Retirement is often the catalyst for figuring out what’s next in terms of housing. I’m a case in point.
Around the time I turned 60, my husband—who’s almost 8 years older—and I started talking about downsizing. At the time, we lived in a two-story home with four bedrooms, 2½ baths, full basement, attic and two-car garage, all situated on nearly two acres of land (most of it a lawn that required mowing). It was waymore house than we needed or wanted to maintain with Hubs’ bad back and my general aversion to yardwork (and the ticks, spiders and other cringe-inducing critters that came with it).
We also started to perceive some drawbacks to our home’s locale, a small town in mid-coast Maine. While it’s a beautiful setting (particularly in the summer!), it’s a good 45 minutes from Portland, our biggest city with its bounty of great restaurants, theater and other cultural offerings, as well as an airport and a major medical center. But we found ourselves foregoing fun stuff in the “big city” because it felt like too much of a schlep, especially at night or in lousy weather.
Wanting easier access to healthcare
Something else that factored into our desire to move was that the town we lived in had a volunteer fire and rescue operation. This meant that, in a medical emergency, an ambulance driver first had to first go from their home to the station to pick up the ambulance, then come get you and take you to the hospital. When minutes matter, this didn’t feel like the optimal situation to me. As you get older, you think about these things!
Fortunately, Hubs and I were on the same page when it came to what our next abode should be (a low-maintenance condo vs. single-family home), where it should be (in or near Portland), and when we should make a move (by the time I turned 65, which coincided with when the lower initial rate of our two-step mortgage ended). Our plan was to cash out the equity we’d acquired in our home and buy our next place outright, so we’d be mortgage-free by the time I retired.
Making the move before we had to
We also agreed on the fundamental wisdom of putting our plan in motion before we had to. We’d known people who were suddenly forced to move, and we didn’t want to find ourselves in that situation. In one case, the wife had a stroke, and her husband not only had to manage the immediate health crisis but also move them from the five-bedroom home where they’d raised their family into a one-level apartment, all in a matter of weeks. They’d been talking about downsizing since their last child left for college nearly 20 years prior but never got around to pulling the trigger. That procrastination cost them—financially and emotionally.
These aren’t always easy conversations to have when you’re half of a duo and the two of you don’t agree on when—or if—to shift to a different type of housing near or in retirement. I know two different married couples—everyone’s in their late sixties and early seventies—who live in houses that aren’t ideal for aging in place (multiple living levels, no first-floor bedroom). One husband’s response to his wife’s suggestion that they downsize and move closer to town is an adamant “no way,” insisting that he’ll continue to handle all the upkeep their older, rural home requires. Besides, he told her, he likes being able to pee off the back deck—something in-town neighbors might object to. The other husband refuses to discuss next steps at all, even when his wife presents some of the dire (yet possible) what-if scenarios that can come with aging.
If you’re single, the decision to move is often easier (unilateral ones usually are!). But it’s still important to think it through to clarify your wants, potential future needs, and options. So, whether you’re coupled up or a solo ager, here are some of the retirement housing options you might consider:
- Aging in place: For many retirees, growing older in the comfort and familiarity of our own home is the ideal. But can your current home accommodate any mobility issues you might have down the road (if you can’t handle stairs, for example, can you reconfigure things to live on one level in your home)? Can you (or do you want to) maintain the home as you age?
- House sharing: This can be something as simple as getting (or being) a roommate, or formally purchasing a home jointly with others. According to AARP, an estimated 4 million senior women share a home with at least two other women (a la “The Golden Girls”). There also are house-sharing services that pair up homeowners with potential roommates based on finances and compatibility. Two I found via a quick Google search are Senior Homeshares and Roommates for Boomers, a roommate matching site for women 50 and over.
- Senior cohousing: In cohousing communities, residents live in private apartments or homes but share communal spaces such as an exercise room or gardens. These communities bring together people who choose to live cooperatively based on shared values and aim to promote community, social engagement and active aging. Learn more about cohousing from the Cohousing Association of the United States.
- Life plan/continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs): These communities offer independent living, assisted living, nursing home care and sometimes memory care all on one campus. By providing this continuum of care, CCRCs enable you stay in the same place, surrounded by the same people, even if your health changes down the road. This AARP article explains more about how CCRCs work.
- Age-restricted communities: This is the traditional model for retirement communities, usually a 55-plus community in which older adults live independently but amenities such as yard maintenance or social/recreation activities are provided.
- Moving in with the kids (or they with you): The PC term is “multigenerational living,” something our parents and grandparents did quite often (in 1940, 25% of Americans lived with multiple generations, according to a June 2020 Institute for Family Studies article). Pooling resources can help everyone financially, seniors can avoid the social isolation that’s all too prevalent in our society, and families gain the opportunity to (re)connect in ways they likely couldn’t or wouldn’t otherwise. Some families move into one generation’s existing home; others buy a new house together.
- Assisted living: At some point, we may need help with certain activities of daily living. Assisted living enables us to remain as independent as possible in a private residence (usually an apartment-style setting) while getting the personalized help we need, whether it’s meal prep, medication management, housekeeping or personal care.
Each option has its pros and cons. I encourage you to think them through—and follow through—so you can make an informed and purposeful move on your terms and timetable.
Hubs and I, in fact, ended up making our move sooner than we originally planned. I had an aha moment and thought, “Why are we waiting until I’m 65 to move—why not downsize, retire our mortgage, and start enjoying Portland’s offerings sooner rather than later?”
So we put our house on the market, started condo-shopping and found the ideal unit in an over-55 community 10 minutes from downtown Portland. Its age-friendly features include one-floor living, grab bars in the shower, wider door- and hallways—and no shoveling snow or mowing lawns! We moved in 4½ years ago (just before I turned 63) and feel perfectly situated to age in place for the foreseeable future as I downshift into semiretirement.
It’s good to be home.
What about you? Did you move into a different type of residence when you retired—or are you contemplating doing so? What factored/factors into your decision? Please share!