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Don’t Choose an Independent Living Community Until You Ask These 6 Questions

By Margaret Manning October 20, 2016 Lifestyle

It’s easy to understand the appeal of independent living communities. By the time we reach our 60s and 70s, many of us feel like we want a little extra support. We want to live in a community that helps us to stay social and active. At the same time, we value our independence and aren’t willing to accept invisibility.

Unfortunately, as many women in the Sixty and Me community have told me, finding the perfect independent living community is tough – financially, emotionally and even physically.

Fortunately, we have over 400,000 women over 60 in our community. If we listen to each other’s wisdom, we can make the process so much easier. Here are a few questions that the women in our community wished they had asked themselves before choosing a place to retire.

Is an Independent Living Community Right for You? Would Assisted Living Be Better?

Let’s start with one of the most difficult questions – whether an independent living community is even an option for you. The truth is that everyone wants to feel independent. Admitting that we might need a little extra help as we get older is about as appealing as owning up to an affair or sharing our credit report with our family.

While there are some communities that blur the lines between “assisted living” and “independent living,” the majority of independent living communities are focused on providing homes for healthy, active seniors who are able to live completely on their own.

It’s important to remember that assisted living is not the same nursing home care. There are plenty of assisted living communities that are every bit as dynamic and fun as their independent living counterparts. The difference comes in the level of medical and other support they provide – and, of course, the price!

Choosing a retirement community is a big step. If you have any concerns about your mobility or medical situation, it’s worth having a quick chat with your doctor before making a final decision.

What Are Your “Must Haves” and Your “Nice to Haves?”

Most of us have strong emotions when it comes to the concept of retirement. After all, we spent 6 or more decades waiting for the opportunity to enjoy the “best years of our lives.” By the time we reach our 60s, we have a strong idea of what we are looking for in terms of a retirement community.

The problem, of course, is that very few of us can afford the perfect retirement lifestyle that we see advertised on TV. So, when it comes to choosing an independent living community, we need to learn to compromise.

If you are having trouble narrowing down your list of retirement communities, I recommend the following approach. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Write “must haves” on the left side of the line and “nice to haves” on the other side.

In the “must haves” section, write down all of the things that you couldn’t live without. In my case, this would include beautiful places to walk, access to public transportation and fast Internet access (no, I’m not kidding!) In the “nice to haves” section, write down the things that would make your life more comfortable, but, that you could live without.

In the final step, put a star next to the three most important “must haves” on your list. Take this piece of paper with you to every independent living community that you visit and be sure to take notes.

Do You Like the Other Residents? Are They Happy?

When we look at a new independent living community, it’s natural to focus on the facilities. It’s almost as if we forget the “community” part of “independent living community.”

This is a shame for a couple of reasons. First, whether we like it or not, our neighbors have a great deal of influence over our happiness. One of the biggest challenges that we face as we get a little older is staying social. Our neighbors, if they are our kind of people, can form the first line of defense against loneliness and social isolation.

Second, other residents know better than anyone what it is like to live in a particular community. They can help you to look beyond the sales pitch to understand the real pros and cons about living in their village. Here are a few questions to ask:

What do you love most about living here?

What is one thing that you dislike about living here?

Is there anything that you wished you knew before moving here?

What one thing do you wish you could change about this community?

If you had to do it all over again, would you move here? Why or why not?

How Much Do You Want to Spend? How Much Do You Need Left Over?

From a financial perspective, choosing an independent living community isn’t just about how much you can afford to spend… it’s also about how much you want to have left over. Living in a beautiful home won’t make you happy if you don’t have enough money left over for your passions.

Before you make a final decision, I would highly recommend writing down your draft budget. Make sure that you leave yourself enough to cover your hobbies, social activities and travel. After the honeymoon period wares off, most people will be happier in a slightly smaller home if it gives them the financial resources to stay active.

What Kind of Place Will Your Friends and Family Want to Visit?

It probably seems strange to think about which independent living communities your friends and family would like to visit. After all, the people who you love are coming to see you, not your home.

The truth is that, whether we like to admit it or not, people are self-centered. By this, I don’t meant that they are selfish. I simply mean that they see the world from their own unique perspective.

While, you should put your own needs above the considerations of anyone else, if you want your family to visit, it makes sense to take a few minutes to consider their needs. How close is the independent living community to your family? If it is in another state, is the community relatively close to an airport? Are there places for your friends and family to stay when they come to visit? Are their entertainment options, parks and other activities that the whole family can enjoy within a few minutes’ drive? These are just a few of the many questions to consider.

What is Included in the Monthly Fees?

Because independent living communities are targeted at healthy, active seniors, they tend to be less “all inclusive” than their assisted living cousins. This means that it is especially important to understand exactly what is included in your monthly fees.

Does the community offer transportation services? Is Internet access and cable TV included? Is there an on-site gym? These are just a few of the many things to check before making a decision. Once again, it makes sense to create a list of items that you want to ask about. This is one of the biggest decisions of your life and you want to be prepared.

Have you started your independent living community search? What advice would you give to the other women in our community? Or, do you plan on starting your search soon? What are your biggest concerns as you start to think about the process? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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