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A few months ago, while eating lunch with my father, I finally built up the courage to ask him the question I had wanted to ask for some time: “Are you open to visiting some Senior Living Communities with me to see if they make sense for you?” Fully expecting him to lash out in disgust, I was a bit surprised when he responded “Of course, I’ll do that if you think it might be good for me.”

With his approval in hand, I called several reputable Senior Living Communities on the Peninsula. Having worked with several clients that live in these communities, I had some insight into which ones might work for him. We were looking for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) – that is, something that truly felt like independent living but offered the amenities and resources one might need as one ages and needs higher levels of care. I arranged a tour for the two of us which would also include a discussion of the application process and financial considerations of moving into such a community.

As the tour date approached, I could sense my father’s enthusiasm for the visit waning. Was he doing this just to appease me or was he sincerely open to the idea of living in a CCRC? After finally caving in, we met up at a reputable CCRC on the Peninsula.

At 81 years old, my father is still active and in pretty good shape. He was a former Olympic level athlete and long-time tennis player. Although he’s had some recent medical procedures such as a heart valve replacement and shoulder replacement, he is generally very healthy and gets along well on his own. However, given that he lives alone and I am an only child with a busy career and a family of my own, it would give me a lot of comfort knowing that my father had access to a community of people while still retaining his independence and could receive additional care if he ever needed it. So, naturally, I was very enthusiastic about the tour but I could tell that he was not.

As we entered, the building felt a lot like a really nice condominium building or perhaps an upscale hotel. A woman approached us and gave us unsolicited praise for the staff and the entire operation. We were off to a good start. After we checked in, we were escorted to the library to wait for our tour guide. As we waited, a female resident who was volunteering greeted us. Attractive and somewhat younger than what my father was expecting, his body language changed for the better.

I wondered if he was thinking: “Hey, this may not be so bad after all.”

Our tour guide finally approached and, after a short discussion, we toured the facility. I’ve resisted using the word “facility” to this point because that term has such a negative connotation. This was not a nursing home by any stretch of the imagination. We stopped by the restaurant and noticed a terrific menu for the upcoming evening – Braised Short Ribs or Salmon. The chef stopped by to say hello and described the food in more detail. I began to think that I wanted to live there.

Unfortunately, our next step was not so positive. Our guide showed us the Assisted Living section of the building – this is where residents go if they need assistance with activities of daily living – walking, dressing, eating, etc. – for a period of time. As we approached this section, we saw many older people in wheelchairs, with canes and the like. This was probably what my father was imagining when I asked him to take this tour with me. The tour guide tried to assure him that this was just a smaller part of the overall population of residents. However, I hoped that the damage wasn’t irreversibly done.

After a view of the gym, the beauty salon and some of the other amenities of the building, we looked at condos. They ranged from studio-like apartments to larger two-bedrooms with a den. If you didn’t know where you were, you would just think of these as very nice condos. And, the design of each unit could be updated based on one of several different styles to suit the resident’s needs. My father was impressed and I could sense that he could see himself living here. We were back on track.

After we viewed various sizes of condos, we proceeded back to the office to get a sense of the economics of becoming a resident. The good news in all of this, at least in this particular visit, was that there was never a hard sell or any pressure. You didn’t get the sense that this was a big factory but rather a place where people truly wanted to live. In fact, for some condo types, there were even waiting lists for future residents. In our discussion, we learned that the buy-in ranged from about $500k for smaller units to close to $1 million for larger ones. Depending on what sized unit you purchased, there was also a monthly fee that ranged from $2,500 per month to about $5,000 per month. These fees covered cable television, weekly housecleaning, dining (thirty meals per month which could be used for lunch or dinner), transportation to a lot of different places including doctors’ offices, and access to assisted care for a specified number of days, among many other things. We also learned that property taxes have to be covered separately and that residents had to buy their own condo insurance, which is apparently not terribly expensive as compared to typical home insurance. It was also nice to know that my father could buy into the community contingent upon the sale of his current home. And, finally, the selfish heir in me had to ask “what’s the property worth when my father passes?” It turns out that residents get about 90% of their purchase price back along with some sharing of the appreciation. Therefore, families might reasonably expect to get back what they put in, not adjusting for inflation.

All in all, our initial impression was that the cost of living in this community was not a whole lot different from what it costs to live on one’s own, when you consider the number of things that are included. From working with clients, I knew that this was not always true, but the economics here were not as ominous as we might have imagined. We would still clearly need to evaluate this more carefully and crunch some numbers, however.

At the end, the tour guide handed us some marketing materials and more specific details about the costs of buying in and we left. Upon exiting the building, my father and I agreed that we would sleep on all of this information and discuss it in a few days. I sensed that he had mixed feelings about the visit – he may have found it more appealing than he had imagined but who were the people he was going to be living with? Were they more like the attractive “younger” woman who greeted us or was he going to be surrounded by folks who were far less active and capable than he?

Did my father move forward? I’ll let you know what happens in an upcoming issue.

Filed under: Retirement Planning

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