Rethinking Where and What You Want to Call Home for Retirement

Rethinking Where and What You Want to Call Home for Retirement

Authors Amanda Lambert, a geriatric care manager and consultant, and Leslie Eckford, a licensed clinical social worker and RN with a focus in mental and geriatric health, have published Choose Your Place, Rethinking Home as You Age.

The book is great for anyone who is thinking about retirement and is willing to consider where they live and with whom as part of their long-term planning. They explore the pros and cons of different housing options and you’ll meet real people who have made different choices. 

Hear what it’s really like to live in cohousing, make multi-generational living work well for all participants, live in a retirement community, retire abroad as an expat, or find roommates for an existing or new home. Plus, get tips for what to do if your housing plans just don’t work out and planning for the long haul when an assisted living option might become necessary.

Here is an interview with some practical advice from the authors on some of the housing options covered in the book:

What are some tricks to help people open up and think creatively about their housing options for retirement?

Such a great question! Generally speaking, there are two types of people — those who plan everything out to the smallest detail and those that make crisis-driven decisions.

Planning for aging is critical, and if people have a sound financial plan, it can be exhilarating to consider some creative options. Some ideas:

Prioritize:

Time is limited for all of us. People should think about how they want their remaining years to look and feel. What is important? What has gotten left behind? What has someone always wanted to try but hasn’t? Writing these goals and aspirations down can be a good start.

Have a backup plan:

Fear is a strong motivator. A certain amount of fear and anticipation is healthy, but it can keep people confined and unwilling to consider alternatives. An escape hatch (a solid plan for if things don’t work out) will provide a launching pad for new ideas.

Consider health:

People need to take an honest look at their current health situation. Most people greatly minimize the value of a healthy mind and body in making creative choices.

Think outside the Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) box:

If someone has a creative housing idea, chances are other people do too. Housing for seniors is heavily influenced by the assisted living and Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) industry. These are viable options, but their marketing impact outweighs all other options, so people think these are the best and most available options.

When should you start to make decisions about where you live as you age?

We really think that people should start considering options when they are in pre-retirement planning and early retirement. If they are already taking the time to consider their financial future, their advance directives for health care, it makes sense to make this a part of that.

Even if their wish is to stay in their present home, it’s important to have a Plan B. What if your beloved home becomes too expensive or too impractical for your daily living? Where else could you picture yourself living with some level of contentment?

What are the major financial considerations — particularly long term implications — of different housing decisions?

We could write another book about this one!

The bottom line, most people vastly underestimate the financial resources they will need as they age. Everyone wants to be healthy well into old age, but that doesn’t happen for everyone. Whatever housing option someone chooses, co-housing, house sharing, living abroad, etc., they must consider what happens if they need more care and that care isn’t available where they live.

Understanding what Medicare covers and what it doesn’t is a good place to start. People are generally shocked to find out that Medicare does not cover assisted living costs.

For example, if someone chooses co-housing and becomes disabled due to a fall or some chronic medical condition that worsens, how will they get the care they need? The same holds for home-sharing or any other number of options. Private duty home care runs on average about $20 an hour across the country.

What are some of the emotional considerations for housing decisions and how do you balance those with the financial?

When people are under stress, they generally don’t make the best decisions. That is why long-range planning is so critical. Not many people want to consider the worst-case scenario, but it is only by doing that and planning for it that you can free yourself to make creative and well-reasoned decisions.

Getting excited about a new housing alternative is great, but it has to be balanced with a sober look at the big financial picture. There is an expression in the real estate industry, “buyers are liars.” The term is the perfect description of the emotional roller coaster someone experiences when they think they know what they want, but their emotions get in the way.

On the flip side, some people are reluctant to make decisions that might be in their best interest due to fear of moving or insecurity about their financial situation. We advise people to meet with a financial planner to get a realistic view of their situation, and it always helps to run ideas past friends and family members.

The research suggests that most people want to stay in their family home as they age. Why do you find this to be true?

Adults in their busiest time of life tend to put a lot of money, energy and effort into the family home. They may have invested in home improvements. They have done decorating projects and have put their personal stamp on the place. If they have raised children there as well, the house or apartment becomes like a member of the family.

Our memories are interwoven in that location.

It may be a safety net of sorts that brings comfort. It takes a considerable change in mindset to realize that it might not be your forever home.

Why is where you live so important as you age?

A home has to be safe and practical in specific ways for aging. Most people don’t buy their family homes in their 30’s or 40’s and think, “Oh, I’m going to put in a main floor shower that will be really handy when I can’t climb the stairs anymore.” We wrote this book so that people who are active and healthy in their 50’s and 60’s can start to anticipate and plan. No one, at any age, likes to imagine that they may be less mobile or need help. But, it can be an advantage to plan for an accessible, flexible home.

