Senior Living

How to Start Your Senior Living Search

Choosing the right community for senior independent living lets you do more of what you most enjoy and less of what you don’t. Use these tips to help organize your thinking and provide a framework for an effective senior living search.

Independent living in a senior living community has a lot to offer today’s retirees. Choosing the right community for senior independent living lets you do more of what you most enjoy and less of what you don’t. It can also be your gateway to securing reliable senior care services if and when the time comes that you need them. But how does one even begin the search for senior living? What should you look for and what should you bear in mind? Use these tips to help organize your thinking and provide a framework for an effective senior living search.

Begin with the basics.

First, determine what you need and what you really want from independent living in a senior living community. How much living space? Do you want a one- or two-bedroom apartment or a cottage of your own? A community with a thousand residents or just a few hundred? What types of amenities are you expecting? Many communities have a heated pool, but not all have outdoor dining options. Do you plan to bring a pet? The more clearly you define your expectations, the greater your chances of finding a community that meets them. Think how you’d like to spend your time, and make a list of community amenities that would allow you to do that — a library, a fitness center, outdoor recreation areas, multiple dining venues, indoor entertainment, and so on.  

Determine what you can afford.

Any search for living options requires a budget. Entrance fees for senior living communities usually start at $200,000 to $300,000 and increase depending on the individual community, its location, the residence you choose, the number of occupants, and other factors. Monthly fees for independent living can range from roughly $2,000 to $3,000. Try to estimate a dollar figure you’ll be able to spend each month. Remember that many of your current homeowner expenses will be included in a community’s monthly fee — meals, maintenance, utilities and landscaping are just a few examples. Some homeowner expenses like real estate taxes will be eliminated. If at some point you need assisted living or memory care, that will cost more, and you’ll need to factor that potential expense into your budget. But there may be resources available to help, such as long-term care insurance, or the Aid & Attendance benefit for veterans and surviving spouses.

Decide where you want to live.

It’s your retirement; you get to choose where it happens. Close to family? Someplace sandy and warm? Maybe with a view of the mountains? Where your new community is situated will certainly affect its price tag. You’ll also want to consider its proximity to major medical centers and urban cultural attractions, local crime and cost of living, and of course, the weather patterns you’re likely to encounter. You can find general information and links to senior living communities in every state and most major cities here.

What will you do and with whom will you do it?

Most quality senior living communities offer an array of recreational activities, clubs, events, getaways, and other amenities to enjoy. The question for you is, what are your preferences? Do you enjoy board games with friends, joining book clubs or craft groups, or seeing live music or guest speakers where you live? Are you a little more introverted, preferring to spend time in your own private space? To make an informed choice, you’ll have to get a feel for the daily rhythms and cultural vibe of the community to see whether you’ll be comfortable. The best way to do this is to begin connecting with the sights, sounds and people at the communities you’re considering.

To make an informed choice, you’ll have to get a feel for the daily rhythms and cultural vibe of the community to see whether you’ll be comfortable.

Websites are the logical first step.

Once you’ve chosen a state or city to focus your search, start visiting community websites. You’ll be able to compare services and amenities, the continuum of care available, and life-enrichment programs without even leaving home. The photo and video gallery section will let you see images of the community campus and perhaps look and listen to resident testimonials. Spend time looking at as many pages of the website as you can. Some communities will stand out. List those you’d like to learn more about. The Contact page will let you schedule a time for an in-person visit.

What’s the online community saying?

These days, it’s not difficult to find opinions and reviews of just about any product or service, including senior living communities. Sites like and will let you hear from residents and family members with firsthand experience of the communities you’re considering. Many communities have Facebook pages as well. Read the comments. Look at the photos. See what you can learn about daily life in your chosen communities.

Talk to people.

Let friends, former colleagues and family members know you’ve begun a search for senior living. Do the same with the professional service providers in your life — your family physician, your attorney, the members of your church. If your search is local, there’s a good chance someone you know has information about a community you’re researching. The grown children of your friends may have conducted their own search at some point and now possess insight into local communities for independent living or assisted living. Don’t let their legwork go to waste. Letting people know you’re looking increases the likelihood of someone providing a decent lead.

Start contacting communities.

Narrow your list of prospects by making initial calls to screen for the most likely candidates. The website will have told you about the types of residences and range of services and amenities offered, but you can ask follow-up questions now. You can also ask for general pricing information to get an idea of their financial requirements. Try to gain clarity on the levels of care they offer and generally how the prices will change. You might also ask about the quality of dining and the types and number of dining venues they have. Depending on what you learn on these calls, and the feeling you get from speaking with their representative, you’ll want to schedule a time for your first visit.

Bring a friend or family member with you.

You simply can’t make an informed decision without an on-site visit. And having your son, daughter or a trusted friend with you is a good idea. Be alert, observant and inquisitive while you’re there. Are you greeted promptly and made to feel welcome? How do residents and staff interact? What’s the mood of the community? Are residents actively engaged, sitting quietly or out of sight? Do you see safety features such as handrails, grab bars and emergency call systems? Is everything clean? Is the decor current and fresh? Does it feel like a place you could call home? Ask questions, take notes, and if you or your partner can speak directly with residents, try to arrange to connect with them on social media.

Return a second and third time.

By now you will have narrowed your search to just a few finalists. Review your notes and revisit each community at different times, including evenings and weekends. Ask to attend lunch with residents if possible or participate in a community class or activity. Picture yourself living here and imagine how you’ll feel once this becomes home.

Loop in your attorney before signing anything.

Senior living communities offer different types of contracts. It can be difficult to distinguish one from another and fully understand what is and isn’t included. Have a professional in your corner before you make a long-term commitment.

Every situation is different.

When it comes to amenities, levels of care, residential options and community layout, senior living communities can vary widely. This article from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) can help you understand and evaluate the communities you’re considering in your search. Oaks Senior Living has communities in Georgia and South Carolina that offer independent living as well as care services in assisted living and memory care. Start your senior living search by contacting us today and touring an Oaks Senior Living community near you.

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