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Posted on November 15, 2008

How To Decide Where To Retire

retirement-home

If you’re a future retiree, it’s never too early to start thinking about where you’ll live when you retire. Here’s how to get started, in five easy steps.

1. Remember: Location, Location, Location (and Lifestyle)

As you approach retirement, it’s exhilarating to imagine yourself geographically independent. You can have those pension and Social Security checks sent anywhere! So why not just head for Florida (if you like it warm) or the mountains (if you like seclusion)?

Even though retirement does involve one big transition—you won’t be working any more—the rest of your life will go on as before. If you like to spend time with your kids, your grandkids, and your friends, that won’t change. If you regularly attend church or synagogue, you’ll want to keep going to the same one (or probably at least the same denomination). Is it important for you to have easy access to cultural centers, or restaurants, or shopping? Many new retirees have rushed into a new location only to return to their old home towns bitterly disillusioned because they didn’t take these factors into consideration.

For example, in central Florida, dozens of new senior communities have been created almost overnight. They feature extremely affordable and modern two and three-bedroom ranch homes that are often on a golf course. They’re perfect for many people. But not for all. The golf course may be a flat nine-hole pitch-and-putt that grows wearisome for the avid golfer. “Shopping” can mean an hour’s drive to the nearest Wal-Mart; “dining” can be limited to fast food or a luncheonette in a tiny town that’s 30 miles away.

Before you even listen to a sales pitch, make sure the location fits your life, and your lifestyle. If it doesn’t, skip the sales pitch, and move on.

2. Understand the different forms of senior living

There are three basic options to choose from when choosing a place to retire:

  • A conventional community. This simply means a house, condo, or apartment that isn’t specifically intended for seniors. If you’re in good health, and enjoy the diversity of age groups, this may be your best choice.
  • An “active adult” community. Normally, age discrimination is forbidden under Federal fair housing laws: you can’t exclude seniors, but neither can you exclude young families with children from most communities. An exception has been made, however, for so-called “active adult” or “55 plus” communities. These are limited (with few exceptions) to over-55 “empty nesters.” They often have community facilities (such as meeting rooms), and are designed with seniors in mind (easy to get around without climbing stairs). Other than this, they usually have the look and feel of conventional communities.
  • A full-service retirement community. These go beyond “active adult” communities in that they offer much more extensive nursing and medical services for the residents. Often, a retirement community will include an assisted living facility in addition to ordinary houses and/or apartments. There may even be a medical facility with full-time medical staff. These extended services, of course, come at a price. Some communities require a large down-payment when moving in, but then guarantee access to nursing and medical facilities at no additional charge. Others charge for additional services on a “pay-as-you-go” basis.

Weigh these options before you start looking at specific communities. And don’t forget that unfortunately, health often deteriorates with age. Some full-service retirement communities come with a guarantee of nursing and/or medical services, but require residents to be in good health when they enter the community. If you think you might want to live in such a community, look into the rules and regulations, and make sure you don’t wait until it’s “too late.”

3. Know your financial situation

This is a broad topic that can’t be covered in detail here. Suffice it to say that before choosing a retirement home, you must be very clear on how much money you will have both now, and further down the road. Don’t forget that savings can get used up; that investments can go up and down; and that inflation will gradually but inexorably push prices relentlessly upward. “Biting off more than you can chew” in terms of housing is painful for anyone, but is especially heart-wrenching for a senior citizen who has no options to recoup losses, and wishes only to spend his or her remaining years in peace and tranquility.

4. Compile a checklist

Now that you know where you want to live (or don’t), what kind of community fits for you, and how much you’ll have available, put together a checklist of “non-negotiable” features and “nice to haves.” For example: You may decide that in order to be able to easily visit with your kids, you must live within 200 miles of Atlanta, Georgia; that you want either an active adult or full-service retirement community but don’t want to pay for nursing services in advance; and that you can afford a maximum $50,000 downpayment on a home and a maximum of $1,800 monthly housing expenses. You’d like to live on one floor but can accept stairs; and you need room for two cars but will accept a one-car garage if need be. Write all these items down, and add to the list as you think of things. That way, when you’re looking at a prospective new home, you won’t be so “wowed” by the features that you forget the “basics.”

5. Go hunting!

You’re now equipped to start evaluating prospective retirement homes. Even if you’re not ready to move yet, it’s never too early to get a feel for what’s out there—there’s no such thing as being too well informed when the time comes to make a decision. You can do a lot of your initial research on the Internet. There, you can find everything from retirement communities’ Web sites to weather information to mortgage calculators. Then, when appropriate, make visits in person. By doing your “homework” well in advance, you’ll be able to zero in quickly on what might “work” for you, and what won’t.

Enjoy the process. And if you find something particularly noteworthy (either positive or negative), let us at AAFR know about it. (E-mail us at webmaster [at] aafr.org.) We always welcome the opportunity to share and exchange useful information on our Future Retiree blog!

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