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Are you or a loved one ready to take the next steps to find an ideal living arrangement for the near future? If so you may be considering a move to an independent living community. Unlike assisted living communities, which offer assistance with many activities of daily living as part of the monthly rental and services contract, residents of independent living communities are more (as the name implies) independent.

With living quarters that resemble regular homes or apartments, independent living communities offer access to additional amenities or assistance if needed, but otherwise foster autonomous retirement community-style living.

If you or your family members are considering an independent living community, make sure to ask these 10 essential questions before signing a contract and moving in.

1. What level of needs do you expect a community to satisfy?

Are you looking for a stand-alone retirement community that’s simply a housing development or apartment complex with age restrictions? Or is an independent living community that’s possibly part of a larger continuity of care complex closer to what you want?

With the former, you’ll be surrounded by people around the same age, potentially with access to amenities like clubhouses, golf courses and restaurants. In the latter situation, you may have access to meals or food preparation, housekeeping and other daily support services as part of your monthly contract.

2. Can you try before you buy?

Maryglenn Boals, an expert in long-term care insurance and aging issues, encourages seniors to look for communities that let you try them out before you commit to moving in.

“Typically, the community will have a guest suite as a rental…specifically for this purpose,” she says. Spending a little bit of money on this rental before signing on the dotted line lets you meet residents who will become your neighbors and get a feel for the community as a whole.

3. Can you speak with current residents?

Spend a bit of time seeking out potential future neighbors, recommends Morgan Lamphere, the vice president of marketing at the The Spires at Berry College, a continuing care retirement community in Rome, Georgia. You can use this opportunity to gauge whether you’ll fit in with those you meet and want them to be your neighbors, and they can give you the scoop on what it’s like to live in the community.

4. What are the community's common areas like?

While you’ll likely be spending more time in your own space in an independent living community versus more advanced care communities, you’ll still want to avail yourself of the amenities offered within common areas. Lamphere recommends checking out what common spaces are available, whether they’re neat, clean and bright, and whether you feel drawn to spending time there. What is especially attractive to you, or what seems to be lacking?

5. How is the community doing financially?

Lamphere also advises asking the “hard questions” when you visit potential independent living communities. Are they financially soluble? What percentage of occupancy is the community at? Has the community made known its future expansion plans or any financing it will seek in the near term for on-property projects? How stable have expenses been on the resident end? Have rents remained stable or have the rates risen or fallen significantly?

6. Why would an independent living community be better than your current home?

All things considered, think about why it would be better to move from your current home and into an independent living community. Lamphere recommends taking an honest look about what services you or your loved one may be enlisting in the current living arrangement, including aid from unpaid family members working on your behalf. What quality is lacking that you hope an independent living community can fulfill?

7. What continuity of care does the community offer?

When seniors move into independent retirement communities, it’s often with one eye on the present and the continued allure of independence and the other eye on the future and the additional needs that will likely arise.

Jason Biddle of The Helping Home suggests taking a look at the community’s full offering of resources. Does the community you’re considering have additional resources available on the same or nearby properties for assisted living, full nursing services or memory care? Remember that once you’re already living in one community, it can be less jarring to simply progress along the care continuum in a familiar environment rather than face the upheaval of another big move.

8. How does the community’s location factor into other aspects of your life?

This is mainly a question you will ask of yourself or your loved one, since it’s highly specific to your or their situation, versus answers a community could give. Biddle recommends considering whether you want a community that’s close to your family, friends or your church, for example. The community’s location could trump other offerings or pros and cons if it means you can stay better plugged into your existing life or enjoy more frequent visits from family and friends.

9. What is included when you sign the contract?

Lamphere recommends taking a very close look at your contract before you sign. Do you want to add on a meal plan or housekeeping services — or are those offerings even available at the community you’re considering?

Would you have access to any healthcare or health support services at the community? What obligations might you be incurring (beyond financial ones) when you sign on? And can you easily amend your contract in the future if needed to add or remove certain services?

10. What professionals will you have regular access to?

Consider whether the independent living community operates as an apartment-type community with an office crew and perhaps activity coordinator, handyman and grounds crew. Or, if what you’re considering is a broader continuing care retirement community, will you have access to an array of on-site professionals, including those who can help you maintain a healthy diet, plan your daily routine, check on you if need be or provide on-site healthcare services?

Making the decision to uproot your current living arrangement is a major one, so you’ll want to spend as much time as you need to gather the best information to make an informed choice. That way, you can feel secure in the independent living community you have chosen and can move into the next chapter of your life with peace of mind and excitement.

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Tiffany Aller is a freelance writer, civil servant and ministry professional with a background in healthcare, real estate and human resource management. She and her young children make their home in north Texas where they enjoy chasing Pokemon, geocaching, their million-and-one pets and immersing themselves in their great community.