Certainly, for many, a sense of familiarity is important. But, we are hearing from people that making their own decision about where they live as they age is almost more critical. For example, we may see this when a spouse dies or there is a late-life divorce. That person is suddenly “I” instead of “we.” Priorities about where you want to live can shift.

How important is extended family in the decision making about where to live?

In our experience, families that have an open line of communication about where the older family member is going to live tend to work together to make it a success. Sadly, there is much hesitation for adult children to start the conversation. They don’t want to offend their parents by implying that they think that they are “old.” They may not want to interfere.

For that reason, we encourage retirees to get the ball rolling. In a family, good retirement planning includes sharing all the financial interests, medical information and how the home will be managed if the older adult cannot. This is a perfect opportunity to share one’s dream of where and with whom they want to live. In this scenario, families can bounce around ideas and do some advanced problem solving together.

And, this is a good place to note: some retirees expect that they will live with an adult child and their family. We’ve known adult children who are certain that their parents will want to live with them. Never plan on this without an in-depth conversation about it with the other party! Living with the kids can be great when it’s mutually agreed on. It works best when very specific plans are made about financial arrangements and responsibilities.

We all know, however, that there are some individuals and some families that will simply have more conflict than support. That’s another reason why retirement and estate planners are so essential. They can really help connect resources if needed.

What are some of the challenges people face when they want to relocate later in life?

One person told us that once you change from “No” to “Yes” on the decision to move, things fall into place. That’s not exactly true, but the momentum from your decision helps a lot.

The biggest problem that we hear repeatedly? Downsizing is very painful! Especially if you have decided to move from a big family home to a smaller place, it is a lot of work. There are so many decisions about what to let go of and what to keep. But, the upside is that you have done the work so that someone else doesn’t have to after you die. That’s a gift for the next generation.

The key to your question is “when they want to relocate later in life.” In our work, we have dealt with too many people who were essentially forced to move due to medical crises. They did not want to move. They did not have a Plan B in place. And, this often had real and negative consequences: depression, resistance, and isolation. It makes a huge difference if you can be the director of your life movie. If you have chosen to move, you have more emotionally invested in making it work. Even if there are challenges or you are not thrilled with everything about it, you can be empowered by the fact that you took the risk. And, yes, even older adults can take a few educated risks now and then.

What are some of the pros and cons of cohousing?

Cons

Co-housing can be expensive. If someone already has a home that they can sell to finance co-housing, the financial blow won’t have as much of an impact. One thing many people don’t consider when buying into co-housing is that it is an investment. What happens if they have to move to a higher level of care? Will they be able to recoup their investment?

Co-housing communities use a consensus model of decision making which means that decisions are made as a group. Some people find this process time-consuming, contentious, and laborious.

Co-housing communities expect you to participate in congregate meals and contribute your time to the community. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

Pros

The main reason people gravitate to co-housing is the built-in sense of community. Many co-housing communities are multi-generational, which can be very appealing in that it brings energy and variety to the group.

The philosophy of co-housing honors independence while fostering community involvement—the best of both worlds.

What about retirement abroad? Is it as blissful as it sounds? Why don’t more people do it?

For some people moving abroad fulfills a sense of adventure and provides an opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture. But, for anyone seriously considering a move abroad, there are many questions to ask.

  • What is the political situation? Many countries have volatile political conditions that change frequently.
  • What about healthcare? Does your US healthcare cover you abroad, and if not, what is the healthcare system like, and what is the coverage in the country under consideration?
  • Are you prepared to learn a new language if not already well versed in the native language? People often assume that English is widely spoken throughout the world, which is not necessarily true. To function safely and happily in a new country, you will need to have some degree of language competency.
  • If you sell your primary home in the states and make a move, what if you change your mind after you have moved? Financial property investments are much easier to understand in the US than in a foreign country. You will want to protect your assets in case you need to move back.

Inspired? Model Your Future Housing Options in the NewRetirement Planner

As Choose Your Place, Rethinking Home as You Age describes, part of the decision of where to live is emotional. The other parts are practical: what makes the most sense in terms of the lifestyle you want, what will work best now and as you age and what can you afford. 

Reading these stories can help you determine what will work for you. It can also be useful to model your options.

The NewRetirement Planner enables you to model current and future housing options. See what it feels like to try a scenario with living abroad for a couple of years or downsizing to a less expensive home and easily see the impact on your finances.

The tool helps you imagine different versions of your future and to see the impact of housing on your cash flow, net worth and overall financial health.

Other Books from Lambert and Eckford

In addition to Choose Your Place, Rethinking Home as You Age, Lambert and Eckford have also published:

Beating the Senior Blues, How to Feel Better and Enjoy Life Again and Aging with Care, Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home.

 

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