You’ll have some important homework to do if you’re contemplating a move to independent living. First, you’ll want to think about where you’d like to live. Second, consider what’s important to you when it comes to lifestyle, services, and amenities. And then there’s the big question: How much does independent living cost? There is no standardized pricing when it comes to senior living communities. Not only do the types of communities differ, but costs can vary widely based on the state where the community is located, and even the city, as well as the services provided.
Defining Types of Independent Living
There are three primary types of communities that offer independent living; each type is distinct when it comes to services and amenities, as well as care options offered.
No Assistance Needed: 55+ Apartments
You’ve likely seen advertising for active adult communities. In simplest terms, this is apartment living like any other, except that all the residents are “of a certain age,” typically 55 and up. These complexes may or may not have on-site dining options, along with amenities that encourage social gatherings like pickleball courts, putting greens and BBQ pits, as well as a pool and fitness facilities. And the monthly fee may include maintenance of your unit and the exterior. Rents vary depending on location and unit size. As an example, one club in Florida offers a two-bedroom, 1,300-square foot apartment for $2,000 a month.
This option is the least expensive type of independent living for older adults in good health, primarily because it doesn’t typically include access to higher levels of care if your health needs change. The responsibility falls on the residents to pay for nursing help and other care. Much like any apartment rental, residences in a 55+ community feature standard, long-term leases with rent due each month; if there is any upfront fee to join the community, such a fee isn’t likely to be too substantial.
Built-In Active Social Life: Retirement Communities
This option is closer to what most people envision in a place to retire. The fees in a typical free-standing senior living community generally include at least two meals a day in a communal dining room, along with laundry and housekeeping services, activities and events, and amenities such as a fitness center, pool, movie theater, and game room.
Typically, residents have access to 24-hour emergency assistance and security (and apartments are equipped with emergency pull chains and/or speakers). Some, but not all, free-standing independent living communities have medical staff and aides available to monitor changes in a resident’s health. But if higher-level care or continuous care is needed, the resident is usually responsible for hiring caregivers to provide them or must move elsewhere to get them. As to the question of how much independent living in a free-standing retirement community costs, the fee to live in one averages around $2,500 a month. Not surprising, that’s higher than in a 55+ community because of the additional staffing, as well as the added services and amenities provided. That generally includes maintenance, dining services and transportation often at a monthly cost that is less than what you’d pay to maintain your own home.
The Ultimate Worry-Free Option: Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs)
In examining and comparing the cost of independent living, you also need to look at CCRCs. Like other retirement communities, CCRCs (sometimes called Life Plan Communities) offer on-site dining options, with laundry, housekeeping, and maintenance all included in the monthly fee. Similarly, CCRC residents enjoy a full slate of activities and events, as well as a host of resort-style amenities.
The significant difference between the other options and CCRCs is the breadth of care services and living options offered, as well as the potential for an entrance fee. Some CCRCs charge a one-time entrance fee and an ongoing monthly fee. Holly Hall in Houston is a nonprofit rental CCRC offering independent living and a full spectrum of care, including assisted living, skilled nursing care, and rehab, all on one campus. For residents, this affords the opportunity to move to one location, engage in a vibrant, carefree lifestyle, and have peace of mind knowing that long-term care will always be readily available and included in their monthly fee.
With the array of services and highly trained staff available, the cost of living in a CCRC community is at the high end of retirement community options. About three-quarters of all CCRCs charge an entrance fee in addition to the monthly fee, Holly Hall, a Christian Retirement community, has NO buy-in or entrance fee.
For those communities that do have an entrance fee, the national average is around $300,000 – $350,000, but it can vary widely depending on the location, the state, and the breadth of services. These CCRCs use the fee as a prepayment for care and living arrangements, as well as to fund operating costs. It’s worth noting that about 80% of CCRCs/Life Plan Communities will refund between 50% and 90% of the entrance fee to you or your beneficiaries when you leave the community. But that’s a question you need to ask when you research your options.
Additionally, CCRCs typically offer a choice of contract types to help residents with budgeting. Be sure to ask the representative what contracts are available.
While Holly Hall does not require entrance fees (they rent month-to-month) other CCRCs may typically offer up to three contract options. Here’s a look at those options and their associated costs:
Type A — Life Care
In addition to enjoying premium amenities and services, residents of Life Care communities can count on access to high-quality on-site care at predictable rates for the rest of their lives, generally with little to no increase in monthly fees over what they paid in their independent living residence. And they’ll pay far less for these services than they would on the open market. They know where they’ll get this care, who will provide it, and how much it will cost.
Type B — Modified Plan (aka Modified CCRC or Modified Agreement)
These communities include housing, services and amenities, with health care provided one of two ways: 1) a limited number of free days included as part of the entrance fee, with additional care billed at per diem market rates, or 2) an ongoing, minimally discounted rate. Health care services may be delivered on- or off-site, and two monthly fees may be incurred if couples require different levels of care.
Type C — Fee-for-Service
Housing, services and amenities are provided, but any available long-term care is charged based on fee-for-service market rates. If a resident requires short-term care, that resident must continue paying the monthly fee on their independent living residence, plus the costs of housing and health care received in an assisted living, memory support or skilled nursing residence, which may or may not be on the same campus.
Live at Holly Hall and Choose Peace of Mind for Life
Gaining an understanding of how much independent living costs is an important first step in what type of community is best. Holly Hall, in Houston, Texas, has a clear advantage over many CCRCs in that we don’t charge an entrance fee, yet we offer all levels of living and care to our residents, including independent living in beautiful cottages and spacious apartments.
As a CCRC, we offer residents a home and a welcoming neighborhood in which to make a lifetime of memories with the security of knowing their health care needs will always be met. To arrange a tour, simply complete our request form and we’ll be in touch shortly.