Retirement comes with many changes. Your income may be reduced and your lifestyle may evolve. The big house where you raised kids may no longer fit your needs or your budget.
The COVID-19 pandemic may also have changed your perspective regarding where you want to live. Maybe you’re now determined to move closer to family, or perhaps the pandemic has given you pause about being in a facility where visits can be restricted.
Regardless of why you might be reevaluating your housing choices, here are seven options to consider:
— Aging in place.
— Moving in with the kids.
— House sharing.
— Independent living communities.
— Assisted living.
— Life plan communities.
— Subsidized housing.
Aging in Place
Before you sell your house, decide whether you really want to start over somewhere new. With a few modifications, such as moving a bedroom to the main floor and installing grab bars in the bathroom, many homes can be safe and comfortable places for retirees to live.
“Everyone wants to stay, but understand what that means,” says Arvette M. Reid, client services director with the Lifecare Affordability Plan service through Signature Estate & Investment Advisors, LLC.
Known as aging in place, this living arrangement may require more than home renovations, and older Americans may find they eventually need in-home care. Personal care workers perform services such as cooking, cleaning and running errands. For those who need skilled care, some agencies may be able to provide therapists and nurses who can assist with medication or other hands-on needs.
“Bringing a home care aide in is a viable option,” says Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, author of “Cruising Through Caregiving.” However, she cautions that aging in place can lead to social isolation for elderly individuals who are unable to get out of the house often and have limited visitors.
Moving in With the Kids
Although certainly not for everyone, moving in with an adult child — or having them move in with you — can be a win-win. It can immediately slash living expenses in half. Plus, there’s the possibility of fringe benefits for both parties. Busy parents may end up with built-in babysitting, while seniors, particularly those who are single, benefit from an active household that will stave off loneliness and the health risks linked to it.
“In some cases, people don’t have enough income to pay for a hired caregiver, but they can cover some of their daughter’s expenses,” says Liz O’Donnell, founder of Working Daughter, an online resource and community for caregivers.
The key to making these arrangements work is to set clear guidelines from the start. Make sure everyone has the same expectations about communal living, personal space and bill sharing.
If you’d rather not live with a family member, consider renting out space with another senior. Home sharing with another retiree provides similar financial benefits without the complicated relationship dynamics that can come along with moving in with the kids.
Seniors who still own a home could find a housemate to cover some of their living expenses, and renters can halve their monthly bills. Websites like Silvernest and Senior Homeshares are designed specifically for older individuals who are seeking roommates or want to rent out space to those who are in the same demographic.
Independent Living Communities
Independent living communities can go by a variety of names. They may be called retirement villages, active adult communities or senior housing. Residents have their own private living space but also get access to amenities that may include on-site theaters, golf courses and restaurants. Planned social activities and excursions may also be offered to residents.
“In most of these places, you have to be 55 — and sometimes older,” FitzPatrick says.
While retirement communities are often associated with sprawling suburban developments, there are also opportunities for retirees to remain in cities if they like. Old schools, hospitals and other downtown spaces may be refurbished as new senior housing. While some developments target an upscale clientele, others create living spaces that meet the needs of the middle market.
“This is a good option if you are concerned about isolation,” according to O’Donnell. Many communities maintain a full schedule of activities that help residents meet one another and build friendships.
For those who need some help with daily tasks, assisted living may be the best housing solution.
“People think nursing homes are their only option, but really, a lot of people go into assisted living,” FitzPatrick says.
These properties may have individual apartments for residents along with communal spaces for meals and social activities. Staff may help with a variety of tasks related to housekeeping, personal hygiene and medication reminders.
Assisted living care often serves as a bridge between independent living and nursing home care. It is intended for those who are able to manage many activities on their own and don’t require intensive 24-hour assistance. O’Donnell notes that assisted living facilities won’t provide medical care, but many do have memory care units designed specifically for those with dementia or other cognitive impairments.
The nationwide median cost of assisted living is $4,500 a month, according to the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey. Some facilities may charge an entrance fee, and the monthly price may be all-inclusive of meals and utilities. Medicare won’t pay for assisted living, but it may be covered by long-term care insurance.
“Sit outside at shift changes and look at the staff as they are walking in,” O’Donnell suggests. She recommends watching to see the attitude of workers to gauge what sort of care is provided. “It comes down to the quality of the people who work there.”
Life Plan Communities
Previously known as continuing care retirement communities, life plan communities combine several living arrangements on a single campus to allow seniors to move from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care, if needed. Some communities are all-inclusive and include meals as well as other activities.
“It’s really a wonderful option,” says Meagan Buckley, director of health and resident service at Wake Robin, a life plan community in Shelburne, Vermont. Like independent living communities, this housing option generally offers ample opportunity to mingle with other residents and enjoy varied activities.
These communities may have contracts that are set up under different terms, Reid says. Some require the purchase of a property in the community while others charge an entrance fee and then assess a monthly charge. Depending on the contract, that charge may stay the same regardless of the level of care provided or may increase as a residents’ needs increase. If a resident reaches the point where they can no longer afford that rate, some communities have foundations or assistance programs to cover the cost.
“Every community has its own culture,” according to Buckley, and she encourages people to find one that matches their interests. At Wake Robin, environmental stewardship and an active lifestyle are valued by many residents who take advantage of opportunities to hike, kayak or visit nearby Lake Champlain.
For seniors with limited financial means, there may be local, state and federal housing programs that can help subsidize or stabilize the cost of rent. However, subsidized housing programs at all levels can be complex to navigate. Each may have its own eligibility criteria and application process as well.
Even if you think it will be years before you need subsidized housing, don’t delay your application as waiting lists can be long. For instance, Schneider Manor, an independent living community for residents of Lowell, Michigan, has a waiting list that is estimated to be 10 years long.
For assistance locating programs in your area, consult with a housing counselor through the Department of Housing and Urban Development or a local nonprofit.
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Update 07/27/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.