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Should I move to a 55 and older community when I retire?

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By Harriet Edleson

When Mark Moore retired several years ago, he and his wife, Renee, thought about whether to stay in their home of 30 years near San Jose, Calif., or to move to a continuing care retirement community. 

“We could have chosen to stay in the Bay Area in a smaller house but our taxes would have gone up,” Mark Moore, now 75, says. “We looked at some CCRCs, and thought we weren’t quite old enough.” Instead, they decided to look at 55-plus places situated about 150 miles from their home.

“We wanted to stay close to the Bay Area,” where two of their three adult children live, he says. The other lives in Colorado.

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In fact, the Moores had a list of what they wanted when they sold their home and relocated: A one-level home, not too far from an airport, close enough to their healthcare plan’s services, low risk of earthquakes. “There are a lot of things for people to think about,” says Renee Moore, now 73. “It’s not clear-cut. Make a list of what’s important…because different people care about different things.”  

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The choices for retirees and preretirees have expanded. To move or stay in place? That can be the question for those considering retirement or already retired. Research shows it is either very important or somewhat important to 89% to remain in their own homes yet, almost four in 10 actually have relocated in retirement, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

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Moving is not for everyone but for those who have moved, knowing their priorities and preferences helps them figure out if a retirement community is right for them, which kind will meet their needs, and how to choose one where they will enjoy life.

“The sector today is maturing,” says Beth Mace, chief economist and director of research and analytics, National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. “Much like hotels, there are ‘Motel 6’ to the Ritz. As the sector matures, it diversifies by price and by services.”

Retirement communities also known as senior living, vary widely from active adult or lifestyle communities to continuing care retirement communities, also known as life plan communities. Some communities only offer independent living while others include a combination of independent living, assisted living and memory care areas.

Some offer living spaces — typically apartments or condominiums — you can rent while others offer single-family homes and condominiums for sale.

The advantage of moving to a 55-plus or active adult community for the Moores was a lower cost of living and proximity to activities and neighbors who are contemporaries. They traded their two-story home for a one-story three-bedroom, three-bath house with an office for him. “The new house was a lot less expensive than the house we sold,” Mark Moore says. It was less than half the cost.

Another appeal was the community takes care of the front landscaping at their home in the active adult community, which is one of the items covered by their approximately $200 a month homeowners association fee.

The social amenities are also appealing. Mark is the leader of the hiking group and also active in a photography group and a group that gets together for coffee. Renee is a member of a quilting group.

For many, the draw is the opportunity to make new friends, say those who have moved to active adult communities. Some residents are still working but over time they may not. “Other people move to these communities too, so everybody’s looking for a friend,” Renee says.

The downside for Renee, especially, is the longer-than-expected drive to visit their children in the Bay Area. What used to be an hour-to-90-minute drive is now two hours, she says. “Things don’t always turn out perfectly,” she says. “I miss the Bay Area more than Mark does. If you move out of your area, away from loved ones or people you feel close to, that’s a big decision. Think about that that could be a loss, even though you make new friends,” she says.

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