Everyone’s vision of retirement is unique, making the determination of the right home for you a significant and personal challenge. For couples, it is often compounded by differing values, leading to significant compromises. I’m often reminded of the old 1960’s show “Green Acres” when couples talk to me about their preferences. It’s rare that couples share identical values, and so it’s important to have a Plan A, B and C to keep the best options open. Aging in Place is the common choice, but there’s a lot more to it that declaring it as an aspiration.
If you’ve been doing some reading on the topic, you’ll see a common theme indicating that “community” is usually the top priority, both for emotion and practical reasons. Community makes sense for several reasons, and brings many aspects into play. Let’s break community down into a few key elements.
Location: The real estate adage holds true for your retirement home as well, but in a differing slant. Isolation is a major threat to any retirement plan, so despite how long you may have dreamt of an exotic, secluded beach setting, cutting yourself off from basic support services is likely to be an unwise option. Similarly, country settings can hold strong appeal, but eventually vulnerability creeps in and a thirty-minute drive to medical assistance looks more and more concerning. Most discover that vacation properties are best kept for just that, vacations. They can be great winter getaways, but they become challenging solutions in later years as friends pass and family is nowhere close.
Family: For most of us it will be family that we will look to lean on in our later years. It’s one of the rewards of family, even for those that have experienced their share of challenges. Choosing to be in the same proximity offers them a chance to participate and support you on an ongoing, as-needed basis in later years. If they must take time off work to travel to be with you, then no matter how much they’d want to help, this sets a significant barrier to their ability to be there for you in later years. It is in these very times that old wounds can heal and relationships can find lost meaning.
Friends and Neighbors: If we’ve been lucky enough to have forged strong friendships in a concentrated area, this is a valid and compelling reason to stay put. The idea of moving and starting over at 70+ holds low appeal for most and is one of the top reasons people prefer to age in place over retirement facility living.
Medical Services: Imagine a period requiring extended, routine medical check-ups. If you know friends who have endured and survived cancer treatments, those in close proximity to family and high quality medical services will have had a much easier time of it than others forced to travel.
Food and Home Services: Waiting for the weather to clear before making a trek into town places constraints on retirement living that continue to rise, unless you have the inside track on a mall opening down the road sometime in the future. Passion for meal preparations usually tend to wane, and for those with the budget to support it, dining out typically becomes more frequent, if you create that proximity option, as are many meal delivery options.
Seniors Community Developments: We are seeing several seniors-based communities emerging, and you can expect to see this trend continue. They offer a convenient way to bring seniors together into a community of shared lifestyle and values. Many offer modest sized housing that enables ownership and equity preservation. Look carefully into obligations and restrictions to ensure that community living is for you. Also, take a critical look at accessibility. Communities that are “builders’ projects” often make no provision for primary accessibility, and other than main floor living, may be no more accessible than the home you’re in today. If there are steps to get in and out of the home and the master bath doesn’t have accessibility features, it may not be your best solution long term without a lot of additional work.
Timing: It’s nice when the choice is obvious, but for many, there is no solution that is anywhere close to perfect. There are no guarantees that you’ll make the best decision, but indecision is not the answer. If you make friends easily, then trust that you’ll continue to do so whether it’s you or your neighbors who move. It takes time to settle in, so if moving is inevitable, taking the earliest option will allow more time to invest in where you plan to spend what are likely to be the rest, and hopefully the best years of your life.
Age-Friendly Home: Once you’ve weighed all the community options, get busy designing for a livable home while you still have the energy. If you’re in the northeast, plan to roll up your sleeves and bring your existing or future home up to accessibility standards more common to the rest of the country. An aging in place remodel will immediately provide lifestyle benefits, and you’ll make far better choices when you’re not reacting to a crisis. Look for contractors with Universal Design capabilities to ensure you are achieving the intended outcomes. Plan to address primary access long before you need it. Likewise, eliminate the barriers in your bathroom. Most falls happen stepping out of a tub or over a shower curb, so investing in a curbless shower will address both a serious fall risk, and equip you with a highly valued design that also happens to assist anyone with mobility limitations, should that be an issue in later years.
Personal Elevator: Here in the northeast, most of our homes are two levels, or more. Stiltz has come out with the best innovation we’ve seen in years. At minimal cost and disruption, an elevator can be installed for less than the cost of creating a main floor master bath remodel. For the proactive person, this is a game changer that addresses several issues.
Plan to look far down the road, all the way into your nineties. It’s uncomfortable for many, but it will help you immensely. Avoid the urge to plan for the best case. It’s unrealistic and you’ll spend decades worrying if you’ve done enough to prepare. Doing the minimum results in maximum worrying. Visit several elderly people and see how their lives could be made easier. Look at the lifestyle you want to retain into later years as your guide, and create it at your earliest opportunity. Get the work done while you’re young so that you’ll have an easier time of it when you are truly old. There’s usually little downside in taking action early, but in contrast, significant risk in waiting. Paralysis around investing in your age-friendly home is the enemy and eventually it will win if you allow it.
Plan well, act early, and enjoy the long, easy retirement you envisioned.