Countdown: Planning Your New Home in Retirement

This single-family retirement home with brick siding and two dormer windows by Del Webb features a 2.5-car garage, ideal for a golf cart or extra storage space. Del Webb’s Dunwoody Way community in Wilmington, N.C.

This single-family retirement home by Del Webb features a two-and-a-half-car garage, ideal for a golf cart or extra storage space. Del Webb’s Dunwoody Way community in Wilmington, N.C.

The countdown is on. You’re counting the years and months, maybe even the hours and minutes, until you “hang it up.” Hopefully, you’ve done the financial planning and you’re getting emotionally prepared for the change that retirement brings.

Some may want to stay put in their present homes and age in place. But many others will find their current home unsuited for retirement. “Too large! Too many stairs!” Or, they may wish to move to a more desirable or more affordable location.

According to Valerie Dolenga, director of corporate communications for PulteGroup, there are two key location issues when seeking a retirement home: proximity to work and proximity to family. “Most of our buyers aren’t fully retired, they continue to work. That’s why you see that a lot of our age-restricted communities are near metropolitan cities where there is access to jobs,” she says. “The second important factor is your family. Many who move to warmer climates are unhappy because they are no longer near to children and grandchildren.”

Besides location, you may have already daydreamed about the home design and lifestyle elements you will want after retiring. Now it’s time to formalize the plan. In this regard, there are two major considerations to keep in mind.

Plan for Aging

Most retirees prefer a ranch or one-story home (or at least a home with a first-floor master suite) with an open floor plan and a design that includes a media room or area, study and a guest room for visiting children and grandchildren.

In addition, says Dolenga, there are two things not all retirees think about: storage and outdoor living space. “You have a lifetime of stuff, which is why many of our buyers choose a two-and-half-car garage with the extra half used for storage rather than a golf cart. Or, perhaps, for gardening tools or a small wood working shop.

“Another option that has become hugely popular is a loft space above the living area or even above the garage that provides for storage or can work as a space for grandkids or overnight guests or serve as a craft room or poker room,” Dolenga says. “Finally, retirees should look for personal outdoor space, whether a deck or patio, where they can entertain.”

Beyond this are the design and planning principles, commonly called “universal design,” that make life easier as we age. Are the halls and doorways wide enough to handle possible future wheelchair requirements? Does the home incorporate slip-resistant floor surfaces, pull-out and pull-down cabinetry, lower or multi-level countertops, lever-style faucets and door handles, bright task lighting, toggle-style light switches, remote control window shades and a shower seat and grab bars in the bathroom? Del Webb offers such elements as raised dishwashers, lowered microwaves, curved countertops and zero-entry showers.

Also, will your dream home location have nearby senior services, healthcare facilities and doctors? Will there be assistance available for home maintenance, such as lawn care and snow removal? 

Plan for Living

Equally important to incorporating universal design features when planning your new home in retirement is the idea of planning for your new life in retirement. Life doesn’t end at retirement, of course! Consider how you might retain your social connections, activities and interests, find new pursuits and hobbies and continue to learn and stay active.

How close will your retirement home be to continual learning options, museums, historical and cultural attractions and academic facilities? Are there nearby theaters, urban centers, parks, recreational attractions, shops and restaurants? Is their access to airports and travel options?

Considering that you may not always be able to drive, is public transportation available? Does the community offer social clubs or activities? At large-scale Del Webb retirement communities, activities are determined by the residents. “If you want a history club or a Zumba class,” Dolenga says, “you can start one.”

Make the Move

Retirees that choose not to age in place typically downsize from a larger to a smaller home. 

But most people resist downsizing, says Pat Keplinger, founder and president of Downsizing by Design in Carol Stream, Ill., and a board member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM). Her advice? Start by visualizing the floor plan of your actual or planned retirement home. Inventory your current furniture and possessions and prioritize. Identify a) must-have items, b) would like items and c) won’t fit or won’t use items. You’ll probably wind up with two or three extra rooms of furniture, such as a large dining room set, that won’t be needed in the new home.

“Do this sorting well before you move,” Keplinger advises. “Start in areas that are not lived in or used a lot, such as the garage or attic.” Move managers, she adds, can provide advice on establishing the value of various items and have sources for donating things like tools and craft supplies to community centers and art houses. 

Equally important, Keplinger says, is that moving specialists can offer suggestions on no-conflict ways — from tagging items, asking for family requests or holding a family lottery — to gift items to children, grandchildren or others. Her advice is to inventory and number prized possessions. Then draft a sentence or two on the history and importance of each these items.

Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.

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