8 Questions to Help You Decide if a 55+ Retirement Community is Right for You
Good things in life usually require planning. Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a summer vacation, or a significant life change, success typically depends on how much attention you give to preparation. Retirement is no different. As you’re envisioning your retirement years, you’re picturing what it will look like, setting goals, and planning how you’ll make your retirement dream a reality.
Part of retirement planning involves tough decisions like where you’ll live. Not only do you need to decide the geographic location you want to make your home, you also have decisions to make about what type of community you want to live in.
55+ retirement communities (also known as “age restricted” or “age-qualified communities”) are a popular choice with many retirees. But how can you determine if these communities will be a good fit for your individual lifestyle preferences? To complicate matters further, there are different types and styles of 55+ communities, such as active adult communities that focus on activities and amenities, and continuing care communities that are provide graduated levels of care, from independent living, to assisted living to nursing home care.
In this guide, we’ll share how to decide if a 55+ retirement community is right for you, and what you should consider as you’re looking at all the options.
What Exactly is a 55+ Retirement Community?
First, let’s answer a few common questions about 55+ retirement communities. While these communities come in many different flavors, they all have a few things in common:
- They have an age requirement for at least one of the residents. (However most do not require that all residents be 55 or over.)
- They’re designed to be low-maintenance for the residents, offering lawn care and exterior home maintenance.
- They’re typically located in areas with convenient access to a hospital, shopping, and restaurants.
- They often provide security for the comfort of residents. The community may be gated or have an on-site security patrol.
Questions to Consider
55+ retirement communities are rising in popularity, but what’s right for one person isn’t right for another. You’ll need to evaluate your own personal preferences to determine whether a 55+ community will help you fulfill your retirement dream or not. Here are the questions to ask yourself as you consider your options.
1. Are you ready to hand off chores like yard maintenance or do you enjoy this work?
Yard work is a joy to some and a bane to others. Some Boomers enjoy the feeling of working outdoors, and they like the personal reward of a job well done. Lawn care and designing the landscaping is something they do for fun. Trees are meticulously chosen, flowers are planted with care, and the grass is always a pristine green.
Retirement communities are designed to be as maintenance-free as possible, so yard work is taken care of for you. Some communities will allow minor deviations from standard landscaping (such as seasonal flower plantings in existing beds), but for the most part, yard care won’t be something you’ll be doing. For those who count lawn care as a hobby, this service may be a detractor.
That said, if all of the other elements of a 55+ community align with what your dream retirement looks like, there are other ways to flex your green thumb. You could join a garden club or volunteer with an organization that provides lawn care services to the elderly or medically housebound.
2. Do you enjoy having activities planned for you or do you like to host all your own activities?
Entertaining is another hobby that many retirees enjoy. Whether it’s planning dinner parties, hosting events for a favorite charity, or organizing group day trip excursions, preparing for these activities is truly a pleasure to some people.
Most 55+ communities offer a plethora of already-planned activities that residents enjoy. With a calendar full of community-organized social opportunities, you may find that your desire to entertain is in competition with these existing events.
Not every 55+ community is known for fabulous social calendars, however. And if you know how to throw a party, you may attract plenty of other residents in spite of existing events! As an alternative, some communities offer opportunities for residents to get involved in planning social activities. You could volunteer for one of these committees.
3. Does the idea of living in a community of other like-minded people appeal to you, or do you like diversity?
55+ retirement communities, by their nature, bring like-minded people together. While not everyone is exactly the same, of course, the people in a 55+ community are all living the type of lifestyle that the community is designed for — that’s why they’re there. Niche communities that serve an even narrower slice of the population are also available. These niche communities may market to those with active lifestyles, have particular religious convictions, be part of the LGBTQ+ community, or enjoy especially high incomes, for example.
If you crave diversity in age, viewpoints, lifestyles, and income levels, a 55+ community may feel stifling to you. But you’re not limited to the grounds of the community. If you or your spouse are attracted by other benefits of a 55+ community, you could actively seek out diversity elsewhere, such as in community groups, interfaith centers, and volunteering opportunities.
