Get serious about post-pandemic retirement living

Pamela Kirkby

The COVID-19 crisis most certainly has caused people to reconsider all sorts of things in their lives – how and where they live, what’s no longer a priority, and the lifestyle changes they’ll make in a post-pandemic world.

And for many of those over the age of 55, the crisis has solidified their pledge to avoid any kind of group living setting – assisted living or continuing care – in retirement. After all, COVID-19 deaths were rampant in many such facilities.

According to the New York Times, more than 40 percent of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 were linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Moreover, residents who paid handsomely to buy a certain kind of lifestyle were all but held prisoner in such facilities and with no in-person contact with family members.

Consider what’s happened as a wake-up call and give some serious thought to your retirement housing – envisioning your future, weighing your options, looking at what’s available, examining your finances, and making a plan. Though thinking about such topics is easy to put off, making such big decisions is best done in a calm, thoughtful way well before you’re forced to do so because of a health crisis. If you know an institutional setting isn’t right for you, consider some of the non-traditional living options that have emerged.

Roommates — Who in your circle of friends would make good future roommates? Could you invest in a property together and hire shared care to help you as you age?

Tenants — Would you consider renting part of your house to college students or recent graduates, who could do tasks around the house in exchange for lower rent?

Village movement — Would you like to join an existing Village or start a Village Movement (a grassroots program in which neighbors volunteer to help neighbors age in place) in your community?

Communal living — Would co-housing, featuring a mix of ages, people, and communal spaces be your speed?

Campus retirement — Is lifelong education central to your life? If so, a university-based retirement is another option. Housing is located on or near a college or university campus, and residents are allowed to take classes and participate in campus life.

Still, the vast majority — 75 percent, according to AARP – of people prefer to age in place. If you’re among them, take a hard look at your home’s flaws and start exploring ways to make upgrades using universal design principles. Universal design addresses the needs of everyone and allows a property to be accessed and used by all people, regardless of their age or disability.

After spending so much time at home during this pandemic, you’ve probably already assessed all the flaws in your house. Sure, there’s the normal stuff, including that dripping faucet, the cracked bathroom tiles, and that carpet that needed replacement years ago.

But there are often bigger issues. Maybe the house no longer fits your needs, especially if you anticipate spending vast amounts of time at home even after the stay-at-home orders expire.

Others also have noticed their homes’ shortcomings, according to a REALTOR.com survey (https://bit.ly/2WulKIN). It looked at consumer preferences and how the COVID-19 lockdowns have changed their perception about their wants in a home.

Though survey participants were based in the United States, the feelings likely are shared by people well beyond the U.S. borders, given that so many also have been hunkered down for weeks or months.

It’s no surprise that with parks, restaurants, and other gathering places shut down, people are treasuring outdoor space. That’s reflected in the survey. When respondents were asked about the features that have gotten more important to them during the pandemic, a wish for a patio or yard took the number two spot, accounting for 13.2 percent of responses. A quiet neighborhood topped the list (13.4 percent of responses).

One in five respondents said that more space is the most desired change in their current living situation. Updated kitchens (13 percent) and home gyms (11.3 percent) ranked second and third.

Wished-for amenities vary by age, gender, parenting status, and whether respondents were renters or owners.

For instance, renters would like a quiet neighborhood, storage, and a spare bedroom.

Parents with young kids value flexible space like craft areas, game rooms, a home office, and workout space. They’re also interested in either an in-law suite or an accessory dwelling unit (ADU).

Kitchen updates, house style, and more space ranked higher with those over the age of 55.

With so many working from home, consumers also say they’d appreciate better technology like faster WiFi and smart home features.

Respondents in the 55-plus age group were the most likely to be content with their current home, yet in a future property, they’d value a bigger house, an updated kitchen, and better technology.

Some basic questions to address include:

Where are the home’s potential dangers?

How can you best adapt your house in a way that will keep you safe and active?

How can you eliminate stairs?

Is it possible to widen doorways to accommodate a walker or a wheelchair?

How much can you afford to spend on upgrades?

What are your financing options?

Consult with professionals – universal design experts, architects, contractors, and realtors - who can help you develop and execute an appropriate plan for your enjoyment now, and resale later.

Co-Housing – Foundation for Intentional Communities (https://bit.ly/3hybPdF); The Cohousing Association of the United States (https://bit.ly/2YzoiVS)

Universal Design Living Laboratory https://bit.ly/3fuh24G

University-based retirement -- https://on.wsj.com/3e4UEOF; https://bit.ly/3e5ZDyC

Village Movement – Village to Village Network (https://bit.ly/3hunf2b); Beacon Hill Village (https://bit.ly/2N0KUsZ)

Pam Kirkby lives in Branford with her husband and children. She is a realtor with William Raveis Real Estate and serves all age groups and areas, but has a special affinity to seniors and has a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation. Her website address is: PamelaKirkby.raveis.com; and email address is: pamela.kirkby@raveis.com.

Connecticut Media Group