Independent senior living communities — commonly referred to as retirement communities, retirement homes, or senior housing — are becoming more and more popular as the baby boomer generation continues to transition into retirement. 

For many seniors, independent senior living communities represent an attractive alternative to living alone. They offer easy access to social and recreational activities for seniors who want to take full advantage of their golden years, and they make life a little easier by covering things like housekeeping, maintenance, transportation, and meal preparation.   

Independent senior living communities aren’t for everyone and they ultimately can’t replace long-term care options like assisted living and skilled nursing homes. But for seniors who don’t need much help with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and suffer from few-to-no disabilities, it’s an exciting alternative to living alone.

Who Can Benefit from Retirement Communities?

Independent senior living communities are designed for seniors who possess the physical and mental capacity to live independently, but are looking for greater companionship with people their age. Some retirement communities are more active than others, but at their core the main mission is to make life a little easier for residents while providing ample opportunities for social activities.

Retirement community residents may have light-to-moderate disabilities that make it difficult to drive a car, cook three meals a day, go grocery shopping, and perform housekeeping and maintenance. They may also be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia, still able to live independently but needing a little help with basic daily tasks.

Retirement communities are not ideal for seniors with serious disabilities and illnesses who need regular assistance with Activities of Daily Living such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting. Seniors in this situation would be better served by a long-term care option such as home health care, assisted living, or skilled nursing homes. 

Retirement Community Services & Amenities

The services and amenities that independent senior living facilities offer varies widely. Some are akin to an all-inclusive resort, while others are more like an apartment complex with an active social community.

At a minimum, most retirement communities offer the following services:

  • One or more restaurant-style, chef-prepared meals each day
  • Housekeeping
  • Laundry service
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Exercise, wellness, and activity programs
  • Social programs and activities
  • Transportation for shopping, healthcare appointments, and off-site activities

As for the amenities, the list could go on and on. Some of the more common amenities you’ll see at retirement communities in Arizona include:

  • Swimming pool and jacuzzi
  • Gym
  • Cafeteria
  • Beauty salon/barber
  • Tennis courts
  • Golf course

Retirement communities that function like an all-inclusive resort often include concierge and guest services. Some communities with a medical focus may include an on-site pharmacy, doctor’s office, or physical therapist.

Retirement Community Costs

The cost of independent senior living facilities in Arizona varies significantly based on geography, provided services, and amenities. Some retirement communities cost less than $1,000 per month, while the more expensive options cost over $3,500 per month. 

On average, retirement communities in Arizona cost about $2,300 per month. If that sounds a little high, keep in mind that’s a couple hundred dollars less than the national average. Arizona is a prime retirement state with plenty of options, so competition drives prices down a bit.

As for location-based costs, you’ll find that major metropolitan areas tend to have more affordable communities while remote locations are costlier. Premium locations like Sedona or Scottsdale cost even more because you’re paying for the locale.

As you’re researching retirement communities, remember that the advertised cost isn’t always the final cost. It may be $2,300 per month for the apartment, but there may be applicable community-based fees (kind of like HOA fees). 

Many communities offer add-on services and amenities, too, so be sure to check what’s actually included in the base price. For example, there may be a membership fee to use the golf course, or per-use charges for using the concierge service.

Finally, while retirement communities are great at organizing social activities, remember that off-site activities usually aren’t free. The retirement community may arrange for transportation, but if you hop on a bus to visit Grand Canyon, expect to pay for the museum, tour, food, etc.

Paying for Independent Senior Living

Retirement communities are more affordable than assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes, but they’re generally more expensive than living at home — especially if your mortgage is paid off. 

Government benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid don’t directly cover independent senior living costs, but they may cover related costs. If the retirement community you’re evaluating offers and amenities or services that are covered, they should bill those separately so that you can use your insurance benefits.

Assuming you’re downsizing from a home or condo, you may be able to pay for most (if not all) of the retirement community costs by selling your real estate. If you’re reluctant to sell, consider renting the property to tenants to generate income that you can use to pay the monthly retirement community costs.

After you’ve exhausted the equity from your real estate and rental holdings, it’s time to crack open the 401k and IRA. Hopefully you’ve been diligently saving and investing for years, and now you can enjoy the rewards.

Before making any major financial decisions, take time to discuss your situation with an experienced financial professional. Tapping retirement accounts and selling real estate often have tax implications that should be considered in advance.

Transitioning to Long-Term Care Facilities 

It’s estimated that about two out of three seniors will require long-term care or support in their lifetime. Hopefully you’re part of the lucky 30% that won’t need long-term care, but if you do, trust that you’ll have a number of options at your disposal.

For most people the first option is home health care, and the good news is you can take advantage of home health care while you’re living in a retirement community. The home health aide will simply visit your apartment and provide care and assistance based on the doctor’s orders.

Should you reach a point where you require ongoing assistance with Activities of Daily Living such as bathing, dressing, grooming, and toileting, you may need to consider moving to an assisted living facility. If 24/7 care and monitoring is necessary, a skilled nursing home may be the best option.