”

Shawna, 55, retired from her work as an elementary school teacher four years ago. She plays golf three to four times a week; he plays five to six times a week “We didn’t want to recreate our life in Colorado here,” she says.   

Before you move to a community:

Think carefully about what you like to do. If you are not working as much, how would you like to spend your time? “Look at the activities,” says Shawna Zoltay. “If you like to shop and eat out, make sure it’s around.” If you like sports, games, crafts or art classes, for example, check whether the specific activities you prefer are available or can be added to your community. “Make sure there are amenities that you want,” says Mark Zoltay. Typically, you will be paying a monthly (or quarterly) homeowners association fee ($136 monthly at Wickenburg Ranch) that covers some services and amenities. The golf membership at Wickenburg Ranch is a separate monthly fee of $186 plus tax per month. Find out exactly what is covered to be sure your preferences are included in the HOA fee. Some active adult, resort, and master-planned communities have a restaurant or more than one dining option on site, and some are open to the community. However, meals are not included in most active adult communities. If meals or dining options are important to you, research what is available.

Consider your current health status and potential future needs. If you are 65 or older and are enrolled in Medicare, check to see what medical care is nearby and if the physicians will accept Medicare and any gap or supplement plan you have. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, ask if your plan will cover you in the locations you are considering. If you choose a remote location, ask which hospitals are in proximity to your community, and how much farther you would have to travel for more comprehensive medical care.

Figure out if the demographics and ambience of a community are right for you. Many active adult communities have two- or three-night programs where you can visit the community for a preset dollar amount for the package, and try the facilities and meet residents as well. Ask about these opportunities and schedule such a visit. Make a point to ask residents about any details that are important to you that the marketing staff may not be able or willing to share.

At Trilogy communities, typically a third of the people still work full time, a third work part time, and a third are retired, says Hal Looney, area president, Trilogy Shea Homes, Arizona and Nevada.

Ask about the financial stability of the community. Has the community ever had an assessment above the HOA fees? Typically, do the fees go up each year and by how much? Ask to speak to a finance person rather than a marketing person. Would you prefer a community where you can rent on a month-to-month basis or do you want to create roots by buying a home in a community?

Consider the type of environment you prefer. Do you like an urban location, a suburban one or a more rural setting? Would you enjoy a community affiliated with a university where you can take classes?

Evaluate whether it is better to rent or buy. “Consider that you might not like it” after you move, says Mark Moore. Rather than selling your long-term home, another option would be to rent it out, at least initially. The Moores sold theirs. Sometimes, people choose independent living or a combination of independent living, assisted living and memory care to meet the needs of spouses or partners who have different health needs, where they can rent month-to-month. “That’s very attractive to people,” says Patricia Will, founder and CEO of Belmont Village Senior Living, based in Houston, with 33 villages in Texas, California, and South Florida. “If I like this I stay. If I don’t, I don’t have a contractual obligation” to continue to live in the community.

Factor in transportation. “Will you be driving?” is a key question to ask yourself, says Renee Moore. If not, does the community you are considering have any transportation to medical appointments and grocery shopping? “We are not in walking distance to a market now,” she says. “Where we lived before there were three markets we could walk to.” They continue to drive, but kept one vehicle instead of two.

Make your own decision. “People are not waiting until something is very wrong,” says Belmont Village’s Will. “They are doing the research themselves” rather than their grown children doing it and deciding for them. The retirees “want the safety net of underlying care available,” she says. 

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