Legal & Financial Planning

What to Know About Independent Living Communities

Donna Freedman
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Donna Freedman
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May 5, 2022
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What to Know About Independent Living Communities

Some people want to age in place. Others see retirement as a chance to move from the family home to an “independent living community,” a seniors-only housing development designed for active living. In fact, another name for these developments is “active adult communities.”

“Active” refers to amenities such as walking and biking trails, pools, fitness centers, clubhouses, tennis and pickleball. Some of these developments even offer meal plans and other services—for an extra fee. 

These developments can be apartments, condominiums or stand-alone homes. Dwellings tend to be accessible, with features such as wider doorways, modified bathrooms and single-level living.

A growing trend for these communities is to offer a range of care options such as assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care in addition to independent living. These are generally known as “continuing care retirement communities” (CCRCs). Should you become sick or disabled, you can stay in the same community (if not in the same home). 

It’s a fast-growing market. According to the non-profit National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, the 75-plus population will be 28.6 million by 2025, 34.5 million by 2030 and 44.2 million by 2039. 

All those seniors need somewhere to live—and AARP reports that 44% of the 100 biggest residential developers in the U.S. are building active living communities.

But is an independent living community the right choice for you? Read on to learn more about your options.

Why move to an independent living community?

Some people can no longer physically maintain the family home as they grow older, or they’re simply tired of cleaning and doing yard work. They also might want to avoid higher property taxes and utility bills on a larger residence.

Or the home simply might not be right for them as age-related issues crop up. According to the Census Bureau, only 10% of U.S. homes are elder-friendly. 

Some retirees move to be closer to their kids or to a warmer climate. Others like the idea of living in a community of their peers, with a variety of planned activities to enjoy. According to SeniorLiving.com, some residents cite “an added sense of security from living in an organized community.” 

In some communities, transportation to appointments and shopping is available. For someone who no longer drives, this is a big plus.

A way to age in place

As noted above, it’s increasingly common for an independent living development to be a place that will take care of you once you have trouble living on your own. If you move to a CCRC, you’ll have the option of transitioning to another area if you need additional help.

People with chronic health conditions might want to choose a CCRC, which gives them the option of staying near their spouse and friends. But even if your overall health is good, you can’t predict that it will stay that way. Those who choose communities without more than one kind of residence should have a backup plan in place in case they (or their spouse) can no longer live in their homes.

It’s also a good idea to select a community that’s fairly close to medical specialists and other healthcare providers. Having to drive an hour each way to an appointment could be tough for someone who needs ongoing care.

[ Read: What You Need to Know About Long-Term Care ]

How much do independent living communities cost?

Prices vary widely, depending on location and whether you choose a CCRC or an active living community. If you’re buying or leasing a home in either place, your mortgage or rent is only part of the puzzle. There will also be a monthly homeowner association (HOA) fee for upkeep of public areas. If your community offers meals, yard work and home repairs, you’ll pay extra for that as well.

According to AssistedLiving.com, the cost of independent living tends to be lower because it doesn’t include medical care or help with daily living activities. The average cost of place in an independent living community ranges from $1,800 a month in Missouri to $4,014 a month in Delaware. 

Moving to a CCRC often requires an entry fee. This can be as low as $40,000 or as high as more than $2 million; the average cost is $402,000, AARP reports. A monthly service or maintenance fee is also required. The total monthly cost to live in these places averages $3,555. 

[ Read: How to Budget for Retirement ]

Is an independent living community right for you?

This is a major decision, quite literally life-changing. Before you decide to move into an independent living community, active adult community or a CCRC, consider these questions.

Can you afford it?

If you plan to buy outright with the proceeds from selling your current home, you won’t have to worry about a mortgage. But you’ll still need to factor in HOA fees and additional costs for any other services you choose.  

If you select a CCRC, you’ll likely have to sign a life-care contract, which means your monthly fees will be higher. In a sense, you’re pre-paying the costs of future medical help. However, once you do need these services, your monthly fees won’t go up. Depending on the community, some or all of the fees may be refunded. 

If you can’t afford it, talk with family members or a financial advisor about downsizing your current home into a residence that will let you age in place. You might even qualify for an apartment in an affordable senior housing community funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 202 program.  Low-income seniors pay only 30% of their adjusted gross income as rent in these communities, according to the National Council on Aging.

[ Read: How Retirees Can Lower Their Bills ]

What do you want in retirement?

What’s important to you? If you love a big-city scene, look for a home in (or at least near) a place where you’ll thrive. Big-time tennis player? Choose a development with plenty of courts.

If you’re a homebody, it doesn’t matter much where you live. But if you’re a serious extrovert, check out the recreation and cultural events of a community before you buy.

How much space do you need for gardening, DIY projects and other hobbies? Make sure you have enough room—and also check whether HOA rules govern things such as fences, flowerbeds and front-yard décor.

Is 50-plus right for you?

Some people want to be surrounded by their peers. Others prefer a mix of ages. It’s a personal decision not to be taken lightly. Consider all your options before deciding where to move.

[ Keep Reading: The High Cost of Living a Long Life ]

Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

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