One of the hotter deals in the Orlando real-estate market is open only to people age 62 and older and comes with the guarantee of a nursing home bed should you need it.
As baby boomers age and seniors continue to retire to Florida, the state’s strong housing market has led to heightened demand for high-end continuing-care retirement communities — where residents can move from independent living to assisted living to skilled-nursing care.
“Now they have dining options and spa services and golf courses and wine rooms,” said Bruce Rosenblatt, owner of Senior Housing Solutions, which helps older adults navigate the sea of residency options based on their needs and finances. “This is not an old folks’ home.”
Earlier this month, when Westminster Communities of Florida broke ground on a second apartment development in pricey Baldwin Park, the nonprofit senior housing provider already had contracts signed on all 75 units — despite requiring entry fees that start at nearly $250,000 and don’t give residents actual ownership of any property.
“I would say this proves that there’s a lot of demand,” said Wes Meltzer, director of communications for the organization, which has more than 7,000 residents in developments around the state. “We’ve had very successful expansion at Westminster Baldwin Park — and in other parts of the state over the past few years, too. We have a new apartment building we’re going to be constructing at Westminster Shores in St. Petersburg that is currently 90 percent reserved without breaking ground yet. And we just opened a new apartment building, Westminster Oaks, in Tallahassee. We sold all 40 apartments there in about six weeks.”
Though the specifics vary from one development to the next, in general the continuing-care communities’ main selling point is peace of mind, which doesn’t come cheaply. Rosenblatt said entrance fees range from $150,000 to $2 million, depending on the amenities, living options and whether any of your money is refundable should you pass away or want to move out. The upfront sum prepays for care and provides the facility operating capital. On top of that, monthly fees range from $2,000 to $9,000 for a single occupant.
When residents start out, they live independently in apartments or villas, with maintenance, housekeeping and often meals and social activities taken care of by the provider. Many offer fitness centers, clubhouses, pharmacy services and transportation assistance.
If residents become sick or struggle with mobility, they can move to assisted living facilities or nursing homes within the same community, typically at reduced rates.
And in some cases — such as Westminster’s — if residents outlive their savings, the community will still take care of them — covering their monthly fees and the cost of long-term care.
“If anything happens to me, my wife is all squared away here,” said Troy Fletcher, 77, who lives in Westminster’s Winter Park community. “And the same if anything happens to her, I’m squared away. And we would be here together. That was the main thing for us. At this stage in life, the worst thing that could happen is to be alone, and here you’re never alone unless you want to be.”
Troy and Barbara Fletcher moved into their two-bedroom, two-bath apartment five years ago, leaving their 2,200-square-foot home for a place about half the size. They’ve never regretted the decision.
“Initially I thought we might be too young, but now I think the timing was just right, because I’ve seen how much the prices have increased,” Troy Fletcher said. “The place where we are, there’s a waiting list of two years.”
In Longwood, Village on the Green, another continuing-care retirement community, is also expanding. Before summer, workers will break ground on a $60 million health center with 48 skilled-nursing beds, 36 assisted-living apartments and 18 “memory-support” apartments that come with therapy for those with Alzheimer’s or other age-related cognitive disorders.
“It’ll have a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center and all of the modern amenities,” said Gail Wattley, the community’s administrator. “It’s not going to look like an institution. It will look very residential.”
In addition, the community is remodeling its clubhouse and hoping to add 2,500-square-foot villas to its development — a response to demand for more spacious and luxurious housing options. There is already a waiting list, though the plans haven’t been completed and the prices haven’t been set.
“Since the economy recovered, the villas are the hot ticket,” Wattley said.
Although the overall number of continuing-care retirement communities in the state is holding steady at about 70, many of the existing ones have expansion plans, Meltzer said.
Still, not everyone will get in. The most expensive of all long-term-care options, the communities cater to wealthier couples and individuals, and they carefully screen applicants for both their physical and financial health, rejecting those whose bank accounts are likely to be drained just as they need expensive round-the-clock nursing care.
And both the AARP and Rosenblatt strongly suggest consumers do some screening of their own — including reading financial reports, licensing and inspection reports and any complaint investigations, available through the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and the state Agency for Health Care Administration.
“Check out the [skilled nursing] center. Talk to the staff. Talk to the families. Make sure that company is on solid financial footing,” he said. “For the right person, it usually works out very well. But it’s a big decision, and it requires a lot of money. So it’s critical to know what you’re getting into.”