Questions to Ask When Comparing Retirement Communities

September 19th, 2021

Just as no two people’s experiences in retirement are identical, no two senior living communities are created the same. 

Some are designed for the 55-plus community, others cater to people 65 and older. 

Some are all about the senior living amenities, while others emphasize the levels of continuing care they offer.

And some are Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC), also called Life Plan Communities, which may offer Life Care contracts or it may be a rental community where you pay month to month.

If your head isn’t spinning by now, just wait. You probably haven’t even compared the cost of retirement communities in the Tacoma, Washington, area — and costs will vary considerably, depending on what type of senior living option you choose.

How to choose where to retire: 

Not everyone wants to retire to Phoenix, known for its nearly year-round hot, sunny days. And not everyone can afford the cost of retirement in San Diego, considered one of the most expensive U.S. cities in which to retire. But where you retire is very important: Your retirement location plays a big role in how long your nest egg may last.

So, as you consider where you want to retire, ask yourself these six important questions:

  1. What’s the cost of living? If you have a few target cities you’re thinking about, make a list of all your basic living expenses, such as groceries, utilities, vehicle maintenance and housing costs. Compare what you’re paying now versus what those bills would be in your target cities. Don’t forget your discretionary spending for things like dining out at restaurants or bars with friends, attending concerts and movies or going shopping. These costs could be much higher or lower than what you’re paying now.
  2. What extras will I continue to enjoy and pay for? Maybe you’re a big RVer — where will you safely store your recreational vehicle when you’re not on the road? Perhaps you enjoy boating — where will you dock your boat between outings and store it during the offseason? If you’re an avid golfer or tennis player, do you plan to join a private or public club? All of these are additional expenses that come with different costs, depending on your location.
  3. What quality of life do I want? You may have always wanted to retire to a loft in an urban core where you’re in the heart of the action and you can walk to all the nightlife, but you find you still have to drive to grocery stores. You may imagine yourself in a farmhouse on several acres of land with rolling hills and a big pond where you can gaze at the stars every night. However, you didn’t think about being so far away from  town where there are people your age with whom you could build new friendships. Think about your quality of life — if you’re not really into nightlife anymore, is the urban core right for you?
  4. What will my tax burden be like? Nine states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — do not have a state income tax. Five states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon — have no state sales tax. And 37 states don’t tax Social Security. While your tax burden shouldn’t solely determine which state you choose to retire in, your tax situation may help tip the scales in one direction or another.
  5. Do I like the cold, the heat, the sun or the seasons? Again, not everyone dreams of a retirement in the Sun Belt. Maybe you’re more fond of the Rust Belt, the Corn Belt or the Cotton Belt (these are all real regions of the U.S.). Ask yourself what weather you want to live with. If you don’t mind occasional snowstorms, tornado warnings or humid summers, the Midwest may be for you. If you’re not scared of the threat of hurricanes, the East Coast may be ideal. As our climate changes, many people are reevaluating where they want to spend their retirement. The almost year-round fire season on the West Coast, for example, has encouraged some to move out of California and Oregon. Other Americans are moving away from the coasts due to constant flooding issues. Believe it or not, the main driver is the high cost of homeowners insurance and coastal property insurance. 
  6. Am I planning to be a car or air traveler? Miami is a beautiful place to live, but it takes more than five hours by car just to reach the Florida state line to the north. On the other hand, the more centrally located states of Tennessee and Missouri each border eight other states, making it easy to reach another state in an hour or two. If you’re planning to visit your family no matter where you retire, think about how easily you can get there by car. If you’re more of a frequent flyer, some states don’t have easily accessible international airports, meaning you’ll have to drive several hours just to get to the airport to take a flight.

How to choose a retirement community: 

So now you’ve narrowed down your list of cities and states where you’d consider retiring. Your next task is deciding what type of senior living community will fit your needs best, both today and in the future.

As you start comparing your senior living options, here are five questions you absolutely have to ask of each community.

  1. How much does this community cost? Don’t feel bad about going right to the price tag. You’ll want to know what you can afford before you fall in love with a community. 
  • If you’re looking at a Life Plan Community, what you’ll get is independent living for you and your spouse plus access to long-term continuing care. For example, at eliseo™  the continuum of care includes Independent Living, Assisted Living, short-term stays and rehabilitation, long-term skilled nursing and Memory Care. 
  • Typically you’ll pay a one-time entrance fee, which may be fully or partially refundable, or nonrefundable, along with a monthly service fee. These numbers can vary depending on the type of CCRC contract offered:
  • The type of contract as well as associated fees will help you decide which communities you can afford and which to scratch off your list.
  1. What’s included in my monthly fee? Your service fee is one total dollar figure you pay each month to cover the cost of living in the community. Usually it covers things such as utilities, services like housekeeping, all interior and exterior maintenance, scheduled transportation, homeowners insurance, property taxes, amenities like your meals, the use of the wellness center and all community common spaces, the enjoyment of the monthly calendar of activities — the list can be long. But some communities may charge an a la carte fee for certain things, such as additional meals or use of the pool or even transportation services. So be sure to ask what you get for what you’re paying.
  2. Can you provide me with resident and family member references for your community? It’s a big red flag if the community doesn’t want you to talk to current residents or their family members. The most reputable and well-run Life Plan Communities will be happy to share resident and family testimonials with you. If you’re curious about the quality of the continuum of care, ask what their star rating is for their skilled nursing facility, what their staff-to-resident ratio is in assisted living and memory care, and what their rehospitalization rate is for their rehab. Also, ask to talk to residents in different levels of care or to their family members about the care their loved ones receive.
  3. Are you a nonprofit or for-profit community? Both have their advantages, but essentially the differences come down to profits. Nonprofit Life Plan Communities keep earnings in their organizations, while for-profit communities have a responsibility to investors and their shareholders. Regardless of which type you choose, you should always do your due diligence about the financial stability of the community. You should certainly consider other factors, like available services and amenities, the community’s resident culture, the professionalism and courtesy of its staff and the quality of its healthcare services. 
  4. What is the continuum of care you provide? As you and your spouse age, your health will change too. One thing you don’t want to have disrupted is your ability to age in place. No one wants to make a move from their comfortable and familiar senior living community where their spouse lives and where they’re surrounded by good friends because they need a level of care the community doesn’t provide. Ask the community about all of its levels of living — and don’t be afraid to ask for a tour of its healthcare center to see the different residences or to talk with the staff and possibly with some residents.

A bonus question: What are the benefits of retirement living at eliseo?

If you’re curious about the perks of senior living in Tacoma, we’ve got a very informative blog about this very topic. If you’d like to see our community for yourself, talk to some of our residents or perhaps try a meal in the atrium or café, contact us or call us at 253.319.3947 to schedule your very own personal visit to our Tacoma, Washington campus. We can’t wait to meet you and answer all of these questions and more!