Shopping Retirement Communities? 5 questions you didn’t know you should be asking

February 7, 2020


Have you begun the exhaustive work of touring and comparing senior living options in your area?  Perhaps you have already scribbled down pricing, amenities and included services on your own comparison chart.  You may have taken measurements of each floorplan, tasted the food and even interviewed residents to get the “real deal.”  While each of these aforementioned strategies are important, there are some critical questions that you need to be asking.  Here are 5 questions you didn’t know you should be asking.

  1. What is your community’s mission?

Once you move-in, you’ll soon realize that the culture in a community is critical to your overall contentment as a resident.  Therefore, before you make a final decision, ask this question and ask it often.  Ask the sales counselor that you are working with, ask the leadership, ask the frontline staff, ask the residents and ask their family members.  When a community is truly mission driven, you’ll find that each individual will be uniquely connected to the same trajectory and focus despite the role that they play within the community.  While each person may express it in their own words, you should find common themes that express how they collectively strive towards an ideal standard of service and community that is inspired by a shared idea.  A healthy community culture ultimately retains higher performing employees and will naturally cultivate a group of highly engaged residents.  Both will be key to your long term satisfaction.

  1. Is your community a for-profit or a not-for-profit?

While both may present similar services and amenities, there are other, less noticeable differences when you peek behind the operational curtain.  Simply put, a not-for-profit community has freedoms that a for-profit may not have.  For example, the not-for-profit communities have no shareholders to satisfy; instead, all profits are simply re-invested into the community.  Often, this opportunity to reinvest allows not-for-profit teams the freedom to pursue the highest quality in each element of service.  For example, the menu may be developed with the highest quality of ingredients, they may invest in higher staffing ratios, perhaps create top quality programs to promote wellness and top of the line entertainment and finally, the building’s maintenance needs can be addressed more promptly and with high quality materials.  The list could go on and on.

  1. How long has your company been operating in the area?

Many for-profit senior living companies buy and sell properties regularly with very short stints of ownership before selling the property again.  Not-for-profit organizations tend to have more longevity.  They often put down roots, work to develop local leadership and commit to serving the greater community for the long haul.  Consider learning the full history of ownership at the community you are considering.  Additionally, research the parent organization to understand their trends for longevity in each market where they serve.

  1. Who holds the organization’s leadership accountable?

While shareholders often drive management decisions in a for-profit, a not-for-profit is completely different.  With no shareholders at all, a not-for-profit is governed by a volunteer board of trustees.  That’s right, volunteers!  A volunteer board is compiled from highly qualified individuals that commit to providing oversight to the organization so that the mission remains at the center.  As a volunteer, they are driven by their passion alone.  With nothing to lose, residents can rest assured that they have mission driven individuals working diligently with their best interest in mind.

  1. What happens if I outlive my money?

Many not-for-profit communities have a charitable component that allows residents who have simply outlived their money, through no fault of their own, to remain in the community despite their ability to pay.  These benevolent programs are funded by donations and do not create a heavier financial load to paying residents. It likely comes as no surprise that one of the top reported fears amongst seniors in America is running out of money.  Therefore, not-for-profit retirement communities are responding to this need with charitable care programs to ensure that residents never have to scramble to develop an alternative plan when their money runs out.

Finding the best fit for you in a sea of senior housing options can be difficult.  Hopefully, these 5 questions will help you along your journey to finding a community that feels like home.

Jill Janes, VP of Marketing for Methodist Retirement Communities


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