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Retirement Living: Picking the Right Community


In the past few years, the precarious financial and living situations of some retirement communities have made headlines. In 2009, Sunrise Senior Living announced a plan to sell off more than 20 of its assisted-living communities amid multimillion-dollar losses, and in that same year, Erickson Retirement Communities, which manages nearly 20 retirement communities in 11 states, declared bankruptcy, according to a report in Newsweek. And just a few weeks ago, the Linden Ponds retirement community in Boston filed for bankruptcy, according to a report in the Patriot Ledger. What’s more, the number of elder abuse cases, some of them in assisted living communities or nursing homes, is on the rise: In Florida, for example, elder abuse cases jumped 18% from 2008 to 2010, according to the U.S. government’s March 2011 “Elder Justice” report. For seniors, that means the stakes are high when picking a retirement community.

Encore asked Michael Smith, the spokesman for the non-profit ACTS Retirement-Life Communities, which operates 23 communities nationwide, how seniors can help make sure they’re picking a financially secure community that’s also nice to live in.  Here’s what he told us:

1.  Do a background check. To make sure the community is in good financial health and is run well, you’ll need to do a bit of digging. First, look online for the community’s annual report (if you can’t find it, call and have the community send you a copy) and review these documents with your financial advisor to make sure all financials look solid. Next, call your local Area on Aging office and ask them whether there have been any complaints or issues about the community. For more tips on doing a background check on a retirement community, click here.

Then, you’ll need to arrange a tour of the community. Meet with residents and staffers, sample the food and pay attention to whether the community seems secure and well-maintained. Ask about social and leisure activities and try to participate in them if you can. Make sure you pick up a complete information packet that includes application for admission, fee schedules, floor plans and the resident contract, and then compare each community’s pricing to amenities, programs and services that are important to you. Finally, be sure to make multiple visits at different times of day to the communities you’re considering. For more tips on “test driving” a retirement community, click here.

2. Consider future health needs. Even if you’re in perfect health now, you likely won’t always be, so it’s important to consider proximity of good health care to your community. Look for communities with a good hospital within an easy driving distance. And for those who want on-site health care, a continuing care retirement community might be right for you. accredits these communities, so you can start research there.

3. Scour the fees. In most retirement communities, you’ll pay more than just the cost to buy or rent your home. Most have some sort of monthly fee that includes things like meals, maintenance and health care.  That’s why it’s important to ask for a schedule of fees, looking at what’s included and what’s not.  What’s more, these fees can and do rise, so it’s important to ask about the average fee increase in the past five years and also any regulations about how much fees can increase.  Click here for more details on retirement community fees.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.