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What to look for when choosing a retirement community

Updated: Oct 6, 2022

I consider myself a rather practical person. After two bouts of cancer, I have learned to be more practical with the choices I make, and that’s why at the age of 63, I packed up a lifetime’s worth of memories and moved from my home to Riverside Manor.

With most of my family more than 13 thousand kilometres away in the UK and only a few cousins nearby for support, I decided I needed to make this all-important step.

I now help many prospective buyers understand what makes Riverside unique and give them advice on what to look out for when choosing an estate.

And as that same practical person, I would like to share this advice with you.

What’s concerning is that these days people are only starting to view estates in their late 70s or even 80s. Moving is stressful at any age, but when you’ve got 60 years’ worth of stuff and your health isn’t on your side, moving is near impossible.

The question is will you have enough time to find the right place? Take your time and weigh your options - you don’t want any regrets when making this big final move.

There are also a few fundamentals that I think you should keep in mind.

Will the levies remain affordable in 20 years’ time - they do at Riverside as one’s contract guarantees that the levy will only increase by 5% p.a. unless CPI goes above 10%. This means that we can plan for the future. It also means we can still enjoy the present by treating ourselves to a dinner out or planning a holiday. When you move out on a permanent basis, the operator will collect the shortfall in levies from whoever’s inheriting your house when the Delayed Levy Contribution is collected. We always jokingly say that we are SKI-ing (spending the kid’s inheritance).

Security is paramount. We live in a precarious time with crime and unemployment on the rise. A well-secured community with electric fences, cameras and a gatehouse will give you greater peace of mind at a stage in your life when you need it most.

Peace of mind also includes a panic button in case of emergencies. Although these aren’t typically related to crime, more likely a fall or heart palpitations - the nursing staff will arrive together with security in case the key has been left in the lock and the guard needs to assist in gaining access. Occasionally residents have locked themselves out but luckily a spare key is kept in a key safe at Frail Care reception. Which funnily has happened more than a few times at our estate.

This type of care and focus on the well-being of the residents is at the top of that non-negotiables list.

Finding a more affordable place may make sense now, but if all they offer you is a nurse who comes in once a week, you might not get the care you require down the line. Mid-care and frail care are incredibly essential yet ludicrously expensive. One of the big pluses for me when choosing Riverside was the fact that it had both mid-care and frail care, and I could get a 20% discount on frail care which provides private rooms and 24/7 care should I need it.

Frail care is an intimidating aspect of getting old. But when you’ve chosen an estate that can offer you a quality service, has a culture of going above and beyond, and you’ve lived in the estate for a few years, so you know the nursing staff and the management, the idea of frail care is a little less daunting.

Location is also worth considering. You probably don’t want to move too far from your current area. Firstly, not all of your friends may be making this move at the same time, and you might want to keep your current healthcare professionals, especially if you’ve been seeing the same doctor for 20 years. I had to change my doctor, but luckily, we have healthcare professionals that visit our estate, which made these services more accessible.

Lastly, find an estate with the right culture and a community of like-minded people. At Riverside, for instance, many of our residents have lived in the Joburg area for decades and find themselves running into previous neighbours or old friends. We even had a lady move in next door to her close friend and bridesmaid from her wedding 50 years prior. They lost touch ages ago but now find themselves living in the same retirement community.

At the end of the day, you decide to make this big final move to get a support structure that will help you enjoy your later years. I have been lucky enough to find a retirement estate that has not only given me the support I needed but has become like an extended family.

So don’t wait too long. Make sure you make this move while you can still enjoy it.

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