The 18 Most Important Questions When Selecting a Retirement Community
Where do I wish to live? That is a huge question when first starting out as a young person after school and it remains so as we age up throughout life.
Be it the city, state or even country you contemplate living in, the type of home, whether you will purchase or rent, etc., are all important considerations.
This even includes what type of community, from those for young singles and couples, to starter homes for a family, upsizing as the family grows, those designed for people who’ve acquired more over time, downsizing for empty nesters, communities for those nearing or in retirement, and for some even senior facilities that provide varying levels of assistance and care.
This article focuses on the communities that can be found throughout the country, in virtually every city, that cater to those who are nearing or in retirement. While they are often collectively referred to as 55+ or independent communities, they actually vary considerable in terms of the types of homes, amenities, who they are targeted to, pricing, and much more.
When considering a move into such a community there are many issues and questions you should take into account before making a final decision.
So you are nearing or actually in retirement, in your mid-50s, or well advanced in years, and you realize the home in which you’ve lived, perhaps for decades, no longer suits your life for any number of reasons.
You’ve decided to look into moving into a community more well-situated for where you are in life now versus the home where you live now.
It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that there are tons of such communities. No one type fits everyone, including yourself.
In fact, as you begin looking around, you will probably be surprised to learn there are many right in your own backyard that cater to all sorts of people just like you.
And a heck of a lot more in cities and states throughout the country that might well suit your fancy when it comes to retirement living.
When thinking about a move into such a community there are all kinds of considerations and many questions you will want and need answers to before ever moving forward and pulling the trigger.
Here are 18 key issues that are important to consider and ask questions about. Some of yourself and many others of the people running such communities:
Are you ready to live in a community of people your age or older?
The first question you must ask of yourself is whether or not you can be content living in a retirement community comprised of what are generally 55+ adults.
If not, you can skip this article. If you are considering or already know you want to do so, then read on.
Do you prefer a community that offers individual, multifamily or manufactured homes?
If you do decide you do want to further investigate, this is an import question to ask yourself.
You need to take into account your lifestyle, retirement budget, retirement plans, standard of living, desire regarding location, and many other considerations in order to determine the type of home and community that will best suit your needs.
The choices can range from upper-end communities like Del Webb locations to lower-income mobile home parks that feature lower-priced manufactured homes, to condo communities and apartments.
Own or rent?
This is another question you must ask yourself, but additionally will need to ask of the ownership or managers of communities you might consider.
Many communities offer both options, whether single family, multifamily or manufactured. You will need to determine what will work best for you, renting or owning.
Whatever your answer, you’ll need to ask what options are available of potential communities that you investigate and seriously consider.
Single family homes in a retirement community can run from several hundred thousand dollars up to millions, as can condominium communities. This is often based on many factors, such as the luxury of the home, location, amenities, and much more.
Believe it or not, there have been manufactured homes that cost a million+, but that is the exception. Manufactured homes can be extremely cheap as well, especially when being sold within inexpensive trailer-park communities geared to low-income families.
On average, single-wide manufactured homes cost $74k to $85k, depending on region of the country, according to Movement Mortgage in Florida. Meanwhile, the average new double-wide unit will run $132k to $150k depending upon region of the country.
When it comes to rents, they average from $1,500 to $4,000 per month for independent living communities (individuals and families live on their own with no assistance) according to AssistedLiving.org.
What is required to join the community?
Each community will have their own rules and protocols regarding joining and occupying. Submitting an application for you and/if applicable your significant other is almost always to be expected.
Additionally, whether renting or purchasing, you will be asked for your financial and/or banking statements. They will generally require a background check (including criminal) that covers at least five to 10 years, and in some cases decades. A credit check will likely be required, as well as a list of references.
What are the fees and total costs?
The fees are always set by the community owner. Even if you purchase a home, you should expect to pay monthly fees to reside in the community.
Homeowner Association Fees (HOA) will almost always be required, regardless of the type of 55+ community. Lot fees are another common expense you can expect to pay monthly. There can be others as well.
