Making the move to independent retirement living

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When 72-year-old Army veteran Ted Eickhoff was at his local VA hospital for an appointment recently, he struck up a conversation with another patient about selling his home and downsizing. As luck would have it, Eickhoff’s fellow patient lived in a local independent retirement community, and raved about the benefits. Eickhoff was sold.

“I couldn’t believe how much you get for the money,” said Eickhoff. “It is so nice to have everything taken care of with just one monthly payment. It covers everything I need, including amazing meals. And if you need another snack, the chefs just make it for you!”

Eickhoff, a retired Command Sergeant Major, is part of a growing number of seniors who are planning for an independent living future.

In fact, a recent AARP poll found that nearly 60 percent of Boomers say they are concerned about living independently, and more than 50 percent say they have begun to think about how they would pay for independent living assistance as they get older.

Crunching the Numbers

Mereen Klein, 86, started looking at the costs of keeping her own apartment versus independent living when her eyesight declined. Klein needed assistance with transportation and didn’t want to keep bugging her son to drive her around, so she decided to move to an independent retirement living community that met her needs.

“It was right for me with my fixed income, and the money covers everything,” said Klein. “I don’t pay for TV, or to have my room cleaned. I couldn’t believe what I got for the money — it was really something.”

To determine what makes financial sense, seniors need to add up the true costs of managing a home versus being part of a retirement community.

“Even if you no longer have a mortgage payment, you still have fluctuating monthly expenses including utilities, taxes, phone, cable and food that can add up significantly,” said Stan Brown, COO of Holiday Retirement. “For many seniors, switching to a community that includes one manageable, monthly flat fee gives them the ability to plan out the next 15 to 20 years and know exactly what they can expect to spend and what they can afford.”

For Klein, it not only made financial sense, it also gave her back some of her freedom.

“I can take the community bus down to the bank or out to dinner. I can even go to the doctor and my appointments without bugging anyone for a ride,” said Klein. “I have more independence now than when I lived alone.”

Ask the Right Questions

To calculate the true costs of making the move to an independent retirement community, Brown cautions seniors to ask as many questions as possible prior to moving in, to uncover any buy-in fees, to determine if a long-term lease is required and to see if the “feel” of the community is right.

“It doesn’t make financial sense to make the move if you aren’t comfortable in the new community and will want to move out within a few months,” said Brown. “It needs to not only be affordable, but a great place to live as well.”

Seventy three-year-old Julianne (Judy) Kayatt knows this all too well. She sold her home and moved into a community that didn’t offer much for her money and wasn’t as caring as she’d hoped. After only a few months, she started her search again and was fortunate to find that a retirement community was a perfect fit for her.

“My family likes that I am happy here, and I like that I can still be independent and live here,” said Kayatt. “I am free to go where I want; I am enjoying activities and events and I’m surrounded by friends. I know I can be happy here for a long time.”

The Golden Years

Making the move to an independent living community can be an affordable way to make the most of one’s retirement years. Kayatt, Klein and Eickhoff have all seen the benefits to cutting ties to a house or an apartment in favor of community living.

Klein was able to take advantage of a promotion, which covered up to $1,000 of her moving expenses, and Kayatt received her birthday month free when she moved in.

And as for Eickhoff, the payoff for him is being surrounded by people his own age with shared experiences and a passion for living the good life.

“This is everything I ever thought about doing when I retired,” said Eickhoff. “Sometimes people reminisce about the past being great, but I was fighting in the military for 22 years and working hard, and now these are my golden years. I can actually relax and people take care of me for a change.”

Before deciding on a move, see if the benefits of retirement community living are in keeping with your lifestyle.