Thinking about starting your search for an active adult or senior living community? Prepare to immerse yourself in the experience. Communities love to show off and welcome home hunters. As a potential resident, you have the opportunity to try before you buy, at open houses, lunches and dinners, even overnight stays. These events are a great way to determine whether a community is the place for you, all in a low-pressure environment.
Active adult communities are known for offering free day passes and overnight or multi-day stays at fully furnished homes. (Some charge a small fee for the overnights.) For example, the day pass at Del Webb communities includes a meal, a fitness class, and use of the facilities. Overnights include use of a golf cart to tool around the community like a resident. More freebies might be offered once you get there.
It is important to approach these visits with an eye to the future, says Amy Goyer of AARP. "You want a community where you can see yourself living there today and also 10 years from now," she says. This is particularly true of baby boomers who may be independent now but want a place that will work for them as they age.
"Many times you get excited about the amenities but you don't think about your actual life," she adds. "Many retirees are still working. Is the community conducive to their work? Is there a home office? What about proximity to their network of family and friends? Is there shopping nearby? These are questions they should answer."
Independent living communities such as Willow Falls in Crest Hill hosts a big open house every July (though they skipped this year). It showcases the community to the public in the small town atmosphere of Crest Hill.
"We always have entertainers come in, such as singers and bands. We serve hot dogs, ice cream, and popcorn, and there is a car show," says Julie Brewer, community relations director. "It's fun because everyone who lives in the area loves to come and they can take a look without having the pressure of scheduling a visit. We have always had a great turnout, both outside and inside the building."
Besides just being fun, Brewer says the event works. "People see it and they want to come back and learn more. We have had people move in because of the open house," she says.
Willow Falls does not offer overnight stays, but potential residents are invited to return for lunch and bring family along.
One notable opening this fall is The Admiral at the Lake, a continuing care retirement community in Chicago's
"At open houses we try to balance a tour of the building with exposure to the community," says CEO Glenn Brichacek. "It's an opportunity to interact with people who have already moved in. That is the best representation of what the community is like. You cannot get that from a website or brochure."
Brichacek says it is important to find out who owns a community, and who is actually running the community. They might not be the same.
"Some organizations outsource management, sometimes in a different place," he says. The Admiral is now affiliated with The Kendal Corp., which helps senior communities operate efficiently and govern themselves independently. That means decisions about most resident matters are made locally at The Admiral.
Brichacek says this arrangement allows problems to be dealt with directly. "Residents know this is a place they can call home and they can trust the people who are guiding the way their home is being operated," he says.
If you're looking at a CCRC, don't forget to check out all the levels of care in person, not just the one you need now, Goyer says. "[Baby boomers] might not look at the assisted living, because right now they are independent. But there are specific things you have to look at when considering assisted living and skilled nursing care." ]