When it comes time to choose a retirement community, there are many factors to consider. You need to start by deciding what you want and what you expect to get out of joining a community. This involves everything from your budget, age, state of health and healthcare needs, geographical location and, of course, your particular tastes and preferences in terms of lifestyle and entertainment.
Being honest about these matters and sifting through brochures and websites will help you narrow down your search and shortlist a series of promising options.
However, considering that joining a retirement community is a big step and that there’s only so much you can learn from reading a brochure or a website, it’s likely you’ll want to visit the communities you shortlisted and meet in person with representatives to make sure you have the most accurate information available when making this important decision.
But how do you make the most of your time with the representatives, and what questions should you ask them to get the answers you need? This post will cover the top 10 questions you should ask when choosing a retirement community.
Asking these questions will give you a better understanding of what each retirement community has to offer and whether or not it’s the right fit for you. It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for retirement living, so take your time, do your research and choose the community that best meets your needs and expectations.
#1 Am I eligible to enter the community?
The first question you should ask is whether or not you’re eligible to enter the community. There are usually age and health requirements in place, so it’s important to make sure you meet those before considering any other options.
Of course, this information is readily available in informative brochures and on websites, but there may be additional restrictions and requirements you’re not aware of, so it’s always best to ask and make sure.
Some common and undisclosed eligibility requirements include:
- Proof of U.S. citizenship or residency
- A specific level of physical and mental health
- The ability to independently perform activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, bathing, dressing and using the restroom
- Having a family member or friend who can visit regularly and provide support, if needed
- Minimum income requirements
- Passing a credit check, and more.
Some of these requirements may not be explicit in the brochure or hidden under tons of legal jargon in the website’s fine print. So, if you have any doubts whatsoever, don’t hesitate to ask the representative during your visit and get clarification.
#2 What are all the costs implied?
The second question you should ask is about the costs. Retirement living doesn’t come cheap, so you need to make sure you clearly understand all the associated expenses before making any decisions.
There are several types of fees and expenses you need to take into account when budgeting for retirement living, including:
- One-time entrance or community fees: When you join a retirement community, you’re usually required to pay an entrance fee. This can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands, depending on the community and your particular circumstances. In some cases, this fee may be refundable if you decide to leave the community or be partially refunded if your spouse also moves in.
- Recurring monthly fees: In addition to the entrance fee, you’ll also be responsible for paying monthly fees, which cover the costs of maintaining the community and providing amenities and services. These fees can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on the community and your chosen lifestyle.
- Additional fees: Some communities also charge additional fees for certain services and amenities, such as housekeeping, laundry, transportation, health care and more. It’s important to ask about all these additional costs and estimate how much they would add to your monthly expenses.
- Out-of-pocket expenses: In addition to the fees and expenses mentioned above, you’ll also need to consider the cost of living in your chosen community. This includes food, utilities, transportation, entertainment and any other necessary expenses.
It’s important to have a clear understanding of all these costs before making any decisions. Once you know what you’re looking at financially, you can start evaluating whether or not a particular community is truly within your budget.
#3 What happens if my health deteriorates and I need a higher level of assistance or healthcare?
Some retirement communities, such as CCRCs or Continuum Care Retirement Communities, offer a wide range of care services, from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care, all on the same campus.
This allows residents to age in place and not worry about finding new housing or relocating if their health deteriorates and they need a higher level of assistance. However, it’s still important to have a clear view of how moving from one level of care to another actually works, especially if you plan to move to the community with your spouse or partner.
In some cases, you’re forced to relocate to another part of the campus that may be far from your original residence, making it hard to keep in touch with your spouse or partner, old neighbors and friends.
In others, you may be able to stay in your same unit or apartment but with different roommates or floor plans that accommodate your new needs. It’s important to ask about this beforehand to make an informed decision about whether or not the community is right for you.
On the other hand, other retirement communities may not offer the same level of care, or they may not offer it on the same campus, which can be a real problem if you need to move to a new location as your health changes, leaving all your friends and loved ones behind.
#4 What are the community’s policies on visitors and guests?
One of the great things about retirement living is that you have the freedom to entertain guests and visitors whenever you want. Whether it’s your children and grandchildren coming for a visit or your friends stopping by for a cup of coffee, it’s important to make sure that the community you choose allows visitors and has policies in place that are conducive to entertaining.
Some communities have very strict rules about visitors, limiting the days and times they’re allowed on the premises or requiring advance notice before anyone can come over. Others may charge guest fees or require that all visitors register at the front desk.
It’s important to ask about these policies beforehand, so you know what to expect and can make sure that your family and friends will be able to visit when they want.
#5 What are the relevant refund policies?
No one enters a retirement community expecting it to go wrong and for them to want or need to leave, but it’s important to know what the refund policies are in case you do find yourself in that situation.
