January 29, 2016

Are We Changing How and Where We Want To Live?

Sun City's housing spirals
The Phoenix metropolitan area is where the first retirement community was built. On January 1, 1960 Del Webb opened Sun City and that model for the 55+ community has continued to this day. Just over a year ago I was invited to spend a few days at the company's newest version, Sun City Festival, and write about my experiences. If you missed the original post, click here.

Since that time some articles and research reports have crossed my desk that have piqued my interest. Certainly, the Sun City model and all its various counterparts around the country continue to attract a steady stream of buyers. At the same time, there appears to be an important shift in how and where some retirees want to live and build a satisfying retirement.

When Sun City opened is was quite a trek to downtown Phoenix. The more recently opened Sun City Festival community is even farther removed, though suburban shopping and services are within a dozen miles. But, what appears to be happening is a growing interest in living closer to a city. 

This is not necessarily to be closer to a higher concentration of restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping, though that may be part of the appeal. Rather, a majority of retirement community residents now say they expect to be working, at least part time, after retirement, and don't want a long drive. Isn't it interesting that retirement can now include working and a commute, two of the major reasons someone retires in the first place! 

There are retirees who do want to ditch the green lawns and sameness of a typical suburban neighborhood for the excitement of an urban environment. Many cities are seeing condos designed for a wide mix of ages pop up in the urban core. In the case of Phoenix, the availability of light rail, having 12,000 ASU students downtown, and a burgeoning entertainment district have resulted in over 2,000 additional housing units recently opening up in the city core. Many are targeted at empty nesters and the recently retired professionals. 

Another trend that is taking hold is a shift away from the appeal of golf or tennis as the primary recreational activities in these communities. No one is predicting the end of these sports in these locations, but reports indicate personal fitness and being able to enjoy nature without a club and bag or racket are growing in appeal. Fitness centers with both equipment and classes as well as extensive hiking and biking trails are essential in the "new" retirement communities. 

In a recent study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave reported by CBS News, two-thirds of the retirees questioned say they prefer to live in a community that is diverse in the ages who reside there. The age-restricted community may be on its way to the dustheap, as the thought of living with only those of retirement age is rapidly losing attraction. This finding doesn't surprise me. Comments on this blog have pointed to this trend for quite some time.

There was one particular finding in the research that does surprise me a bit: downsizing is not as popular as I thought it might be as we age. In fact, if family and relatives are nearby or visit often, a new retirement home may be larger to accommodate extra get-togethers. As a good example, Chuck from Tennessee, a regular reader and commenter, moved into a bigger retirement home. But, I'd guess that the majority of comments on this blog on this subject like the idea of simplifying and downsizing as a welcome step in retirement. 

Of course, I guess I shouldn't register surprise: I ended up moving to a bigger home when we decided to move close to the grandkids. Betty and I thought we wanted a smaller home, with less yard to maintain and a simpler lifestyle. That wasn't what happened, and thank goodness. With almost weekly family dinners of 7-13 people, game nights, football parties, and croquet in the backyard, a small house and a smaller yard would not have allowed us to enjoy all this quality time together.

Back to the research study, the desire to "age in place" for as long as possible remains a powerful motivator. The majority of us attach more emotional value to our house that its actual monetary value. The equity we may have is not worth more than the memories and feeling of home.

I should also note other living options that have been explored in other posts: living full or part time in an RV, being a snowbird and living for part of the year in a different climate, co-housing and sharing space with others, opting for an apartment or condo in the heart of a city as an alternative to a life in suburbia, or even living part time on a cruise ship!

Obviously, what is liberating is this freedom to spend all or part of our retirement in a setting that best suits us at this point on our satisfying journey. Whether it is a traditional retirement community, a house on wheels, a bigger home, a smaller home, the same home....we make the choice.



19 comments:

  1. Good food for thought! We are selling our current home and moving across country in the spring of 2017 to be nearer to family - but even then they are spread out in huge metro areas. We are just starting to discuss the details of what kind of home, where it will be and how long until we reasonably would have to or want to move to a different living situation.

