How to find an apartment as a senior

Here’s what to look for in a rental apartment for your retirement years.

  • By Emily Brandon,
  • U.S. News & World Report
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Renting an apartment can be a way for retirees to downsize, test out a potential retirement spot and reduce the maintenance hassles of homeownership. But finding an ideal apartment can be particularly challenging for retirees, who might need extra features to cope with the challenges of aging and who may have difficulty coping with rent increases on a fixed income.

Here's how to find an apartment for your retirement years.

Where to retire comfortably

How much do you need to retire? It depends heavily on where you live.
  • Keep costs low.
  • Manage rent increases.
  • Seek age-friendly features.
  • Aim for proximity to services.
  • Interview current residents.
  • Consider an age-restricted community.
  • Look for help with maintenance.
  • Negotiate upfront.
  • Test out a retirement spot.

Try these strategies to locate an affordable senior citizen apartment that provides the services you will need in your retirement years.

Keep costs low

Selling your home and moving into a rental apartment can give you an influx of cash to help finance your retirement. "When someone wants to retire and is on the edge of not being able to have the lifestyle they want or fears running out of money in their 90s, I recommend they consider renting … to get their equity out of their home," says Maria Erickson, a certified financial planner for Freedom Financial & Business Planning in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. If you are willing to relocate to an area with affordable rent, your nest egg will stretch even further. Among metro areas in the U.S., median rental prices range from just $486 per month in Beckley, West Virginia, to $1,458 monthly in Ventura, California. And prices can soar far higher in the most desirable neighborhoods of major cities. Once you don't have to live within commuting distance of your job, you can find an affordable neighborhood that is close to the services you most want.

Manage rent increases

Finding an affordable apartment doesn't mean the rent will remain at that rate. It's common for landlords to increase the rent each time a lease is renewed. "You can sign a longer-term lease in some places, which might give you more control over a rise in rents, and you can also negotiate," says Jon Pynoos, a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California and coauthor of "Linking Housing and Services for Older Adults." "There is a lot of give and take in rents, especially in smaller buildings where they are owned by individuals." If you are faced with a rent increase you can't afford, you may need to move to keep costs low.

Seek age-friendly features

It's important to select an apartment that has the features you need to successfully cope with some of the challenges of aging. "A no-step entrance is an advantage, or at least a ramp to get into the building, and wide enough hallways if you ever need a wheelchair or a rocket," Pynoos says. "We lose some muscle strength as we get older. Getting around in the bathroom can be a challenge, particularly if tiles are slippery and if it's difficult to get in or out of a bathtub or a shower." Look for grab bars in the bathroom and a walk-in shower. If you are downsizing, consider the amount of convenient storage space you will have in an apartment building.

Aim for proximity to services

Living in an apartment can allow you to get by without a car if you live in a walkable neighborhood. Many apartment buildings are located in downtown areas that are close to shopping, restaurants, libraries, senior centers and other services, which makes it convenient to get around without driving. Some apartment buildings provide parking spots or street parking for residents who wish to maintain a vehicle. However, bustling downtown areas also have the potential to be noisy, so get a feel for the atmosphere on evenings and weekends. Apartments in popular areas close to public transportation tend to be a little more expensive than apartments that are more removed from the action.

Interview current residents

Before signing a lease, ask other residents in the building about their experiences, including the quality of the building and services, the responsiveness of management and the ease of making repairs. "The prospective renter should try contacting other residents who live in the apartment to get a feeling of how they feel about the landlord and maintenance," says Stephen Golant, a professor emeritus at the University of Florida and author of "Aging in the Right Place." "If something breaks down in the unit, how fast does the landlord respond? Check whether or not there is anything you should know about that goes on that is not going to be transparent unless you ask the tenants already in the place."

Consider an age-restricted community

Some apartment buildings are managed exclusively for older renters, while others include people of all stages of life. Living with other retirees might allow you to share common experiences, provide more company during the work day and avoid the noise and disruptions of having children in the building. "Older people might not enjoy using that pool with a lot of younger children running around," Golant says. On the other hand, living in an apartment building with people in different stages of life can provide other types of enriching experiences. A younger person might help you carry in the groceries or change a light bulb you can't reach.

Look for help with maintenance

A major advantage of renting is that someone else usually completes outdoor maintenance tasks that can be labor-intensive, including cutting the grass, landscaping and shoveling snow. "Renters have somebody else who is going to take care of getting rid of the trash, keeping the building clean, shoveling and doing the yard work," Pynoos says.

Negotiate upfront

The best time to negotiate is before you sign a lease. "If you are moving into a unit and you see a problem, get it fixed before you move in if it's possible," Pynoos says. Pay close attention to the terms of the lease surrounding potential pets. "Pets can be very therapeutic for older people, and rental units can be very different in terms of what they allow and don't allow in terms of pets," Golant says. Retirees who want to garden outdoors may also need permission from the landlord.

Test out a retirement spot

Renters can easily move to a new part of the country to see if they will enjoy living there. If a retirement spot doesn't meet your expectations, it's relatively easy to move on when the lease is up. "Renting allows you the flexibility to get to know a new area or to actually test out your ideas for retirement before you commit to a major purchase and a big responsibility in maintaining a home," says Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock in Boston. "That can save you money if you realize that you need to make adjustments to your plan or you find that you don't actually love a specific location or lifestyle."

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