The fees can run as little as low $100s up to thousands depending on many factors, so you have to know what to expect going in. You should check with the community manager or operator and ask exactly what your total cost will be before ever signing a contract.
You should also ask when fees were last raised and by how much. And ask how many fee increases have occurred in the last five and 10 years to get an idea of the frequency of such events.
Options in paying for a home
When it comes to paying for your home in a 55+ community, for those purchased some may offer financing (working with a financial company or even more than one), while others may force you to work with your own mortgage company or financial institution.
Regarding renting, most will offer a number of options in terms of monthly payments, ranging from electronic to accepting checks at the manager/operator’s office on site.
Can I bring in my own home if it is a manufactured home community
Some communities will allow you to bring in a manufactured home you’ve purchased (new or used), as long as it meets their standards and approval, but you will be responsible for the costs of transporting and installation of the unit on the lot you have rented.
Others have all their lots occupied by homes they own and you can only select from the inventory they have available for either purchase or rent.
You’ll need to check on options when you visit the community.
What upgrades, improvements and other changes can I make to my home
Just as with many deed-restricted communities that have an HOA, requiring pre-approval for most changes or upgrades, 55+ communities are much the same.
This can range from any type of external addition to even paining your home (even just painting your door or adding a garden), to having a satellite dish, inclosing a carport, and more. Even some internal changes or improvements must be pre-authorized.
You’ll definitely want to check the HOA and general community rules in advance to avoid running into issues later.
What rules, HOA covenants and agreements should I request
Each community will have HOA rules and covenants that govern your rights and the rules of the community.
Common rules and covenants to ask about in advance:
- How many cars or vehicles (golf cart, motorcycle) can I have at the community
- Guest parking – rules and restrictions on where they can park
- Parties and other gatherings
- Noise restrictions
- Access to pool and other amenities, as well as hours open and guest restrictions
- Pets and pet park or walk areas, including restrictions on breed, size, and more
- Restrictions on children and/or other adults who are less than 55 years of age staying for extended periods or permanently
- What are the rules if you wish to pass on the home to an adult or grandchild as part of your estate plan
If the community is sold how much notice will I be given and what rights will I have
While it is not common for 55+ housing communities to change hands or even cease to operate (declare bankruptcy), it does happen once if a while.
This can be due to economic conditions or business climate, being shut down for environmental issues, the operator shuttered due to illegal activities, and more. It can also occur due to a family or business wishing to take advantage of capital appreciation in the property itself.
Unlike most types of communities, such as a traditional housing development or neighborhood, where the occupants remain largely unaffected by such transactions, manufactured home communities can be tricky if there is a sale of the property.
Keep in mind that a new owner can potentially elect to convert the entire community for another business use, raise rents and lot fees to attempt to force families of lower means out and bring in higher net worth clientele, and take many other actions that can impact you if you become a resident.
To protect yourself from such a situation, you need to review your contract or lease. You should also ask if ownership is considering such a transaction anytime in the future or has sold other properties previously. Ask how long they’ve owned the community and for a list of other properties they own and operate.
You’ll also want to know how much notice will be given, what type of relocation assistance will be made available, and what to do if you own a home in the community if and when a sale occurs.
What must I do if I wish to sell my home?
Assuming you own your home, no matter the type, you can sell it to another party just as you would in any community.
You will have to notify the management of the community and abide by their HOA rules. Rules and procedures regarding the aforementioned application process will still apply and the new potential owner will need management’s approval to purchase.
You will need to find out other rules the community requires in the event of a sale, such as designated parking areas if you hold an open house, whether or not you can post a yard sign, and more.
You will need to investigate what price to list, which will often be based on recent sell transaction
(referred to as comparables or comps) involving similar properties (square footage, community type, area, condition of home, and more).
You can generally involve a realtor and the community might have specific ones they recommend. You can even self-list the home to save the 3% to 6% average commission price.
Finally, you will need to market the property, which can involve using online services that specialize in such listings, passing out flyers, offering open house events, and more.
Proximity to local shops and vendors
Just as when you were younger, before ever purchasing a home or moving into an apartment, you definitely wanted to check out the lay of the land to determine how close you would be to a grocery store, gas station, restaurants, and more.