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    1. Good timing on my part, Juhli. I hope you find some things in this post to mull over.

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  2. "to be near family" seems to be the motivating factor for so many. And then there are those of us who have no family except an almost non-existent sibling or two. The driving factor for those of us with no family is we want to be somewhere that when we can no longer take care of ourselves something will be set up to take over that task. CCRCs (continuous care retirement communities) are what many choose. You start out in a independent apartment or house and move to assisted care and nursing care as it is needed.

    One of the factors to be considered is that as we age and especially when we retire our association with others often decreases so we become more isolated. Joining a CCRC gives you the community you might not have with "staying put". Like you say it is definitely not a one-size-fits-all thing. Sometimes seniors, even parents and grandparents, just want to get away from the screaming rug-rats for a more peaceful time. (ha)..

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    1. I imagine Betty and I will end up in a tri-level retirement community at some point, if for no other reason than to protect our kids from some of the care and worry that will inevitably come. Originally I thought moving to such a situation within the next 10 years would be reasonable. But, now that seems too soon. Isn't it interesting how the time line for these types of decisions seems to move as we add years to our total.

      I am glad retirement now "allows" for all the options all of us have. Good morning, RJ.

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  3. Very interesting post. It's wonderful that there are so many more options than before. If only we had a crystal ball, then we'd make the "right" choices. But we all know that it's probably better not to see too clearly into the future--life is a mystery. This was one of those weeks where I attended the funeral of one uncle and saw an aunt who is nearing the end of her journey (hospice care). While visiting with friends and relatives, there was much discussion of how to decide on what type of housing and health care facilities are best. Truly, it seems to boil down to personal preference and financial stability. One thing I learned from people I trust is that if one is considering a move, it might be wise to rent a home and become familiar with the new community prior to buying. Don't look at the rent spent as a loss--you learn where and how you want to live. Another hot discussion centered on those who have had long term care policies. Apparently companies are changing coverage and making exclusions to existing policies (don't know the facts, but I certainly heard about several well known companies). It might be wise for those with policies to read the fine print on those documents we often toss.

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    1. Renting in an unfamiliar area before buying is an excellent idea. There are likely to be substantial differences in quality of life features in different parts of almost any area. I rented for awhile when we first moved to Tucson 36 years ago. I had never lived in the desert southwest and was uneasy with a quick decision on a home.

      Long term care policies are becoming a problem area. Several major companies no longer sell the policies, and others are changing the rules. They are expensive and may not be there when you need it.

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  4. Great post Bob. Lots to think about. Right now, care giving responsibilities keeps us where we are. We would eventually like to move to a warmer climate, and, as Pam mentions above, will likely be renting for a year prior to making a decision on where to live. Such a big decision, especially to move out of state.

    I've always thought that the premiums on retirement communities for the golfing are not worth while, at least for us. Neither one of us golfs! And my knees no longer allow me to play tennis. CCRC's have an appeal, once we are "really old". You're right! Our perspective on what is old keeps getting older!

    We have a ranch house on about an acre of land. The outside landscaping and upkeep seems too much. We are moving in the direction of hiring help for these kinds of chores.

    When we do move, being close to good health care will be important. We live in a suburb that relies on volunteer fire/ambulance. A few years ago, my husband had an anaphylactic reaction to an antibiotic. It took 20 minutes for the ambulance to get to our home!

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    1. Finally deciding to hire a lawn/landscape company for twice-a-month service, and a housecleaner on the same schedule has been a very wise decision for us. The time freed and the energy spared are worth the costs. In the summer, both Betty and I were increasingly uncomfortable with me working outside in 100+ degree weather.

      I imagine being so far from quick emergency care can be frighting. I know after my heart problem in Portland last August, I was relieved the EMTs were at the hotel within 5 minutes and the hospital was only 15 minutes away.

