A conversation I had the other day with fellow resident Ann Congleton got me thinking about the differences between retirement communities and what someone shopping for one should consider. I’m very pleased to be here at Kendal, but I can see that Crosslands would be a better fit for some people, and Maris Grove would be a better fit for others, and so on.

After the conversation with Ann, I wrote down a list of about a dozen features that either attracted me to Kendal or that might cause a person to prefer another community. Then, after talking about it with my wife Jan, I wrote down another dozen features. Soon, I had a list of more than 30. When I shared that list with a few other Kendal residents, it grew some more. Now, there are over 50 items.

After reflecting on what to do with the list, I decided to start by suggesting how someone shopping for a retirement community might go about it. Many readers of this blog are already residents at Kendal (or another retirement community). If so, feel free to pass this along to those who are still shopping for the right place.

A procedure for finding the best retirement community for you. If you are the person doing the shopping, I propose the following procedure. Go through the list below and rank the items from 5 to 1 (with 5 being the most important). Then, go back through the list and cross out all the items marked 1, 2, or 3. Those that remain (your 4s and 5s) are your basis for evaluating communities.

For each community you are considering, see if you have enough information to see how it matches up to your list of 5s. You may need to put some time into email exchanges, phone calls, web searches, and (if possible) contacting residents to collect some of that information. Once you’ve gone through that exercise, you probably will have whittled down your list considerably. Now, repeat the process for your 4s. Once that is done, you’ll probably be down to just 2 or 3 top candidates, and you can be pretty sure they are good choices for you.  

Now, you need to visit and experience each of your top candidates. They may have a program that allows you to stay for a day or two, participate in programs, and meet people. If so, be sure to take advantage of that opportunity. When you visit, bring your list of 4s and 5s and get clear answers to any items that have not been fully resolved by the information gathering you had previously done. You will probably find, as Jan and I did, that some of your priorities shift once you have more familiarity with each place. As you redo your rankings and your scores, a clear choice about what is best for you will probably emerge.

I hope you find this useful! (And if you have suggestions for improving this list, let me know via the comments at the foot of this post.)

Features to consider in a retirement community:

  • Lots of opportunities for interaction with other residents
  • Lots of programs that I can be entertained by or be engaged in without much effort on my part
  • A broad view from my residence
  • A place to park my car that is within a few steps of my door
  • Elegant surroundings
  • Top-quality health care
  • Health care included (whether or not it is needed) in a set monthly fee
  • Financial stability
  • Plenty of space for furnishings
  • Opportunity for gardening
  • A say in the landscaping around my residence
  • Good gym/swimming facilities
  • Outdoor walking trails
  • Low monthly fees
  • Low admission fees
  • Proximity to a region where I have friends and relatives (or that I prefer for other reasons)
  • Ability to have a meaningful impact on decision-making for my retirement community
  • Multi-story apartment-style living
  • Single-level village-style living
  • Detached or semi-detached suburban-style houses
  • An administration that takes seriously the need to address climate change
  • Ability to continue influencing the outside community and the world
  • A community operated on explicitly religious principles
  • Gourmet meals
  • Residents with diverse racial backgrounds
  • Residents with diverse economic backgrounds
  • Meadowland and native plants
  • Exquisite flower beds
  • Formality of landscaping
  • A chance to initiate activities with and for other residents
  • Good vegetarian dining options
  • Dining facilities that welcome both the able-bodied and those who need wheelchairs or other assistance
  • A light and airy residence
  • A residence that is very efficient and environmentally friendly
  • A community that embraces values that I agree with
  • A governance role for residents
  • Board of Directors representation by residents
  • A location in an urban center with access to city restaurants, shopping, and cultural events
  • Integration of personal-care and skilled-nursing residents in independent-living activities
  • Accreditation
  • “Transparency” and information sharing by administration
  • Non-profit status
  • A “patient portal” for web-based access to doctors, test results, etc.
  • Tech support for residents, including options for keeping up with changing technology
  • Campus-wide WiFi service
  • Dog park
  • Good pet policies
  • Absence of steep slopes, steps
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Support for maintaining community involvement/outreach
  • Transportation to appointments/shopping/restaurants/cultural events
  • Car-sharing service on campus
  • Electric vehicle charging on campus
  • All activities and programs for independent living residents organized by the residents themselves
  • Planned and designed to facilitate and encourage resident interaction and the formation of a dynamic resident community
  • Buildings and grounds manifest both simplicity and the individual residents’ values, creativity, and choices, so that a stroll through the campus and common buildings exhibit characteristics of the resident population rather than the vision of a commercial designer
  • Clear and unambiguous disclosure statement
  • Quality of library–selections, and ambiance
  • Type of books selected for the “new books” shelf in the library
  • Quality of resident website
  • Outdoor pool
  • Ability for those with memory impairments to wander freely, at least indoors, and otherwise to mingle with other residents
  • Dress code for dinner

Updated 9-6-20 with items from Tom Paxson. Conrad Paulus, and Arlene Rengert.