Real Talk: The questions you should be asking when transitioning to a retirement community

Real Talk: The questions you should be asking when transitioning to a retirement community
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By Diane Murphy

Finding your next home is an important journey at any time in your life, but for many seniors, this experience can be overwhelming. Whether you’re moving or you are helping a loved one make critical choices, there are a lot of questions when it comes to relocating that deserve detailed attention and supportive professional services.

After helping numerous seniors make the move to their next home, when they’ve often spent decades in their current residences, I have discovered it’s important to ask four “W” questions: why, when, what and where?

I advise seniors who are thinking about relocating to consider these questions with family, trusted friends and a real estate professional who specializes in senior representation, knows how to listen carefully and will remain patient and engaged throughout the process.

For many, the “why” of moving usually involves considerations of safety, location, accessibility, cost, size, amenities and maintenance. One’s current home may be too large, have too much obsolescence to overcome, involve too many stairs, require too much maintenance, feel isolated or lack a sense of community.

By defining why someone wants to leave his or her current home, one is also creating a new wish list: the “what” for the next residence. Often seniors seek a more carefree lifestyle that offers a larger circle of support; new levels of interaction, friendship, activities and services; well-manicured outdoor spaces; and gracious interior common areas.

As for the “where,” there are various options.

Some people choose not to move into a defined retirement community. Instead, they choose something smaller, easier to maintain and more convenient in fee simple, condominium or co-op ownership. Downsizing is the perfect answer for their needs.

There’s a range of active adult homes and condominiums for those 55 and older. Generally, these communities give seniors recreational facilities, security such as gated entrances and secured common areas and a myriad of organized activities. The maintenance and security they provide are attractive features.

Others may wish to consider independent living apartment communities and avoid ownership or buying into a formal retirement complex.

Assisted living facilities offer assistance with meals, cleaning, dressing or short-term rehab and recovery with some level of nursing care. These could also serve as short-term solutions for those waiting for their health and ability to live independently to improve.

The next level of care is nursing and rehab facilities where health care professionals, under the direct supervision of physicians, provide skilled care on a daily, continuing basis.

Finally, continuing care retirement communities allow one to stay in place for the rest of his or her life and move within the community between independent living, assisted living, rehab facilities, full time medical care or hospice care as needed. Extensive choices of floor plans and a variety of payment and payout options exist. There are even rental CCRCs available in the metropolitan area.

This choice involves a process people have likely never experienced in their life. Due to the “silver tsunami” this country is experiencing, there are a variety of payment plans and services to help. A thorough financial assessment and comparison of current and projected expenses is important.

A real estate senior specialist can help reduce stress and create a compassionate and caring environment to help seniors make the right decision for them. Surrounding the seller with recommendations – such as decluttering experts, staging professionals, space planners, moving companies that not only transfer but store some of one’s treasured belongings – and creating marketing plans and techniques to sell one’s home as quickly as possible for the greatest rate of return, are invaluable contributions.

Assessing how much work should be done in one’s current residence and recommending everything from minor repairs to extensive renovation are integral to the level of service sellers should seek from their agent. The “when” of this inquiry is answered once the “why,” “what” and “where” are decided.

If you want the final “W” to be wonderful, then consider these questions carefully to make the decision that is right for you and your lifestyle.

Diane G. Murphy, Ph.D. is an associate broker with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty. Licensed in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, serving seniors is one of her specialties and passions. Contact Diane at or 703-408-1152.