Some communities have very strict refund policies that only allow you to get your money back if you move out within a certain timeframe, while others may give you a partial refund based on how long you’ve been a resident.
Other factors that may affect a possible refund include joining the community accompanied by your spouse, partner or another family member and whether or not you have a long-term care insurance policy. Please don’t shy away from asking this particular question because you may regret it in the future.
#6 What is local healthcare like?
When choosing a retirement community, you want to tick off the basics before you get to the fun stuff, so before asking about pool parties and golf courses, make sure your current and any potential healthcare needs are met.
While this starts with in-house care, it’s also important to consider the quality of local healthcare. Suppose you’re moving to a community that’s in a rural area or far from major hospitals.
In that case, you may find yourself facing long wait times or having to travel long distances for any basic care not directly provided within the community.
On the other hand, if you choose a community that’s close to a large city or near top-notch hospitals, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you have access to the best possible care should you need it. This is especially important if you have chronic health conditions or are taking multiple medications.
Some communities even offer on-site healthcare clinics or have agreements with local hospitals and doctors to provide residents with discounted or priority care.
Tip: Ask if you can visit the community’s healthcare center right away. Doing so on short notice is a good way to gauge how well the staff is prepared to handle any potential health needs you may have and how good is the attention and service they provide. Any hesitation from the representative might be a red flag to watch out for.
#7 What do I get in return for the monthly fee?
It’s important to remember that, in a retirement community, you’re not just paying for a place to live but also for the amenities and services that come with it. This can include anything from scheduled transportation and social activities to housekeeping, laundry and 24-hour security.
The monthly fee charged by each community will differ based on the type of services included, so make sure you ask about exactly what’s included before making a decision. It may be worth paying a bit more per month for a community that offers everything you need in one place rather than having to pay for separate services outside the community.
Keep in mind that some communities offer additional services for an additional fee, so if there’s something you want that’s not included in the basic monthly fee, be sure to ask about it.
#8 Can I experience what it’s like to live here before deciding?
The best way to get a feel for what it’s like to live in a retirement community is to experience it firsthand, so if at all possible, try to take a tour of the community and even spend a night or two there as a guest. This will allow you to see how the staff interacts with residents and vice versa and get a sense of the overall atmosphere and lifestyle.
You should also take some time to explore the surrounding area, especially if you’re considering moving to a new city or state. If possible, try to visit during different seasons to see what the weather is like and whether you’ll be able to enjoy activities both inside and outside the community.
When touring around, interact with residents and ask them about the community, services, food quality and anything else that may come to mind. There’s nothing like getting the inside scoop from someone who’s actually living there.
Pro Tip: If you decide to test run several communities and plan to be away from home for a while, you may have trouble receiving important physical mail at your current location unless you notify everyone who needs to send you any documents or packages where you are at the moment.
You can avoid this by getting a virtual business address before you begin your trip and taking the time to send the new address to everyone that matters. That way, every time you move to a new community for a couple of weeks, all you’ll have to do is notify them.
#9 How do you keep residents safe?
Safety is always a top concern, especially for seniors, so choosing a community that takes security seriously is important. Find out what security measures are in place, such as security guards, surveillance cameras or gated entrances.
It’s also a good idea to ask about the crime rate in the area and whether there have been any recent incidents inside the community. If possible, try to talk to some residents about their experiences and whether they feel safe living there.
#10 What do I do if I have a complaint?
Just like with any other type of housing, there’s always the potential for problems to arise, so it’s important to know how management handles complaints.
Start by asking about the community’s complaint process and who you need to contact if you have a problem.
Find out whether there’s a centralized call center or website where residents can submit complaints or whether they need to go through their property manager. It would help to ask how quickly complaints are typically addressed and whether there are any restrictions on what types of issues can be reported.
In addition, find out whether there is an independent third party that handles complaints from residents. This could be an ombudsman, mediation service or even the state attorney general’s office. Having an outside entity involved can help ensure that complaints are handled fairly and objectively.
Bonus Question: What are the community’s policies on pets?
Many people consider their pets part of the family, so if you count yourself in that group, it’s important to make sure that the retirement community you choose allows pets. Find out what types of pets are allowed, if there are any size or breed restrictions, and whether there are any additional fees associated with having a pet.
You may also want to find out if there are any vets within the community or nearby and what shots your pet is required to have to be admitted.
Finally, you should also ask where pets are allowed to go within the community. Some communities have designated areas for pets, while others allow them to roam freely. Make sure to mention what particular pet you plan to bring with you so they can give you a more accurate answer.
The bottom line
Choosing a retirement community is a big decision, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can narrow down your options and find the perfect place to call home by asking the right questions. Just make sure to do your research, visit various communities, and give the lifestyle a test run. After all, this decision will impact the rest of your life, so you want to make sure you’re happy with your choice.