4. Do you like privacy, or do you not mind living in close proximity to others?
For those who live in rural areas whose neighbors are distant and space is plenty, retirement communities can feel claustrophobic. Even those in the suburbs who enjoy large lots may be uncomfortable with the close proximity that comes with living in a 55+ community. If you’ve become accustomed to having privacy indoors and out, community living may be an adjustment.
Depending on the individual community, it’s possible to increase the privacy available. You may be able to choose a cottage on a cul-de-sac or put up a foldable outdoor screen off the patio. Community guidelines may allow the addition of trellis vines or strategically-placed landscaping. Explore your options if this is the only factor stopping you.
5. Are you a city person, or can you see yourself in the suburbs (where most 55+ communities are)?
Very few 55+ retirement communities will be found in city centers. Most are situated in the suburbs. There is typically convenient access to shopping, restaurants, and other attractions, but most of these will be chains, not unique, locally-owned places. You won’t usually find the hustle and bustle associated with city life either.
If quirky shops and eateries are important to you, you’ll have to look a little harder to find a 55+ community with easy access to these. They’re out there, but your options may be more limited. If you enjoy being active and spending time around people, consider an active community that offers shared facilities like a clubhouse, tennis court, pool, and/or other environments where you can interact.
6. Do you like to stay busy, or is your idea of a perfect retirement spending your days reading or relaxing on the water?
Many 55+ communities offer myriad amenities and activities for residents to enjoy, and these communities charge appropriate fees and dues to cover the costs. If you don’t plan to use these perks, you may not want to pay for them. Those who prefer spending time alone or out away from community life may find that they’d rather put their money elsewhere.
Because retirement communities are so varied, however, it’s possible to find one that offers the level of activity that you’re looking for. Just be sure to research all the fees and dues involved in any option you’re considering.
7. Are your finances able to cover the type of living environment you want in a 55+ community, or would you prefer to allocate that money elsewhere?
As just mentioned, there are typically significant fees and dues that accompany life in a 55+ retirement community. Depending on your financial situation, maintaining your current home size and lifestyle may be challenging in a 55+ community. While some are happy to downsize in exchange for all the benefits that a retirement community offers, others choose to live in a traditional community without the additional costs.
The number of fees and dues vary widely depending on the community, so explore all of the options that you think may interest you. If your budget is limited, you may be able to find the perfect balance between affordability and amenities available.
8. Do you have plenty of friends and family to help you as you enter your later retirement years, or do you need to prepare for having more professional help?
Continuing care communities offer various levels of care based on your needs as you age. New residents enjoy independent living in patio homes, duplex cottages, or condominiums. As health problems become more limiting, assisted living apartments provide easy access to professional help when needed. Meals are provided, and other tasks are taken care of. Finally, on-site nursing home care is available when health deteriorates further.
It can be reassuring knowing that you’ll be taken care of in your later years, and continuing care communities often provide peace of mind to those who don’t have family to rely on. Even those who do have family sometimes worry about their later years, so having a plan in place for care can bring a sense of confidence.
Research Your Options
After considering the questions above, you should have a fairly clear idea of whether 55+ retirement communities are something to further explore, based on your individual preferences. But because there are so many types and styles of communities, you’ll want to conduct thorough research to find out exactly what each option offers.
There are many ways to go about this research. Some people start with the geographic location they’d like to be in, then look at area retirement communities. This is often the case for those who want to be near family or have their heart set on a favorite spot that they’ve enjoyed visiting over the years. Others locate a community that they think will be ideal for them and then plan to move there. People who are seeking a niche community often go this route — they’re happy to move wherever the community is located.
In your research, be sure to include amenities, activities, proximity to places you’ll want to visit, and the costs involved. If you’ve narrowed down your choices to a few, talk to people who are currently living in the communities to learn firsthand how they like living there. Investing in a 55+ retirement community is a big decision, so you can’t be too thorough.
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