Few decisions you make as you prepare for retirement will have as much impact on your future quality of life as where you choose to live out those golden years.
Whether you ultimately decide to age in place, downsize, or relocate to a more temperate climate, there are many factors to consider as you seek the perfect fit for your lifestyle, budget, and personal goals.
Aging in Place
Not everyone aspires to be a snowbird and migrate to warmer locales in retirement. Even if you're perfectly content in your current home and plan to stay put, however, there are important questions of mobility, community, and the strength of your own social safety net to take into account.
For example, do you live within walking distance to the services and establishments you use most frequently? If not, does your community offer a bus or shuttle that takes older citizens shopping or to run other errands—an important option should your ability to drive safely deteriorate with age? Do you have friends or family in close proximity who can lend a hand, if necessary?
Remember, choosing to age in place also carries its own costs beyond ordinary maintenance. Consider whether your home will require costly maintenance in the near future and if you can handle the cost of age-proofing your home. You may, for example, want to move your bedroom to the first floor and remove hazards that can cause slips and falls. In the bathroom, you might consider installing a walk-in tub and grab bars in the tub and near the toilet. Tubs and interior stairs should have non-slip strips and lighting fixtures may need to be added to increase visibility.
Moving to a Livable Community
If you're interested in moving to an age-specific development, but have concerns about a loss of community, the AARP ranks livable neighborhoods and cities for people age 50-plus, and the organization's website also has a livability index search feature where you can input a ZIP code or even an address to get a customized livability score. Cities with high scores may particularly interest older Americans who prefer to live in an area where young and old coexist.
Further, the World Health Organization's Global Age-Friendly Cities project has developed a checklist to help you find affordable age-friendly housing in a locale that prioritizes accessible outdoor spaces, social inclusion, and civic involvement for older residents.
From active-adult communities to assisted living set-ups, there are a variety of choices to meet unique needs and desires. There are plenty of options for older Americans who prefer to live in self-contained communities, including housing developments, condos, and apartments for active adults, those who need onsite assisted living, and everyone in between.
Keep in mind, however, that these developments usually have restrictions that may not allow pets or even relatives under age 55 to live with residents or visit for more than a short period of time—which might be of concern if you have a boomerang adult child or grandchildren who might eventually need to live with you—and even after downsizing you may find some adult community options cost as much as a bigger home in the suburbs.
You also need to factor in future health needs and whether your preferred adult community offers minimal, intensive, or no care at all. If you’re new to the area, isolation from family and friends may also be difficult.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging can help you identify your local agency on aging, which can give you information on a variety of services. The association also offers a brochure that details and defines housing options for older adults.
Get Ready Financially
I've described in past articles how I refinanced a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage as interest rates dropped. I'm on track to build enough equity in our current home to pay for a smaller place at half the cost, if that's what my wife and I choose to do. Another way to pay down your mortgage and build equity more quickly is to pay a little extra principal, either through an additional payment each year or a little extra every month.
The bottom line is, to have more flexibility and possibilities tomorrow, do a little research and pre-planning today. Your future self will thank you—from wherever he or she may call home.
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