Independent Living Community: What to Know Before You Sign

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Perhaps you’ve decided that your large, family-sized home isn’t what you need any more, since the children have long since left the nest and you’re tired of all that lawn maintenance and snow removal hassle. An independent living community could be just what you need: privacy, independence and a secure place to live with accessibility to help should you need it. Before you make your final choice, consider the various factors in the decision.

Below is what some of pros say about place selection.

• “Is it handicapped-accessible, even if at the time of move-in you don’t need it? Walk-in showers and things like that help you age in place.
• “Some communities are starting to do independent living to assisted living to nursing home living on the same campus. I think that’s something that’s becoming very popular among baby boomers. The buildings that supply added services need to have licensure in place.
• “At least access to a few transportation services to get to doctor’s appointments, shopping or the hairdresser’s.
• “Find a location where you’re close to family.
• “Look for a secure building with a buzz-in system or security on-site. Maybe even a small store in the building, laundry and things that make life easier.
Maria Schantz
intake social worker for the ElderONE program at Rochester Regional Health

• “Can you afford it and how long can you afford it? Once your care level is beyond independent living, now you’re looking at assisted living or a nursing home and the cost goes up enormously.
• “Ask about extra hidden costs, like a fee for a garage.
• “If you’re not cooking anymore, how does the food taste?
• “Ask about transportation. It may be like Wednesday we go to the store; Thursday, we go to another store; Friday is doctor day — if you can get an appointment on Friday. If not, you’ll have to wait. Most transportation services will only go to a certain radius.
• “Another really important thing is how happy the people look in that building. Are the staff planning to stay?
• “If you fall in your apartment and you’re single, how will you summon help from the floor? Do they provide you a button or is that an extra fee you should consider?”
Jennifer Meagher
Owner and geriatric care manger, Senior Life, LLC, Rochester

• “Is there an initial, up-front payment? What is their usual rent increase? Do you have a lock-in rate for three years at ‘x’ amount of dollars?
• “Can you get the money back if you pre-pay?
• “People don’t think about what happens when their money runs out. Maybe start thinking of a smaller place, like a one-bedroom, so along the way you can save money. Many offer gathering spaces and you can rent out the dining room with kitchen facilities.
• “Do they allow pets there?
• “Are you allowed visitors 24/7? How do you get in and out after hours? If you still drive, what’s parking like? Is it covered or will you have to sweep off your car in the morning? Extra parking for guests?
• “If you want your grandchildren to stay over or you regularly babysit, are there restrictions?”
Dee Schwartz
Director of aging, Jewish Family Services of Rochester

• “I watch interactions between staff and residents. I look for a warm, caring atmosphere. Do they seem to know all the residents and take care to make resident feel welcome? I’d be very concerned about the feel in the dining room. That’s an important part of it.
• “Every independent living community will have an activities director and a calendar, but how many activities are planned during the day? How many over the course of a week look like ones I’d be interested in? Do those activities change over time according to the needs of the residents?
• “The physical amenities of the community are important, not just the apartment, but what about all the other spaces there? There are multiple spaces where people can gather, play cards, visit with family and have a special occasion like a birthday party. Are these spaces warm and welcoming? Are there nice gardens?
• “I almost always have family members on tours with me to help make this difficult decision.”
Mike Kearney
Owner, Senior Care Authority, Rochester

• “Some people want certain features, like a dining room, where they can have community meals.
• “You will need to know who takes care of lawns and snow removal.
• “Ask about what happens should you break the lease. Senior communities are different because it’s not necessarily just a rental situation for seniors. If it’s a little more expensive, they’re looking at what the assets are of the person coming in and they have to qualify with the assets available to make sure they’re not bringing in someone for the short term.
• “Have you looked at enough places? We created a database of communities with all their amenities. When we sit down with a senior or children or caregiver, we can place the senior in the best community possible from the start so they don’t go in and then have to go to a different community.”
Kim Barrett
Owner, Magellan, Inc. Real Estate and Relocation, Rochester