Think Early and Carefully About Retirement Housing

Above: Ray Custer took a carefully calculated approach to choosing among retirement communities — and he’s glad he started early.


Careers for Ray Custer and his wife, Pat Custer, took them away from Iowa to Kansas City. Retirement saw them move back to Des Moines. But first they had to figure out where to live. And how to live.

It popped into Ray’s head that he didn’t care to move a lot once he got settled into Des Moines. The Custers were in their mid-60s at the time and concerned about future health care needs. They figured that at some point they would find themselves in a retirement community. So why not now? Why not move into what the retirement living industry calls a Continuing Care Retirement Community, where you can move in now and stay put (though you might have to move down the hallway as your health care needs rise).

The Custers devised a plan of attack. First, they would select three or four retirement communities that interested them, either because of the location or because of the structure of the community. Then they would divide the review based on their skills learned from their careers that would in this instance come in handy. Pat is a nurse, so she would review the health care aspect. Ray is a CPA, so he crunched numbers to see how community living would affect their cash flow.

“Get the contract [for the sale] and sit down with your tax guy,” says Ray. This can be complicated.

Pricing structures vary among retirement facilities. There is an upfront entrance fee, and ongoing monthly charges. You might pay a lot now, and a smaller monthly fee. You might pay relatively little now, and then pay more as your level of care advances. Some places allow you to pay a flat fee, regardless of the level of care. Others will refund some of the upfront fee, depending on how long you reside with them.

AARP says that entrance charges range from $100,000 to $1 million. Monthly charges typically run from $3,000 to $5,000.

In the end, the Custers settled on Deerfield, on Hickman Road in Urbandale. They reside in a town home now, living independently, but have the ability to move to assisted living, should the need arise, and later on to residential care and then skilled care.

Terms and conditions are spelled out in what Steve Gilbert, director of sales at Deerfield, calls a life care contract. Click here for questions to ask as you consider this process.

Seem like a lot of homework? Get your children involved. This is a very big decision that will affect your lives and finances — and theirs.

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