That will definitely be the case when deciding upon a 55+ community. As such, you can ask the manager at the community, or better yet drive around yourself to determine how convenient living in a particular community will be. Questions to consider:
- How close to retail shops or a mall
- How close to gas stations and convenience stores
- How close to fast food and more upscale dining establishments
- How close to movie theaters and other entertainment venues
- What types of cultural activities and how close
- How close to parks, beaches, etc.
- How close to religious facilities that you would wish to attend
- How close to nearest large city
You should also ask about local agreements that might exist, such as discounts the community may have with local vendors and service providers so you can be sure to take advantage of those things.
What community shared amenities are there?
As you will be spending lots of time in the community, what types of amenities do they offer?
Common amenities include a clubhouse, pool, tennis or pickleball courts, shuffleboard, a gym, walking path, and more. But you can’t assume they do. And equally important, what are rules for those things, hours of operation, can you invite family members and friends, and more.
Utilities and maintenance
You will need your trash picked up, grass mowed (yourself or a service provided), electricity, water and all the typical utilities and maintenance needs attended to, just as with living anywhere else.
As such you need to ask the community owner about these issues. Do you pay electricity/garbage/water or is it included in the fees the community charges?. If you do pay, is it direct to the community or to the utility company?
Other questions to ask:
- How often and which days for garbage (inkling recyclables) pickup
- Are you responsible for mowing and upkeep of your lot or does the community handle that
- Do they provide community-wide upkeep/maintenance of all facilities (including landscaping) of common and general community areas
How active is the community in terms of events and other activities?
A big consideration for you personally is how active you wish to be in retirement. Many don’t consider this in advance. If you plan to watch TV all day, the activities and social events won’t matter much.
But if you do wish to participate in daily, weekly and monthly activities, you’ll definitely want to know what they offer and get the schedule. Examples can include tennis or pickle ball training or tournaments, BBQs or pot lucks each month, trips to outside events or offerings (monthly museum trips) and much more.
Some communities are very active and even have activity directors, while others do nothing. Be sure to check on this very important issue to ensure you know what is and isn’t available before ever signing a contract.
Is there on-site management and assistance available
Fact is that just as with any community, things happen. Whatever the issue, ranging from mundane like paying rent to emergencies, and everything in between, you want to know where to turn.
Generally speaking, in 55+ communities they will have on-site management that offers assistance, or at least a phone number/after-hour call center, as well as an online presence with help desk you can contact. You have to know the procedure and who to contact before the unexpected ever occurs.
What security and protective measures does the community provide
Same as with onsite or offsite assistance, you need to know in what circumstances you contact management and when you immediately contact emergency services, such as 911. As such you need to ask the community management so you know where to turn first.
Obviously when in doubt or danger, local community emergency services is the first place to turn.
Also ask about security measures and services, which might involve a contracted service provider patrolling the community, gates and controllers, a communication system installed for each residence, and more.
What are the closest healthcare providers and emergency facilities?
You will definitely want to know where such services are located locally. Obviously if you have health issues you will want to live in a community with close proximity to such providers.
Obviously there are lots of considerations when it comes to the issue of moving on to the next stage of your life – where you will live in retirement. If you are staying where you live currently the issue is pretty straight forward.
If instead you are considering moving to a retirement community, such as a 55+, then you definitely want to ask yourself questions at the start of the process, and then investigate and ask questions of the management and/or owners of communities in the area(s) you might have an interest in.
Doing so can save you time (and issues or aggravations) in the long run, helping ensure you have a better experience and find the community best suited for your needs during this important time in your life.
Planning for such a transitional time and move is something we can talk and assist you with. Moreover, this should be a part of your retirement plan, as it involves a major issue in retirement – where you will live.
We can review you current plan or help you create an efficient new plan if you don’t have one already.
At Oak Harvest Financial Group, in everything we do we incorporate a holistic approach that considers all your assets, tools and accounts, with a goal of providing a comprehensive plan built specific to your needs and goals in retirement.
Let Us Help You Achieve the Retirement You Deserve!
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