What is the Best Way to Research Retirement Living Options?

Assisted Living,Independent Living,Skilled Nursing

Finding a great retirement community can feel overwhelming: There are over 22,000 housing options for older adults in the U.S., with different levels of amenities and styles of housing. If you’re thinking of relocating now that you’re retired, the search becomes even more complex as now you’ve got to figure out where you’d like to live. We’ve rounded up the best ways to research retirement community options, so you can find a place you’re thrilled to live, no matter what your needs or housing budget.

Step 1: Understand Your Options

Since you’ll find so many types of living options for older adults, your best course of action is to start by understanding the different types of retirement communities, so you can very quickly narrow down your list. Among independent living choices for older adults, you will find:

55+ Living Communities

Fifty-five plus living communities are fairly self-explanatory–if you are 55 years or older, you’re welcome to join, however you’ll still find variation among these living options. These types of communities are quieter and more peaceful as younger individuals and families are typically not permitted to live at the community.

Within a 55+ community, you’ll generally find several choice amenities for community residents (say, a fitness center or club room), with individual homes or apartments for every resident. These communities are generally close to shops, restaurants, hospitals and other community amenities, so it’s easy to access everything in your area.

Independent Living Communities 

Independent living communities are like summer camp for adults; you live in a community with new friends, you  have few-to-no worries and your days are packed with a lively social calendar. Independent living communities are ideal for people who are of sound body and mind, and who can live without support in a private home or apartment. Independent living communities vary in the level of services and amenities offered, so it’s important to do your own research if this category interests you.

Assisted Living Communities 

Assisted living communities act as a bridge between independent living communities and more formalized communities of care. In assisted living, you have access to assistance for the ADLs (activities of daily living) you need help with, whether that’s housekeeping, transportation, bathing or medication management. If you have mobility issues, assisted living staff can help you conserve your mobility to do what you love while getting help with the things you either can’t or don’t want to do yourself.

Life Plan/CCRC Communities 

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) or Life Plan communities are a convenient choice for individuals and couples who want to move once, then age in place with access to a range of care options. With a life plan community, you’ll have access to a continuum of care as your needs change. You’ll be able to access skilled nursing, rehab care and other services if and when you need them while remaining independent for as long as possible.

Narrow Down Your Options

Now that you get a sense for the breadth of retirement housing options out there, there’s a good chance that one or more appeals to you. After you’ve narrowed it down to a particular type of housing, it’s time to find one or more that meets your needs, so you can schedule a tour.

Research Online

To save yourself time, start by researching online. You can learn about different communities near you (or in another state, if you’re thinking of relocating somewhere warm) from the comfort of your own home. To begin to sort through options, select a variable that’s important to you and use that as your initial search criteria. For some people, this might be a preferred location (say, a retirement housing option near the beach) whereas for others, it might be a preferred amenity offered onsite (like senior yoga classes).

If you’re not super sure what you’re looking for, start by keeping track of amenities offered at local senior housing options. As you keep tally of what different communities offer, then your priorities will become clear.

Set a Budget Early

As part of your research, determine how much money you can spend each month–inclusive of all fees (such as a maintenance fee or meal plan options). When you know your budget, you can evaluate community options without falling in love with a facility that’s too costly for your current budget. While many of your current monthly expenses (such as mortgage and utilities) will be covered in the monthly community fees, never assume that something is covered — especially if you are living on a fixed income.

Consider Your Lifestyle

As you wade through the options out there, consider what would work well with your lifestyle. Perhaps you would prefer a ranch-style housing option where there are no stairs within your home. Perhaps you’re still active and would prefer an urban setting where there may be stairs in a high-rise community, but there’s also an elevator available for those times when you don’t feel like walking.

The more you keep your lifestyle in mind when you’re researching retirement community options, the sooner you will uncover what’s most important to you. For many older adults, using their free time to learn new skills and deepen old ones is something of value. Thus, older adults will gravitate toward communities that offer golf course access, crafting classes or lifelong learning lectures by university experts who can offer insight into new fields.

Understand Your Needs

Ultimately, selecting the right retirement community comes down to understanding your needs and knowing what would best fulfill them. Since your needs and your wants change as you age, the right community for you might change over time. What works well when you’re 55 probably won’t work as well at 85. For this reason, some people prioritize a long-term choice, in hopes of avoiding a move later-in-life to meet their changing needs as they age.

For many older adults, location is a necessity. Some people crave a retirement community that’s near their hometown, so they can enjoy their golden years in the same place they’ve called home their entire life. Others prefer to relocate to a milder climate, sometimes for medical reasons. Living near the grandchildren is a top priority for some seniors, while other older adults decide they want to move back to the city after raising families in the suburbs. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Part of knowing your needs is knowing where you’d really like to spend your retirement, so you can make it a priority within your search.

Ask Your Network

After you’ve done your comparison research on the internet, narrow down the options to a short list you’ll explore offline. At this point, turn to your personal network to further weed through your list. Who do you know that lives in this community? What questions do you have for them so you can figure out if the fit is right? Every retirement community has resident testimonials and marketing brochures, but these are collated to show off the highlights of living there, and they may not touch on what’s most important to you. By talking to real residents, you can get a sense for what it’s really like in the day to day – and whether it matches what you’re looking for.


Before you make a final decision, take tours of any retirement communities you’re still considering. A tour will allow you to meet staff and residents, explore amenities, and most importantly, get a sense for the actual community and how well it aligns with your needs and wants. A community may seem like a great fit, but if the housing options feel dated to you, then you won’t really be happy there. Conversely, if the housing is better in person than it looked in photos, the tour alone may sell you on a retirement community.

It’s best to start your retirement living options search well in advance of a move, so you have enough time to find a place that really meets your needs. If you procrastinate on finding a housing option for seniors, you risk needing to move for something like a health issue and not having time to find a perfect fit.

If you’re looking for retirement communities in downtown Oakland, consider Lake Park, a full-service retirement community with a range of floor plans and a continuum of care. Offering ample amenities in a lush lakeside setting on the shores of Lake Merritt, Lake Park offers a culturally rich living environment for adults 62 and above. Amenities, caring staff and convenient options make retirement here easy, while all the attractions of Oakland and San Francisco are a short drive away. To learn more about living in Lake Park, or to schedule a tour, contact us now.


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