Is a retirement community right for you?


Downsizing makes sense for many retirees. If you’re ready to trade in your family home for a space that’s better suited for two, consider a retirement community. Among the perks: less home maintenance, built-in social activities, and on-site amenities. 

Tom and Kris O’Hara moved to Legacy Oaks in suburban Allentown, Pa., 11 years ago and never regretted it, says Tom, a retired print shop owner. What they love most is that it’s a truly active adult community—within walking distance of retail, grocery stores, and restaurants. “Our community has a wide range of activities and neighbors that make it interesting,” says Tom. 

Community living is a growing trend among seniors. According to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, the average occupancy rate for senior housing properties has been steadily climbing for the past year and a half. 

Lee Russell, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, says that moving into the Air Force West Retirement Village near Los Angeles three years ago was one of the best decisions he ever made. And his daughter, Bonnie Russell, a legal researcher and the founder of, says her father’s move restored his vitality. “He goes to the gym every day and will congenially run the pool table.” 

Community living isn’t for everyone though, cautions Terence O’Malley, a Kansas City lawyer who specializes in long-term-care planning for seniors. O’Malley says there are certain personality types who simply don’t enjoy group settings. “If you are someone who finds social environments more annoying than enjoyable, downsizing to a private condo or a smaller home may be a better option for you.”

As a past member of the board for his community’s homeowners association, Tom says potential residents should keep in mind that most communities have regulations that prohibit or restrict exterior changes, including limits on holiday decorations. Some agreements even restrict what can be done to the home’s interior. 

But if you’re OK with playing by those rules and envision your golden years filled with a busy social calendar, or if you crave the convenience of on-site amenities, a retirement community could be the right move for you.

When you begin your search, Marlene Rotering, CEO and president of the Edgewood Lifecare Community in North Andover, Mass., recommends considering the following four factors so that you can find the perfect fit.

  1. Location, Location, Location
    It’s the most important piece of any real estate puzzle, so ask yourself if you’d like to stay near your current neighborhood, move closer to your family, or if you want a warmer climate. Another factor to consider is the size of the community you would be most comfortable in. A smaller number of people makes it easier to get to know other members, while a larger community offers a greater chance to find others who share your interests.
  2. Amenities and Services 
    Make a wish list of on-site amenities and prioritize which are “must-haves” and which are simply “nice to have.” Maybe a full and varied activities calendar is tops on your list, or perhaps a fitness center and on-site restaurant. Other common amenities to consider include housecleaning services, private transportation, and personal services.
  3. 55-Plus or Life Care?
    Communities that are designated “55-plus” offer some amenities, but many do not have continuing-care facilities on-site. Because of this, you may need to make one or more additional moves as your health needs change. If you have a current health issue that will likely require in-home care, memory support, short-term rehabilitation, or long-term nursing care in the future, a life-care retirement community may be a better option for you. Keep in mind, however, that these communities tend to have an additional entrance fee to join (a portion of that fee is returned to you or your estate when you leave the community). 
  4. An Insider’s Perspective 
    If you are seriously considering a retirement community, be sure to talk to residents to get their input. These questions can help provide useful insights: Is the organization financially healthy? Is the board of directors local and involved in the community? What do you love most about living here? Is there anything here that you dislike? “We talked to residents before making any decisions,” says Tom. “I literally just knocked on doors and asked questions.”
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