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  5. I moved cross country. I had little tying me to my prior home and taxes and weather were negatives. I moved to my prior home for a job, but found the community quite insular, so it was important to find a place with a regular influx of newcomers. I visited several places before and found that they were great vacation spots, but not the best for daily life.

    I moved to a similar size place and I can see the draw of upsizing, because I spend more time at home. I didn't want a sr community, but I can see its value. Most of my neighbors are gone during the day and busy on weekends. Fortunately, I have made friends elsewhere. Lastly, if someone moves to be by family, make sure family is staying put! I am glad I moved and wintered here for a few years first. It's a big adjustment, so it needs to be well thought out.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your situation, Jane. The point about making sure family is staying put if you move to be closer to them is important. Over the years I have received emails from folks who found themselves in a new place without several key family members after a job transfer. That would be very disconcerting!

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  6. Interesting article, Bob, and well-written as usual. In our travels I see so many of our generation wrestling with this very issue. Many of us are even relooking at our long held beliefs around what arrangements we thought we wanted in retirement. It may be for the simple reason that our desire for more travel would be better served by alternative living arrangements, whether a smaller house, or an RV, or perhaps a boat. Or the reason may be to leave as little complexity as possible for a child/children to deal with.

    The beauty of it all is that we have so many choices if ones health and finances allow it. It is the best of times.

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    1. You raise a good point about leaving complexity for children to deal with at some point in the future. My wife went through a years-long mess plowing through her parents stuff after their deaths. They never threw away anything. Betty and I prefer a simpler, less cluttered life both for our pleasure and our kids future.

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  7. Thank you for this extremely thought-provoking post, Bob. Rethinking where and how we live in our retirement is a crucial piece in helping to shape the myriad of details that follow. For those moving to a new location for retirement, I strongly agree with Pam's suggestion to rent before you buy. As you wisely point out, Bob, there are a multitude of choices out there - so if someone finds themselves in a retirement living situation that isn't right for them --and has the ability to change it - they should strongly consider doing just that. The variety of choice is truly amazing!
    Donna
    retirementreflections.com

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    1. That is the most important point, Donna. We can make a decision about living and then change it. If circumstances or our own desires shift, then we can to. While locked up in the working world that freedom is much harder to come by.

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  8. Among my friends and associates, most of whom are elders, interest seems to be rising in living in "walking communities." They visualize something akin to the old small cities where many of us grew up. The idea is to live where there is a variety of housing close to services such as clinics, dentists, drug stores, and food stores. We currently don't live in that sort of situation, but should the small city in our area develop that way moving there would be an enticing possibility.

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    1. I know Betty and I would welcome that, but it is rare in the Phoenix area. We can bike to a few restaurants, and one food store about 1/2 mile away.

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  9. Bob, a thought-provoking post. My mom, who is 82 and not in very good health, still lives in the little town in northern Canada where I grew up. After my dad passed away 12 years ago, she continued living in the family home. Last spring, after a long winter, she decided to sell the house and buy a condo. She does not drive, and because of her health problems was no longer able to walk from home to town. She has a very independent nature and felt trapped at home, even though many friends and family members offered to drive her places.

    She bought a two bedroom condo in an eightplex just a block away from Main Street and two blocks from the grocery store where she likes to shop. She can easily get to cafes, church, and the seniors' centre on her scooter. It is a large, comfortable, homey condo, and she is pleased with her decision. I think the one hard part for her was leaving behind all the gardens and mature fruit trees in the yard of her former home. However, she has dealt with that by making an agreement with the fellow who bought her house that she is welcome to come by and pick fruit from the trees and berry bushes.

    Her condo is not in a seniors' complex, although one of her longtime friends lives in the unit beside hers. The key factor is that she made the decision, and she chose her new place. You are so right about the importance of having a choice.

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  10. You are so lucky that your family is close by and that you all enjoy spending time together. Thank you for this post. It offers some interesting alternatives. I will definitely read the other posts you mention.

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  11. Yes, we are lucky. We are one of the unusual situations where our daughters moved back to be close to us, instead of the other way around!

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