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In our early years buying our first home, we choose a home that will be a nice place to raise a family. We think about school districts, floor plans, resale value and where we’re going to put the pool. We don’t think about the feasibility of growing old in that home.  Many seniors find that the home that offered a lot of space for raising children and entertaining friends has become too much for them to care for as they age- especially the upstairs!  For seniors looking to downsize, there are many living options available to them, and several things to consider when making a choice.

The very first thing to consider is the rent vs. buy option.  Some older adults choose to sell a large home with a yard and purchase a condo instead.  They maintain the tax advantages of owning a home while reducing the burden of maintenance.  There are association fees, so keep that in mind when you are budgeting for your condo purchase.  Other seniors choose to rent an apartment, townhouse or condo.  There are senior only apartments that are considered “affordable” or “subsidized.”  Rents in some of these types of apartments are on a sliding scale based on income.  There is usually an income minimum of 1.5-2 x the monthly rent amount, and a maximum income limit as well.  Affordable housing for seniors has more demand than availability and waiting lists can be long- sometimes up to 2 years.

In most urban areas, there are “retirement communities” that offer a full range of living options, from apartments to free-standing homes, assisted living and skilled nursing.  These are often referred to as “continuing care retirement communities” or C.C.R. C. and may have a “buy-in”.  What a  “buy-in” means is that you will pay the community a lump-sum entrance fee, in addition to a monthly rental amount, to take care of you for the rest of your life- healthy or not.  Some C.C.R. C’s allow you to buy in at the assisted level, but most would prefer for you to join their community while you are still healthy and active. You may have the option of having some of your entrance fee returned to your estate when you die.   There are other C.C.R.C’s that allow you to purchase a home in the community instead of buying in.  While they may have assisted living and skilled nursing on site, the cost structure is different from a community that you buy-in.

For older adults that need a little more help, there are independent living options that allow you to age in place.  That means that help can be brought to you as your physical needs increase.  Most of these types of living options are considered independent but are licensed as assisted living, allowing for the most flexible living options.  Traditional assisted living offers assistance based on levels of needs with higher levels of care requiring more fees. Added benefits of assisted living, in a lot of communities, are 3 meals per day, housekeeping and laundry services, and transportation to shopping and physician appointments.   Activities are abundant in assisted living and most of the 55+ communities as well.  The average cost of assisted living in the Central Florida area is around $2700/month and most are private pay only.  Memory care assisted living, for people with dementia, can run between $3500-$5000/month.

Skilled nursing facilities, a.k.a “nursing homes” are accepting fewer long-term residents and focusing on rehabilitation as they absorb the impact of Medicaid cuts.  Waiting lists for long-term care in a skilled nursing facility can be lengthy, and Medicare only pays for up to 100 days of nursing home care.  Skilled nursing can cost anywhere from $7,000-$9,000/month.

The decline of the extended family has prompted seniors to look beyond their children for living options, and it has become extremely important for living options to be a part of the retirement planning strategy.  Financial limitations can become an enormous obstacle to finding appropriate housing for seniors.  In my role as care manager at One Senior Place I get calls every week from seniors who have only Social Security as income, need to move now, and have no family to support them. Sadly, I have counseled many seniors that are living in their cars.  Choosing when to retire is often the very first important decision to make.  Retiring at 62 may not be a wise financial decision.  Delaying retirement age may have some financial advantages- especially for couple.

Growing old today is not quite as simple as it was in generations past where children were expected to take care of their aging parents.  Having a happy and healthy home in retirement age requires planning and “hope” is not a plan.  It is imperative to consider not only where you want to live in your golden years, but also how you’re going to pay for it.

~Brenda Lyle