Vowing to never retire to an age-segregated retirement community is akin to the '60s pledge of never trusting anyone older than 30: It's something you say when you are younger and can't imagine ever doing. And then one day you wake up and you've turned into the person you vowed never to trust -- or in the case of post 50s, you wake up trying to figure out the difference between Leisure World and Sun City.
The idea that if you've seen one retirement community, you've seen them all is far from the truth. We suggest you start your search by asking these questions:
1. Are You Looking For Bingo Or Competitive Tennis On Thursdays?
Some retirement communities have lowered the age-admission bar to 50. But therein lies the rub: Just because they let 50-year-olds in, doesn't mean everyone who lives there is 50. Do you really want to be the only 50 year old in a community where most people are in their 80s? A retirement community can be a little evasive when you ask about the age of residents, in part because it's constantly changing. The average age of residents tends to rise as the community matures, so while the average age of <em>new</em> buyers might be on the young side, you want to be sure you know the average age of <em>all</em> the residents who live there. It's an important distinction. One surefire way to evaluate who your neighbors will be is to check out who the recreational programs cater to. Is it heavy with clubs for marathoners, tennis players and Pilates classes? Or is loaded with offerings like knitting, Mahjong and bridge?
2. Is It A Place Where You'll Find Friends "With The Same Major"?
People come to a retirement community expecting to find a built-in circle of friends with similar interests. It's flawed thinking. Just because two people are the same age doesn't mean they like the same things. The solution is to find people "with the same major" -- people interested in the same things as you are. This thinking has fueled what is known as affinity retirement communities -- places developed around a specific interest. There are some retirement communities for artists -- like California's <a href="http://www.seniorartistscolony.com/" target="_hplink">Burbank Senior Artists Colony</a>, a rental community with opportunities to engage in visual arts, theater and writing. Or a place based around a specific occupation, like <a href="http://www.nalc.org/nalc/members/nalcrest.html" target="_hplink">Nalcrest, a community about 70 miles east of Tampa, Florida </a>for retired mail carriers where, no surprise here, no dogs are allowed.
3. Are You Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places?
For many, retirement community living starts to look more appealing when they find themselves spouse-less. Whether it be through death or divorce, the prospect of flying solo after decades of having a partner is often what drives people to consider living in an age-restricted community. But the odds of winning the remarriage jackpot are probably better in Vegas than in a retirement village. <a href="http://www.findingloveafter50.com/index.html" target="_hplink">Experts suggest that if marriage is your goal</a>, you should stay active, pursue your own interests and look beyond the retirement gates for a date.
4. Will You Grow Old Or Stay Young Here?
Studies have shown that active people are happier and healthier. With this in mind, you will want to pick a retirement community that keeps you engaged. One thing to consider is a community in or near a college. Colleges and universities frequently let seniors audit classes for free. College campuses also have many free and low-cost cultural offerings -- concerts, art shows, visiting authors. Retirement communities tend to be built out in deserts or on the outskirts of town where land is cheaper. It may be worth paying a premium for locations closer to the things that will keep you happiest -- and that includes being near old friends and family.
5. Will Your Children And Grandchildren Feel Welcome?
While some retirement communities have swing sets and little playgrounds for visiting grandkids, others cap the number of days that minors can spend the night. The idea is that they don't want under-aged residents moving in on a permanent basis. This kind of policy may feel draconian to those who cherish every hour with their grandkids and want the little ones over as much as possible. It also might preclude your adult kids from returning to the nest if they can't find jobs. It's best to check the community's policy about visitors who are younger than the minimum age requirement and make sure you are in agreement before you commit to living there.
6. Is The Bottom Line The Bottom Line?
Retirement is all about living on a fixed income, right? You know what's coming in each month and it's important to know what's going out. Make sure you know what's included in your monthly homeowners association dues. While "use of the clubhouse" may be included, morning yoga classes may be extra. <a href="http://www.frontporch.net/our-communities" target="_hplink">Front Porch</a>, one of California's largest not-for-profit providers of senior living communities, lists this as one of the top questions to ask. The devil is in the details, after all.
7. Are You Planning For Today And Ignoring Tomorrow?
While your immediate concern may be whether you will be able to maintain an active lifestyle, some thought needs to be given to whether this is a home in which you can age in place. <a href="http://www.frontporch.net/" target="_hplink">Front Porch</a> suggests prospective residents asK: Will I be able to get around to appointments and run your errands if I can no longer drive? What kind of emergency response systems do you have? While it's hard to envision looking that far down the road, it gets back to the not-trusting-anyone-older-than-30 idea: The day will come sooner than you expect when you might appreciate a community bus to the supermarket or a dining room in which to take your meals.