Choosing a Retirement Living (Assisted Living or Independent Living for Seniors)

Not long ago I was searching for a retirement community in the metro DC area for a family member.  I was stunned at the amazing array of choices in community types, amenities, and costs.  I hadn’t realized there there were several different financial models (e.g., renting, owning, or a ‘buy in’ fee).  As I began to visit communities and research the options, I found that each one had their sales pitch, and they quickly all began to sound the same.  I developed this interview guide to help me take notes and begin to distinguish the different types of communities and features, and wanted to share it with anyone out there who might also be searching for a retirement community.

  • Is the community for profit or not for profit?
  • Is there a buy in fee?  Is it refundable?  Does it go into a trust?  If the company managing that ‘fund’ goes bankrupt or runs into financial difficulties, what happens to that balance? At what rate does it amortize if we move out?
  • Is this a fee-for-service community or a continuing care for the same price model?  If fee for service does the buy in fee entitle one to a discounted rate at Assisted Living or nursing care levels?
  • Monthly fee – what is it currently and what are the projected annual increases (what have they been historically)?
  • What happens if someone’s financial resources run out?  Are there foundations that step in?  Is the institution Medicaid eligible?
  • What are the various assistance levels available and cost for each?   Pay special attention to the cost jump for assisted living, leading to the next question…
  • Is there in-unit care that is available by the hour if the resident falls somewhere in between ‘independent’ and ‘assisted’?  Is it an in house service or is there a preferred provider or do we find someone on our own?  What are the fees for that?
  • What is the percentage of independent living vs assisted living vs nursing care?   (You’ll find some communities even though they have all levels have really limited options in one or more levels.)  What happens if there isn’t room in the level when we need it?   Does assisted living require a move to a different building or is the care brought to the unit?
  • Is assisted living regulated by the state?  Is there somewhere (online) I can go to review reports on inspections?
  • Is there onsite healthcare/doctors hours?  Which types of physicians and how often?  What insurance do you take?
  • Is there a shuttle bus and where does it go?  What private transportation options exist?
  • What sorts of activities (they will usually give a calendar) are there for residents?  What other amenities (salon, bank/ATM, convenience stores, gyms, theatres, etc) are on site?  Keep in mind that at some point the resident will likely have to give up driving, so these features may become very important down the road.
  • What sorts of ‘orientation’ activities exist to make sure someone gets integrated into the community quickly?
  • What services are included in the service fee/rent?  Specifically, how many meals per day?  Which utilities are included?  Housekeeping?  Linen service?

The process of choosing a new home can be overwhelming in the beginning.  I hope these questions are enough to get you  started on the path to choosing a great home for you or your family member.  If you have other suggestions or comments please post them in the comments below!

If you or a senior you know is looking to sell a home in the Washington, DC, area I’d be happy to help you.  And if you reside outside the area, I’d be happy to help you identify a local real estate agent who can be sensitive to the needs or seniors during your transition.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *