I apologize if this sounds like an advertisement. It was not intended to be this way. But I have seen paradise. And you don’t have to die first to get in. You simply have to be 62 or older and have a few hundred thousand dollars in assets available.
I discovered retirement living because my parents seem inclined to move from their house in Midland, Michigan to a retirement community. The community they are planning to move into is located across the Potomac River from me. It is called Riderwood. Last Friday I joined them and my sister Mary (who did all the research) as they checked out the place. I left amazed, impressed and more than a little jealous.
My mother’s health is clearly declining. She is unsteady on her legs, which is not too surprising for a lady almost 84. As long time readers know she has had some bad falls lately. Their willingness to relocate was prompted by concerns from us children, none of whom live closer than 300 miles from them. They have almost no support structure in place in Michigan should something happen to one of them.
American capitalism has responded. There are lots of retirement communities out there but I doubt none have done so well as this particular Erickson community. It is a gated community full of large residential apartments interconnected to each other and overlooking lovely courtyards and ponds. Each building is between four and a dozen stories tall. All were designed specifically for senior citizens in less than optimal health. The goals at Riderwood are choice, comfort, simplicity and safety.
The buildings are lovely and modern with lots of apartment styles from which to choose. Rents are pretty expensive. I’m not sure exactly what my parents will be paying but I think it is in the $2000 a month range. However, they get a lot for their money. They are not paying property taxes. They get one meal a day at one of the four restaurants on campus. These are good restaurants with fine food; they ate there to make sure. There is plenty of parking but most of the time there is no need to drive anywhere. You name it and they have it: mini-mart, bank, meeting rooms, theater, lounges, chapel, even a bar. For those too old to drive they can take one of the community buses to one of the nearby shopping centers. Riderwood has its own doctors and specialists. But it is not too far from modern hospitals, should they be needed.
The apartments can be fully customized. You can paint it or add to it pretty much as you like. The doors are large enough to accommodate wheelchairs. It goes without saying that there are elevators in every building for residents who need them.
There are also a zillion clubs, a workshop, a TV studio, pool tables and all sorts of innovative security services. They have a gizmo on each door that the security people flip each night. It comes down when you leave your apartment. If they see it remains unflipped the next day they will check up on you, just in case you fell or are incapacitated. If you need some measure of safety beyond this, you can rent a device around your neck. Press a button and help is on its way. Or press the button in any bathroom.
And the place is beautiful, clean and the staff is just tremendously helpful. No one is kicked out of their apartments because they have run out of rent money. This is because to move in you essentially give them a lien on your assets. So I expect the entry fee is something in the neighborhood of a couple hundred thousand dollars. If you don’t keep up the rent your rent is deducted from your lien. If you end up dying there whatever is left over after expenses is given to your heirs.
So clearly this is not a place for a woman living on social security alone. But it is not beyond the reach of most people with good investments or who live in the middle to upper middle class. Since having assets is the key, if you envision something like this in your retirement then now is the time to start paying off those credit card bills.
My parents looked at another community, Charlestown, near Baltimore that they liked just as much. Unfortunately it has a waiting list of up to two years and its apartments are smaller. My parents can move into Riderwood much sooner, if they can sell their house. They have their work cut out for them in the next few months.
My Mom actually looked excited checking out the model apartments. I haven’t seen her genuinely happy in a long time, but I could see her figuring out how she would decorate her kitchen.
The community is not a dictatorship. It has its board of directors chosen by the residents. Certainly Erickson is in charge of developing the properties, but day to day control belongs to the residents.
Erickson is a company very much on the ball. I should probably buy some stock in it; retiring people is a big growth market and I bet no one is doing this business any better. Their business model is very sound too.
My only question is: Why should this model be limited only to senior citizens? I know I am ready to move in. I hate the whole house management business. Right now my wife and I are contemplating $10,000 or more to replace our siding. We also need to replace our stove, do some drainage work, replace carpeting … the expenses and hassle never end!
Something like this would work great for me. Both my wife and I hate cooking dinner. We’d love to traipse downstairs at our leisure for our “free” evening meal. I could use an ATM and a mini-mart in my lobby. Erickson, build it for ordinary people like me and we will come too.
Now I know what I want in retirement. I am ready. I think it’s not too early to get on an Erickson waiting list. After all I just turned 47!